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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Width of the Sea: A Novel

1. In The Width of the Sea, the author writes about people grappling with survival in the face of a dying industry. Do they have choices? Who is able to find alternatives to fishing and who is not? Are the alternatives realistic?

2. In your opinion, how realistic is the portrayal of a diminishing resource? Are there constructive things that can be done?

3. Can you characterize the family relationship of Chris, Kate, and Martin? What are the dynamics and how did they arise?

4. The author gives a lot of information about the fishing life. What did you find of interest and what surprised you?

5. John describes a dilemma that appears to have no way out. He says that "what is wrong started going wrong a long time ago, and now the only answer is to stop." Then he says he won't stop. Can you relate John's dilemma to his character? To his actions?

6. Dan says "we used to be like cowboys. …That kind of respect." Is respect a reason why the different characters hold on to a dying occupation? What are some of the other reasons? How is it possible for people to move from traditional work to new work?

7. Yve imagines "John's thoughts to be a simple list of observations; tree, moon, leaves, knee," and John thinks that Yve can "force him to take his finest ideas - and mash them into ugly clumsy words too thick for anyone to credit." How would you analyze the verbal communication between the two? Is it important?

8. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the relationship between John and Yve? Do you think it will endure?

9. John and Chris are initially on opposite sides over the question of whether to transport drugs. What are their arguments? Why does Chris prevail and not John?

10. Yve suspects "that most men think empirically. …Numbers and treasures and money. Weather and repairs. Things that to her seem without emotion. Cold things. Metallic things." Do the men and women in this novel think about the same or different things? Do they think differently about the same thing?

11. Is the "sense of place" an important part of this novel? Can you point to passages that make the seacoast, the community, or the fishing life especially real for you?

The Width of the Sea: A Novel
by Michelle Chalfoun

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2002
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060958529
  • ISBN-13: 9780060958527