The Road to Atlantis – Part 1 (pages 1 – 46)

Welcome to The Word On The Street Book Club!

We’ve selected four great Canadian reads by authors appearing at the 2015 festival as part of our second summer book club.

We’ll be discussing the books each week for the next month, and on September 27th, everyone will have the chance to meet the authors in person at Harbourfront Centre.

Share your views in the comments of the blog, using the questions posed by our book club leaders as a jumping-off point for any other thoughts or questions you may have.


The Road to AtlantisThe Road to Atlantis
Leo Brent Robillard

Book Club Leader: Jenn Hubbs
Blog: Lost in a Great Book

Born in small town Ontario to a librarian and a high school teacher, Jenn grew up surrounded by books of all genres and a family of readers. A former teacher, she is a public librarian and a selection and events coordinator, working with publishers across North America. As a proud CanLit supporter, Jenn continues to read, review and recommend books to anyone who will listen.

Take it away, Jenn!


Welcome to the introductory week of discussion for The Road to Atlantis by Leo Brent Robillard! I hope that you will enjoy the next few weeks of reading and conversation, and hopefully we will have a chance to meet face to face at the upcoming The Word On The Street event in Toronto.

Some housekeeping notes to start:

In order facilitate an easier discussion for us, I’ve broken the book in to four segments:

Week 1: pages 1 – 46 (Cape May and part of A City By the River)
Week 2: pages 48 – 97 (remainder of A City By the River)
Week 3: pages 99 – 138 (The House on Water Street)
Week 4: pages 140 – 192 (The Road to Atlantis)

Please feel free to ask questions and to discuss each other’s responses, keeping in mind a culture of respect for everyone’s opinions and beliefs.

Introduction:

I have vivid childhood memories of my family of five – two adults, three kids, of which I was the youngest – loading our things into the car to begin the long journey from small town Southern Ontario to the family cottage in Nova Scotia. I can recall the stickiness of hot vinyl seats, the roar of the wind from the rolled-down windows and back and forth conversations between my parents and my two older brothers. I can’t recall what was said exactly, but I do remember the tone and feeling of certain conversations … the boredom that underlined the various forms of little sister torment from my brothers, and the short, tense and snippy feeling between my parents as they decided where and when to stop for the night.

While we were fortunate to have avoided major family devastation such as those reflected in the book, I can picture each person in that first section of the book quite clearly. Like Anne, my mother was the type of person who would ask my father to turn the car around for a pretty garden, while my father (a high school history teacher like David) would become frustrated with us for not appreciating the amazing things he wanted to share.

It’s these memories that brought the first section of the book alive for me. While you may not have the same exact memories from your childhood, I hope you found something familiar in these first few pages.

Discussion Questions:

  1. While it is difficult to play the “what could have happened” game after the loss of Nat and the aftermath, it is clear in the first section of the book that David and Anne are not in sync during the trip. How has this tragedy shaped the family? What kind of family would they have become had their lives not been torn apart?
  1. Haruki Murakami reflects that, ““Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.” We are told that David has an almost photographic memory, and that he used to be proud of possessing such a skill. How does each character’s memory of Nat’s disappearance vary, based on their own filters and feelings?
  1. As parents, Anne and David deal with loss in different ways – Anne is beginning to develop OCD-style compulsions, while David is retreating from close relationships and previous passions, choosing alcohol over connection. Do you think it is characteristic of men and women to deal with grief or the loss of a child differently? Why do you believe each has reacted in the way that they have to the loss of Nat?
Advertisements

9 thoughts on “The Road to Atlantis – Part 1 (pages 1 – 46)

  1. It’s funny I was just chatting with a friend, whose daughter has made the decision to start a family and move across Canada. Clearly not as traumatic as losing a child’s life, but pretty traumatic in general for a parent. She was mentioning the desire to just turn herself off, as a way of protection. I really think this is something that relates to someone’s personality, and how they cope, not gender (as this “her” response seems much more aligned to that of David’s in the book. Anne cant really shot off completely as she is responsible for a young child, vs. having grown up children who don’t need your every attention. Maybe it depends too on ones responsibilities how one reacts?

    I would say that their family seemed pretty typical before the loss of the child…who’s not distracted on vacation? I don’t see that as a symptom of a bad relationship.

    Just some thoughts…I’ll check back in later.

    • I felt the same – as I mentioned, I noticed that my parents would often be distracted with each other when we traveled, and I felt that was an accurate portrayal with Anne and David.
      I think the idea of shutting down in order to power through stressful times is indeed a character trait; others won’t be able to disassociate themselves. Some might see that disassociation as a particular male trait, especially in connection to the work /life balance. I liked your observation about Anne not being able to disconnect due to the routine of caring for her child. I was surprised that Anne was developing her OCD tendancies; I thought she might be the one who would either coming to her child more deeply or completely shut down and disassociate. I think that her OCD is an extension of her need for control – thoughts?

  2. I definitely thought Anne would shut down and disassociate as well, I was shocked by how relatively “normally” she continued on with things just a year after losing Nat. I also agree that I think part of Anne developing compulsions is an extension of her desire for control. You can tell she likes things in an orderly, predictable manner; at the beginning of the fast-forward, she mentions that her life seemed to be ‘proceeding according to plan’ and even the methodical, organized, controlled nature of translating all points to her need for control. I agree that her developing OCD tendencies in response to losing Nat stems from that. I also wonder if her constant “searching” for Nat and pausing in her day-to-day life is residual from the day she lost her daughter. When she’d last seen Nat, she was ‘just over there’ so I wonder if maybe her mind is replaying that feeling for her.

    As for their family, I definitely don’t think that, had they not lost Nat, it would have ended up so fractured. Based on some of the comments made, however, I think the family as a whole and, more specifically, the relationship between David and Anne would have continued to unravel a little. He mentions that they no longer kiss each other before heading to bed even though it had been a ritual previously and that their sex life had all but disappeared at that point. I think they would have continued in the same ‘rut’ but I can’t imagine it would have made them as dysfunctional as losing their child did.

    • “I think the family as a whole and, more specifically, the relationship between David and Anne would have continued to unravel a little. He mentions that they no longer kiss each other before heading to bed even though it had been a ritual previously and that their sex life had all but disappeared at that point. I think they would have continued in the same ‘rut’ but I can’t imagine it would have made them as dysfunctional as losing their child did.”

      This is an excellent point; I can see that they would gradually grow apart from each other, but the comfort and familiarity of having each other might mean that they would stay together for decades, if not for always. It’s the little things that start to disappear in a marriage, and people do start to settle into patterns and routines. Having small kids also sucks away some of the intimacy and closeness between parents – my friends with kids often comment that they will sit for an hour after the kids go to bed and NOT talk to each other. It’s a companionable silence, but still time that they need to decompress.

      I also found it interesting that there is little to nothing about the child left behind in these sections – everything is from the parents’ perspective, and at this point we don’t have a sense of what it’s like to go from being a sibling to an only child.

      • I found that interesting too. I wondered a lot about how Matty reacted to losing his sister but he’s just auxiliary in those sections. Hopefully down the road we see a little more of what his life has become and how his routines have changed as a result. I can’t imagine not having my brother around, even when I was younger!

  3. How has this tragedy shaped the family? What kind of family would they have become if their lives had not been torn apart?

    Anne is anxious, doesn’t have her emotional self together, has low self esteem and body image … lower once the tragedy is “her fault.”
    She feels unappreciated at home but doesn’t share her feelings with David instead asking “How can you still find me attractive?” After the tragedy, her low self-esteem intensifies and she had to find a way to feel appreciated because now she feels accused on top of the feelings she already has. She may have had the affair and developed OCD traits, with or without the tragedy as she was already anxious, stressed and not feeling good about herself.

    David doesn’t say what he wants e.g. things he’d really love to see and do on the trip, avoids telling Anne these things for fear of her reaction or perhaps he feels selfish and plays down his needs “for the sake of the family.” His avoidance leads to disconnection even before the tragedy, so ultimately, the couple was heading for a divorce or an increasingly unhappy staying together. Without the tragedy though, David may have fulfilled some of his ambitions and dreams. And perhaps he would have managed to stay close to the children.

    How does each character’s memory of Nat’s disappearance vary, based on their own filters and feelings?

    Anne’s memories pop up all the time and she tries not to indulge them, to get on with her current life. David indulges in the memories, pulling out the photo album, wallowing in his grief, disconnecting from his current life – even from his son, in order to stop the pain.

    Do you think it is characteristic of men and women to deal with grief or the loss of a child differently? Why do you believe each has reacted in the way that they have to the loss of Nat?

    I don’t think we can make sweeping generalizations about the way men and women handle the loss of a child. In this story however, David is an avoider in all aspects of his life and so tries to avoid the pain of loss, and Anne feels bad about herself, so feels worse and some of her feelings find physical outlets in eye-twitching, compulsions, and so on.

    • What a thoughtful response – thank you for commenting!
      I think you have really caught the overall sense of Anne and David, and Anne in particular as you pinpointed her lack of self-esteem. So often those who are critical of others are that way due to a sense of something they find lacking in themselves, and her inability to express herself only leads to bigger issues. I also think that David was disconnected from his wife, if not his children before the events of the tragedy; I do wonder if he might have moved onto something better had things not gone the way they did.
      Grief is very personal, and while I don’t necessarily think that it’s gender based, I do think that in some cultures, grief between genders is handled very differently. I found that Anne’s physical manifestations were fascinating, and that David’s were much more emotional – that’s contrary to many of the stereotypes that exist in our culture.

  4. Week 2 discussion questions:

    2. We are starting to get a picture of Natalie as a child – throwing a tantrum in the shopping cart, cutting her hair. Do we have as clear a sense of Matty? What is his response to his sister’s death? Why do you think that he is less detailed in the narrative at this point?

    Matty is too young to understand death as we understand it, so to him, his sister “lives” in the last place he saw her – the ocean. Anne and David, busy in their own messy dealings with life and death, don’t seem to give a lot of regard to how his sister’s death is affecting Matty. and that, I believe, is why Matty gets “left out” of the story. He is left out of the story by the author in the same way that he is left out by his parents.

    3. Both Anne and David are starting to form attachments with individuals of the opposite gender, but in very different ways. What needs do these fill for each person, and why have they chosen to connect with Sarah and Danny? By the end of this chapter, each person has indirectly influence significant changes in Anne and David’s lives – are they truly a catalyst for change or merely the last straw in a already heavy load?

    Anne’s relationship with Danny at this point in the story doesn’t seem to play a huge part in her life. she didn’t even like Danny as a person. Started during a drunken night, the affair continues on with Danny falling in love with Anne and Anne just being there as if by default, because she is not clear enough about her own desires to know whether she wants the affair or not. She is dissatisfied with her marriage though, so having an affair gives her a reason to get out. I think Danny is a catalyst for change for Anne in that she is freed from David by being with Danny.
    David is attracted to Sarah, and sees something in her even if at first, it it was just that she was a pretty girl. David has no female figure in his life onto whom he can project his masculine caring and protection, and Sarah is an easy, convenient young girl in need of rescue. He rescues her by taking her out of a class she detests and by driving her home. He nurtures her leadership skills in his class, and it makes him feel valuable, happy. Ultimately this connection adds to his heavy load when he is accused of improper relations with Sarah, something he never indented or desired, so he is falsely accused and is devastated by this. HIs relationship with Sarah indirectly ends his teaching career which in many ways lightens his load, and forces change. It can be argued later whether the change was for better or worse.

    • You bring up a really interesting point that Anne doesn’t really even like Danny — I wondered if her relationship with him was a replacement for what she was missing with David (intimacy, self-worth, a sense of importance).
      Sarah is a complex character for David; on the one hand, she is a figure that represents the kind of person Nat might have ended up being, and he feels very protective of her, and on the other, she is obviously used to being preyed upon by people and David is horrified that he is thought of in those terms.
      At the end of this section, honesty comes out and change is inevitable. I do think that Matty was given short shift in this section, and he has obviously felt the loss of his sister more than either of his parents actually realize.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s