The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam

Chapter 32 ~ The Kings of Coalwood

Discussion ~  As our story comes to a close, Sonny spends 14 hours in feverish preparation for the Christmas pageant, while Elsie braves treacherous roads to get to Welch.  Our Author builds the final chapter slowly but steadily toward a dramatic and emotional climax with many classic elements.  We finally come to understand why the Author thinks he might have named the book, A Coalwood Christmas, and the drama of plot lines concluding comes in nearly overwhelming waves.

Writers' Workshop ~
     (1)   As the book comes to a close, can you think back (referring to your notes if necessary) to any plot line that hasn't been properly ended?  This sort of thing cannot happen by accident - careful planning and organization is required to make a book end so neatly and satisfactorily.
     (2)   Cleverly, our Author gives us a little writing lesson as he carries out the endings.  He has Sonny, referring to his pageant script, say, "sometimes a writer has to trust his audience to understand that words are as much art as definition."  While I would agree with him totally, let's look at some issues relevant to it.  Personally, I believe that the connotation of a word is almost always more important than its denotation.  Make a list of words you use often in your conversation or writing that you think mean a little more to you than a dictionary would indicate.  Imagine how you would change the definition if you were writing the dictionary.  Can you recall any words the Author has used in this book (or even that I might have used in the website) that seemed to mean something different than you had previously thought?  Has our Author followed this philosophy all throughout his book?  Since the final chapter focuses greatly on Sonny's (our Author, don't forget) primary role in creating the pageant, could his comment also be referring to others who shared this experience with him but might recall it differently (especially if they feel that their role might have been diminished in the book)?
     (3)   At a critical point in the pageant, it begins to snow and some deer arrive!  Do you think these events actually happened as our Author recalls?  Could the timing have possibly been any better if it were completely invented?  When writing a memoir, is the duty of the author to recall things exactly, or is it acceptable to take some "artistic license" with the memories?  Would your opinion on this subject be different if the story was about something more factual?  (You might want to take this moment to reread the Author's Note at the beginning of the book.)
     (4)   A critical and satisfying moment comes when Sonny realizes that Coalwood itself is his Potter's Wheel, shaping him into the person he is and will become.  What would you describe as your Potter's Wheel?  How would you work it into a story idea?
     (5)   Our Author gives us a wonderful ending sentence - "Somewhere up there, I was certain there were stars as far as we could see."  This sort of sentence provides both closure and vision of the future.  Do you know of any other books that end so effectively?

Freud's Couch ~
     (1)   Why does the finale include a trip down to Rev. Little's church?  Is it simply to close one more plot line, or is there more to it than that?  Does it serve at all to show us how different people celebrate differently?  Are the differences really all that pronounced in Coalwood, or does this scene help to show how similar people are?
     (2)   Sonny wistfully appreciates being a boy "...whose mother loved him enough to give him the gift of inspired vexations so that he could rise above his own petty ones."  The insight here is staggering.  How many teenagers realize that most of what irritates them is really insignificant?  How many of any of us can be appreciative of those who irritate us, even when it produces something useful?  (I am reminded here of the analogy of the grain of sand in the oyster.  If you don't understand that analogy, look it up.)  How many of us are willing to grant the people in our lives the honor of recognizing their important roles in shaping us, especially when the thing they provide is vexing?  Who in your life provides the "inspired vexations" you need to become the best person possible?

Mountaineer Morality ~ 
     (1)  In the midst of all the satisfying endings with joyful, quaint elements, Cuke Snoddy returns, about which our Author remarks, " the way of Coalwood, the light of the grand evening had given way to something of darkness."  This revisits one of our previous thoughts about West Virginians' fatalism.  Must every good moment in these people's lives be diminished by one sour note?  The incident does little to dampen the spirits of the folks involved, yet we must ask, do West Virginian's always anticipate some sort of negative aspect to every moment in their lives?
     (2)   Sonny finally feels the element of respect from his father, relative to Homer's gift of drafting tools.  Is this the best way for a taciturn, stoic man to express such emotions?  Do we imagine that Homer will ever tell Sonny outright that he respects his skills and adult manner?  Must West Virginia boys content themselves with always having to read subtle signs of approval from their fathers?
     (3)   Part of Sonny's conclusion is that "I knew who I was and where I came from and who my people were.  I was ready to leave because I could never leave."  Can you  imagine any better feeling in life?  Are we all in search of our roots and personal definition in this way?  How does knowing where we have come from help us understand who we are?  Is a West Virginia boy more likely to feel this need?  Is he more likely to desire a resolution to it?

Return to the Mainpage