The Coalwood Way
by Homer Hickam

Chapter 5 ~ The Coalwood Women's Club

Discussion ~ 
    We meet more characters, and the story is advanced slightly.  The Dantzler family is introduced, providing a wealth of opportunities for possible plot lines.  Notice how easily they enter, and yet how much we learn about them quickly.  We are provided with many subtle hints about the connections these folks might have to our author.  We also get an interesting scene involving Sherman and the creation of "zincoshine".  It's pretty "mad-scientist" sort of stuff.  There is also an introduction to Sonny's dogs (pretty insightful anthropomorphism) and the Coalwood Women's Club (with an archetypal dynamic).  We might find ourselves a little envious of the author's interesting childhood, until we realize that he made it interesting by his powers of observation and his adventures.  Spoiler Alert: There are no chapters in this book entitled, "Sonny Plays X-Box" or "Ginger Goes To The Mall".

Writers' Workshop ~ 
      (1) Sonny describes Mrs. Dantzler as a "glorious" queen.  She is obviously a memorable and archetypal character in his life.  Perhaps you have met a similar character whose persona was so dramatic that it stuck in your imagination.
      (2) The author does an artful and clever job of building up the dramatic tension in this chapter.  Try drawing a diagram of the various issues he raises that could become important to the overall story.  (Use a sort of timeline and then "weight" each of the items according to the importance you think it will have.)  What can you learn about writing well from this structure?
      (3) The author also gives us a little history lesson in this chapter.  He refers to events of 1949, the activities of John L. Lewis and the UMW, and the role of Harry Truman in the mines.  How does the story benefit from these interjections?  Why do authors include such historical data in their books?
     (4) Why does Sonny suddenly resort to sarcastic humor when referring to the furnace?  How does this change of pace benefit the story line?  What does it say to you about the author?
     (5) Sonny reflects on a moment when he felt "warm down to (his) toes".  Have you had such a moment?  What were the elements that caused that to come about?  How did the timing of it (age you were, sequence of events, connections to other events or people in your life at the time...) help cause the significance of it?  Can you think of the first time this happened?
     (6) Would it improve or diminish this chapter if it was entitled, "The Furnace Blows Up"?  Why isn't it?

Freud's Couch ~ 
     (1) In the conversation between Sonny and Mrs. Dantzler, he says, "I'll keep practicing."  She replies, "No you won't".  Does he mean what he says?  Why does she seem so upset?  Is she only concerned about the loss of a $2 fee?

Mountaineer Morality ~ 
     (1) In this chapter, a person is referred to by saying, "he'd once come as an occupier and got occupied instead."  What does this reference mean, and why is it couched in military terms?  What is it that occupied these people?  How does it connect to the famous quote regarding Greece and Rome, "Captive Greece made captive her rude conqueror?"

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