by Christopher Tilghman
Unfolding with grandeur and suspenseful inevitability, Mason's Retreat
tells the story of a family on the shore of Maryland on the eve of World
War II. After many years of extravagant expatriate living in England,
Edith and Edward Mason and their two sons sail back to America to take
up residence at the Retreat, a crumbling family estate on the Chesapeake
Bay. Although Edward fails as a gentlemen farmer, his wife and sons --
unnoticed by him -- begin to flourish in America, making unbreakable alliances
with both land and people. Yet with the coming war, the family's drift
toward destruction inexorably quickens, exposing the corrosive effects
of silence on love.
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1. How does the imminence of World War II parallel the lives of the characters? How does it parallel the fate of the old aristocratic families on the Eastern shore?
2. Why do Simon and Sebastian have such differing feelings toward their father, Edward?
3. Why does Edward fail so miserably at the role of gentleman farmer?
4. In what ways does the house itself, the Retreat, act like a character in the novel?
5. How does Tilghman illustrate the tense race relations of 1930s Maryland? Is Sebastian's attachment to Robert, the hired hand, an exception?
6. Even though Edith loves the Retreat and Tom Hazelton, she feels compelled to follow her husband back to England, and to sacrifice her feelings to social propriety. What other literary heroines have faced the same dilemma?
7. Living in the same historical context, would you have made the same decisions Edith did?
8. Tilghman said, "Fiction is about trouble, and people who don't have a real beef with the world will never be able to write." Do you agree?
9. The frame of the novel is a story told by Simon's grown son, Harry. Why does Tilghman use this device?
10. Does place and landscape necessarily impact one's childhood? How did the place where you were raised impact yours?
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" Powerful . . . a work of surpassing thematic seriousness and fictive artistry. In all respects, Mason's Retreat is exemplary." "
Johnathan Yardley The Washington Post Book World
"Stately, absorbing . . . Mr. Tilghman's book, so rooted in the idea of coming home, makes one realize all over again that here on Earth there is no such place. "
Thomas Mallon The New York Times Book Review
"Rich . . . unforgettably rendered . . . The pieces in Tilghman's kaleidoscope . . . are sharp, faceted, and gleaming . . . Scene after scene has a magical rightness. "
The Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Beautifully written . . . fully imagined . . . Few fist novels are narrated with the clarity, economy, and masterful assurance Tilghman brigs to this remarkably moving and persuasive tale. "
"Rich with character and sweet with scent of a Maryland farm in America's mid-century summer . . . The moral center of this novel is larger than all its sorrows, which have about them the inevitable arc of a star falling from a darkening sky. "
The Boston Sunday Globe