Cloud Chamber

( 1 )

Overview

Ten years after his "dazzling" (San Francisco Chronicle), "unforgettable" (Newsday) bestselling debut novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris returns to the family at the core of that work to write the rich score of the "full-blown, complex opera of his new novel, Cloud Chamber" (Robb Forman Dew).
Opening in late-nineteenth-century Ireland and moving to Kentucky and finally to the high plains of Montana, Cloud Chamber tells the extraordinary tale of Rose Mannion and ...
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Overview

Ten years after his "dazzling" (San Francisco Chronicle), "unforgettable" (Newsday) bestselling debut novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris returns to the family at the core of that work to write the rich score of the "full-blown, complex opera of his new novel, Cloud Chamber" (Robb Forman Dew).
Opening in late-nineteenth-century Ireland and moving to Kentucky and finally to the high plains of Montana, Cloud Chamber tells the extraordinary tale of Rose Mannion and her descendants. Over a period of more than one hundred years, Rose's legacy of love and betrayal is passed down from generation to generation until it meets the promise of reconciliation in Rayona, the indomitable part-black, part Native American teenage girl at the center of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.
Cloud Chamber is truly a tour de force, a powerful, rich tale about the energy and persistence of love.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Anne Lamott Cloud Chamber is Michael Dorris at his very best: poignant, heartbreaking, funny, lyrical, honest, smart and compassionate.

Oscar Hijuelos Like its very title, Cloud Chamber is a novel that enwraps the reader in a kind of prose-induced dream; it is a beautiful and luminous book, with a narrative that not only steadily entertains, but that continually enlightens and rewards.

Ursula Hegi The range of Michael Dorris's vision has always been impressive. His fiction is imaginative and perceptive, filled with wisdom and sensitivity. Cloud Chamber is an absorbing and insightful novel about courage, love, perseverance and -- above all -- the complex choices we all make without realizing how they will affect future generations.

Elizabeth Judd

Cloud Chamber attempts to cash in on the winning formula that Michael Dorris established in his bestselling A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. It's similar to the one that runs through the novels of his sometime writing partner, Louise Erdrich. Once again, Dorris tells the story of a mixed-race family via a succession of strong-willed, eccentric-but-supposedly-loveable first-person narrators. Leaving nothing to chance, Dorris even resurrects Rayona Taylor, the popular heroine of A Yellow Raft. Dorris' shameless reliance on formula is irritating, and I found myself vowing to resist the familiar charms of Cloud Chamber. By the halfway point, however, I'd succumbed; no new literary ground is broken here, but Cloud Chamber kept me turning the pages.

Dorris needs just five degrees of separation — in his case, five generations within one family — to carry us from Rose Mannion, a nineteenth-century Irish girl who flees to America after betraying her turncoat lover, to Rayona Taylor, a part-black teenager who was raised on an American Indian reservation and now works at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dorris isn't coy about his central message: No matter how racially or temperamentally different family members may seem, they reflect and refract a shared history and character worth preserving. When Rayona is given a cut-glass vase of Galway crystal that once belonged to Rose Mannion, Rayona sees in it "a thousand faces, each different from the rest." Lest anyone miss the point, Dorris bombards the reader with this crystal vessel metaphor — invoking it on the first and last pages — to represent family heritage as fragile and multi-faceted.

Cloud Chamber doesn't venture into original territory until Dorris introduces Rayona's maiden great-aunt Edna McGarry. Edna is an unassuming supporting player who's istinguished by the depth of her insight and the intensity of her loyalty and love. Lacking the exotic history or flamboyant personality of the typical Dorris heroine, Edna is the prime mover that quietly keeps the family together. It is Edna who Rayona identifies with and who prompts Rayona to realize that "being a family is a voluntary duty. We're none of us here against our will." Although Edna is nobody's idea of an electrifying character, her appearance elevates otherwise tepid material into something far more nuanced and surprising. Ultimately, Dorris wins you over only when he deviates from his trusty formula. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Broadening his canvas and his historical sweep in this memorable and quietly moving novel, Dorris braids the voices and histories of selected members of five generations descended from a raven-haired hellion named Rose Mannion, who flees Ireland for Kentucky. Among her descendants is her great-great-granddaughter Rayona, a half-black and half-Indian girl readers will remember from A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Dorris's evocative prose gathers strength and clarity as he moves to the second generation and into the rich vein of his multifaceted exploration of what it is to be part of a family. He captures the fierce Irish bitterness of two controlling women: Rose and her daughter-in-law, Bridie, who marries Rose's son Robert even though she's in love with Rose's favorite, Andy. Robert and Bridie's two daughters, Edna and Marcella, who witness their father's financial and physical ruination and must battle TB, which they contract from him, are lifelong safe havens for each other. Marcella falls in love with a black man, but she loses him after they marry, and her son, Elgin, is raised among the white community. A grown Elgin keeps his white family separated from his Indian wife and daughter (Rayona) until after the wife's death. Dorris brings the strands of his narrative together in a deft conclusion-a naming ceremony, in which Rayona takes Rose's name, and in which we see the youngest member tenderly managing three disparate generations and loving them all in her own intrepid way. Thus Dorris provides a moving and persuasive image of a reconciliation for which America still yearns. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Multitalented Dorris, justly praised for his recent short story collection, Working Men (LJ 9/1/93), and for his nonfiction The Broken Cord (LJ 7/89), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, returns to long fiction with a strong novel of family in America. In a time when our country's cultural diversity is often reduced to buzzwords, Dorris brings it to moving, sometimes startling life with the complex McGarrys, who relate their story in an absorbing variety of first-person narratives. From matriarch Rose Mannion, running scared and desperate from Ireland in the 1800s, to her mixed-race descendants in America today, the men and women in this tale speak with thoroughly convincing and utterly individual voices as they illuminate the passion, anger, and love linking them together. (One link reaches from Kentucky to Montana, where readers familiar with Dorris's A Yellow Raft In Blue Water will be pleased to reunite with vibrant young Rayona Taylor from that 1987 novel.) Altogether, this is a fine book whose literary excellence is matched by its accessibility to general readers and young adults. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/96.]-Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va.
Pam Houston
Michael Dorris's new novel confirms that…he is one of the true masters of voice, of character and of storytelling in contemporary American literature.
Los Angeles Times
Sandra Scofield
A thoroughly absorbing novel remarkable for its lyricism, compassion, humor and thumping good story, all characteristics one has come to expect of the author's work. To my mind, Cloud Chamber is his best yet.
Chicago Tribune
Colleen Warren
Dorris is a wonderful writer—in turn poignant, lyrical and hilarious….His characters emerge with all the fullness and complexities of real people, with pasts to draw from and futures to be imagined.
St. Louis Post—Dispatch
Valerie Sayers
Evocative and powerful…a clear, high note of hope.
The New York Times Book Review
Alice McDermott
The book's distinction is its vivid, intelligent portrayal of our perpetual, universal and most inextinguishable longing for both transcendence and—here's the rub—communion in love.
The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
Dorris's first solo novel in almost a decade is a partial prequel to his successful A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987), and a generational saga that celebrates the enduring power of family ties.

It begins in western Ireland in the mid-19th century, with Rose Mannion's struggle to choose between the charismatic lover who has betrayed "the Cause" (of Irish independence) and the decent man her family and townspeople urge her to prefer. A half-century later, Rose's sons Andrew (a priest) and Robert are the two halves of a dilemma that frustrates Robert's dissatisfied wife Bridie (a terrific character: hard as nails, yet helplessly in thrall to the one man she cannot have). The story moves ahead with scarcely credible speed (a major flaw in Dorris's otherwise efficiently constructed narrative) to the 1930s when Robert, recovering from illness and amnesia, makes the reacquaintance of Bridie and their daughters Edna and Marcella, in the American Midwest, to which the family has been rather summarily transplanted. The novel finds its footing in a beautifully detailed and extended contrast between Edna's stoical common sense and Marcella's somewhat flighty romantic nature—expressed in the ailing Marcella's impulsive marriage to a handsome young black man she meets while recuperating in the sanitarium where Edna works as a nurse's aid. The focus then shifts to Marcella's son Elgin, his Army experiences in Germany in the 1960s (during which he learns some disturbing truths about his father's reported death in wartime), and thereafter to Elgin's daughter Rayona (a major character in Yellow Raft). Though it's all a teensy bit contrived and too hurried to be fully convincing, the tale is gripping, thanks to Dorris's empathy for the ethnic diversity and solidarity that give his characters their strength, and to a skillfully varied succession of voices, all quite distinctive.

A little of John O'Hara, and rather more of A.J. Cronin, here, but the story's details will draw you in and keep you reading.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684835358
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 1/29/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 952,568
  • Product dimensions: 0.73 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Dorris's
adult fiction includes A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, The Crown of Columbus, coauthored with Louise Erdrich, and the story collection Working Men. Among his nonfiction works are The Broken Cord, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a collection of essays, Paper Trail. His most recent work of children's literature is The Window.
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 1

When I was still Rose Mannion and had the full use of myself, I was a force to behold. My hair's fine blackness was my signature, the legacy of a shipwrecked Spaniard off the Armada who washed onto Connemara and arrived, bedraggled and desperate, at the cottage door of some love-starved great-grandmother. In every generation that followed, it is said, there is but one like me. My mother used to call my mane a rain of Moorish silk as she brushed two hundred strokes before prayers. Never cut since birth, each wisp that pulled free she collected and worked into a dark snake she scored inside a wooden box. Now, ever since that terrible night, its lengthening coil I wind within a salver of Galway crystal, my constant souvenir of destruction. In the milky glow of lamplight it shifts and expands through the engraved cuts like a Hydra with many faces, each one of them Gerry Lynch.

What was there, back then, not to love about Gerry Lynch? It's true, I was a girl in the habit of measuring each person new to me by a tabulation of their natural imperfections: this one had too short an upper lip, that one unfortunate hair. This one was marred by the heaviness of the upper arm, that one by the gap of a missing tooth — the easier to place them the next time we met. But Gerry Lynch broke the mold.

You even had to adore his flaws. Too quick with the compliments, and those, too expansive to be absorbed without a shading of doubt. A tendency to sometimes withdraw into the depths of himself while feigning to listen politely. A furtiveness, hesitancy, better describes it, and at the late-night meetings, when his turn to speak arrived, he once or twice in his enthusiasm seemed just that much off — brasher than need be, almost as if he took personally the injury that united us all in our resolve to remedy. An occasional bout of silliness, a touch boyish in a grown man.

But if these trifles be the beads on his Sorrowful Mysteries, think only of the Joyful, the Glorious! His devotion to the Cause. His bow-head humility at the Communion rail. His gait, so bouncing with natural exuberancy that who could fail to follow where he led? His clean town-smell, warm days and chill. The tenor voice that pulled the heart tight as the cross-stitch of a doubled thread. And for the Hail Holy Queen: that song he made up, that darling brave ballad that bore my name. He sang it to all who'd listen, his eyes twinkling merry except when he'd glance into the crowd my way, and then, so serious that everyone but us two faded into nothing. I could not meet his eyes, and still draw breath.

There's no denying, that song set me off, elevated me you might say, beyond the already considerable pedestal of my own and the county's regard. I first heard it as dusk was falling outdoors, and it took me that much by surprise. I was wiping a table in the lounge of McGarry's Pub in Boyle, half-listening to Liza O'Connor, the other afternoon employee besides myself, expound on the injustices of the Ursulines, the cruel penances they extracted for her merest transgressions. It was too early for the supper crowd and there was little to occupy me. Out the window the post road was an empty lane, not even enough traffic to raise dust. The sweep and dip of the land, bisected and angled into small plots by stone fences, was a maze without escape — bricked in, I was, by the poor rectangles of Ireland. The walls had no gates — wood was too dear — and so each day a part of the structure had to be dismantled to let the sheep out or in, then built up again to ensure they would not stray.

Suddenly, from the adjoining common room there came a shout of laughter that piqued my attention. Why else tolerate the slave wages paid at McGarry's than to listen for the boys next door, to puzzle out the dazzle of their rowdiness, me with no brothers at hand of late for closer study?

"Thee would be Sean O'Beirn," Liza observed. He was her love interest of the moment.

"It's not the laugher I question," I said to deflate her, "But the one who inspires him." That shut her up.

Again, a round of loud urgings penetrated the thin wall. "Sing it," a chorus seemed to goad. "You dare not."

"I do, though," replied a familiar voice that instantly, in song, turned into such polished silver that a mist of quiet stilled the establishment, muted the clink of pints, the groan of chairs, the murmur of mundane conversation. The sound was pure music, so much so that I stopped my rag midway across the rough surface, listened below any search for the sense of it, content to float among its blending and overlapping tones. I looked in question to Liza at the serving table, who mouthed, careful not to irritate the perfumed chords with any grating noise: Lynch.

Of course, but a Lynch transformed. And then, like some echo that must reach the end of a distant valley before wafting back to earshot, the words revealed themselves.

I don't know when and I don't know how

But I'll wed my Rosie Mannion.

Hair as black as ravens' wings

And eyes like forty-seven.

Hair as black as a banshee's wail

And eyes that hold my heaven.

I don't know how and I don't know when

But I'll wed my Rosie Mannion.

A heat spread across my cheek, down my neck and arm to the hand that clutched the cleaning cloth as if it were a shroud I could yank over my own face. The presumption of it, I thought, but crouched behind the outrage lurked another assessment: the silken triumph.

I rapped last night upon her door

Expecting Rosie Mannion.

Her mother's ghost 'twas greeted me

With eyes so dark and gleaming.

The bald shock of it. To take her name in vain as if her loss were not a stone lodged in my heart. I would never forgive him. Liza covered her open mouth with her hand in solidarity.

Hark to me, she said, dear boy:

You'll never have my colleen

Unless you take her father's oath

And swear your life to Ireland.

My mind raced to its limits like a bird flown down the chimney, trapped in a room, beating its wings against a closed window. The audacity, the heedless jeopardy, to acknowledge the pace in daylight, in the company of who knows who? Was it courage Gerry Lynch possessed, or stupidity. Liza went white, her pallor I'm sure the mirror of my own. If the rooms were listening before, they were positively fixed in concentration now. And yet the lilt of the song, the innocence of it, the pitch and dangle of the jaunty voice, belied the seriousness, made life and death but backdrop to . . . me.

Wait. It was my father he was offering up in his laxity. My father who had read to me every night of my childhood, who had led me through the Classics, shown me the world.

I took charge of myself, burst through the swinging door of frosted glass like Joan of Arc herself and pushed my way into the men's assembly until I stood, trembling, face-to-face with Gerry Lynch. I was tall for a girl and he was taller but somehow in my agitation our size was equated and I could taste the whiskey breath of him on my own tongue.

"Have you gone moony?" I demanded of him. "My poor father's taken no oath. He's an innocent man, devout and simple, unfairly accused."

Gerry looked at me stupefied, almost as though surprised to be overheard, and then a smile — a smile his face pretended to fight but clearly he was too pleased with himself for having so summoned me. He nodded a bow, courtly as if we were but passing neighbors on a street corner, and kept in his throat whatever else remained of his song.

"It's only a ditty," he said. "It's nothing but a word that fits the meter, that makes the rhyme."

The bird flew to the opposite wall, smacked into it hard enough to unstun its brain.

"Nothing, is it? The oath is nothing? Ireland is nothing?" I looked around the room, the smoke dense as fog, the men bleary eyed, torn between amusement and curiosity. The sight of them, safe and free, curled my lip. To hell with puny caution, with cleaning up the mess of dirty dishes and sloshed stout. Was I not Rose Mannion, my mother's daughter? My father's? My brothers' sister?

"I'll give you 'nothing,' " I said to his grinning face, and placed my right hand, still clawed around its rag, hard enough upon my breast to feel the thud of my heart beneath it. "There'll be no life for me, no wedding bells, no rest or haven, until the land I walk upon is mine." I cast my eyes accusing around the hall. "Is ours." My voice was bold and steady — I alone caught the quake. The wording may not have been exact but it was close enough. Those that knew, knew, and chose that didn't, be damned.

"Rose." Martin Michael McGarry, the young nephew of the house and himself a tall drink of water, gawky and half-formed, laid his big-knuckled hand upon my shoulder. "Enough."

I turned the blaze of my eyes at him. Who was he to stop me? "Am I clear in my meaning?"

"You are heard, dear girl," he said, and I knew for a fate that he was one of us, or rather, that I was now one of them. The room I had entered in my fury moments earlier was no longer the room in which I stood. It had become . . . how do I express it? . . . churchlike, sacred in its grave solemnity, and for that fleeting, solid instant, I was its priest.

Gerry Lynch broke the spell. "We're with you, Rose," he said abashed and sobered.

"I'm glad to hear it," I answered, and yet I didn't hear it from him, not quite, not like I heard it from Martin McGarry, but I chose to believe him all the same. it wasn't a matter that bore lies or exaggeration, after all, and every man who had witnessed my profession had witnessed Gerry Lynch's as well. We were full into it, united as if wed already.

Copyright © 1997 by Michael Dorris

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Introduction

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. In the first chapter, titled "The Dark Snake," Rose says, "...my hair's fine blackness was my signature." When Rose finds out that Andrew has been killed, she says, "With each name I removed from my coiled hair a silver clip, and before it was done the famous braid hung below my waist, its weight pulling at the back of my neck." And after the jury trial for Andrew's damages ends, Rose's black hair turns gold and she decides to cover her head with a shawl. Why does Dorris place so much emphasis on Rose's hair? What does her hair symbolize? What does it represent to her? In relation to the themes of the novel, what is the symbolic meaning of her hair turning gold and of her decision to cover her head?
  2. Rose betrays Gerry to defend her country and thus loses the love of her life. She also betrays her son Robert to defend the honor of her other son Andrew. What does she defend in making these choices? What does she sacrifice? Why do you think she makes these choices, and what do they reveal about her character? Do you agree with her choices or at least understand them?
  3. When Martin decides to serve the cause and help capture Gerry, he describes himself as a "vessel for information." When he arrives in Kentucky, he takes a job as a cartman. He says, "I'll be a cartman...the link between those who do not want something and those who do." In light of his relationship with his wife Bridie, is Martin right to see himself in the role of vessel and cartman? For what is his being always the middleman a metaphor?
  4. Dorris entitles Robert's first chapter "Broken Things." Name all the thingsmaterially, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically that are broken in the chapter. How do they relate to Robert? Robert marries a woman who does not treat him with love. He says it's as if "I had gone and married my mother." In what ways does history repeat itself in his situation with Bridie? How is his marriage to Bridie similar to his mother's marriage with his father? How are Rose and Bridie alike?
  5. Both Martin and Robert are vessels. Robert says, "...poison of that awareness had hollowed me out." Both are left empty by different things and in different ways. Describe the differences and similarities lar, ties of their condition. Why is it appropriate that Robert literally and figuratively disappears (with TB and amnesia) in relation to the situation in which he finds himself in his life?
  6. Robert says, "Memory is paradise denied. The garden was not the same lived as when recalled, and only when the gates forever close does the view between their bars achieve a true perspective." Given his amnesia, what does this mean to Robert—to the novel as a whole? Is he a prisoner of memory? If so, how? For what is his amnesia a metaphor? In the novel, Robert's memory comes back, but he pretends that it hasn't. What is the significance of Robert concealing his regained memory?
  7. In Cloud Chamber, Edna contemplates becoming a nun, but ultimately decides against taking the vow. Why does she want to become a nun, and why does she ultimately decide against it? What is the reason that Edna never marries? In the sanitarium, she finds a soul mate in Naomi. What does Naomi represent to her?
  8. Edna says about romance, "Where would it get me...would it get me a new life?" Yet Marcella believes that it would. What does their different relationship to romance suggest about their characters? When Marcella falls in love with Earl, she says that it is love that has made her better. If love has made her better, did a lack of love make her, Edna, and Robert sick? Even though Marcella does marry and have a child, both she and Edna end up living at home with their mother. What similarities in their characters make this possible?
  9. When Edna and Marcella revisit the sanitarium, they hold hands, and when Edna admits that she loved Naomi, she thinks to herself, "The mention of the word love, a word that never passed either of our lips...wakes us up, reminds us that we are making contact with each others skin, a circumstance we avoid at all costs. Simultaneously, we drop our connection." Why is the word "love" never spoken between Edna and Marcella, and why do they avoid physical contact?
  10. Elgin feels "isolated...gagged" and "stifled in the limited range of emotions [that the women sanction] so wrapped in protective plastic." He asks his mother, "Who are we protecting?" She replies, "We're protecting me. And you. And Mama. And Edna." Why do the women keep their emotions under wraps? From what do they feel they must protect each other and Elgin? When Elgin marries Christine, he doesn't let his mother meet or even talk to his wife. Why?
  11. At the beginning of the novel, there are many references made to chains and walls. Images of being trapped abound in Cloud Chamber. Dorris describes Martin as a "boy rattling around in a full grown shape...farmers gathered within the walls for safety...open to heaven and bound on all sides by crumbling stone...far side the piled stone walls of our enslavement." What are some of the different associations that walls and stones have in the story? How do these relate to the themes of the novel? How do the images of things being "trapped" relate to the situation that Rose, Martin, and the people of Ireland find themselves in?
  12. Throughout the novel, religion is a frequent subject. The women are always praying or doing rosary. What role does religion play in their lives? What do the rituals of religion represent to them? Is faith important to them? Does it have any real impact on their lives? If so, in what way or ways?
  13. In Cloud Chamber all the characters have secrets and tell lies to themselves and to other people. What are some of these lies and secrets? How do the lies and secrets of one generation affect the lives of their descendants? Dorris writes, "The dead are never really quite gone. The influence of their deeds and personalities is always pushing us and nudging us one way or the other." How does the past bring the generations together? How does it separate them?
  14. Dorris spends a great deal of time at the end of the novel describing Rayona rollerblading. Why does he do this? In the end, with Rayona, is the chain of history broken or preserved? If so, how? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Can we ever break the chains of the past? If so, how? If not, why not? Concerning the past, what does Dorris intimate is the best we can hope for? The worst?
Recommended Readings

Accordina Crimes

E. Annie Proulx

Angela's Ashes

Frank McCourt

Bucking the Sun

Ivan Doig

The Country Girl's Trilogy

Edna O'Brien

East of Eden

John Steinbeck

Flesh and Blood

Michael Cunningham

The Greek Tragedies

Euripides

Look Homeward, Angel

Thomas Wolfe

The Moor's Last Sigh

Salman Rushdie

Moses Supposes

Ellen Currie

The Short Stories of Frank O'Connor

The Surface of the Earth

Reynolds Price

Ulysses

James Joyce

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points

  1. In the first chapter, titled "The Dark Snake," Rose says, "...my hair's fine blackness was my signature." When Rose finds out that Andrew has been killed, she says, "With each name I removed from my coiled hair a silver clip, and before it was done the famous braid hung below my waist, its weight pulling at the back of my neck." And after the jury trial for Andrew's damages ends, Rose's black hair turns gold and she decides to cover her head with a shawl. Why does Dorris place so much emphasis on Rose's hair? What does her hair symbolize? What does it represent to her? In relation to the themes of the novel, what is the symbolic meaning of her hair turning gold and of her decision to cover her head?
  2. Rose betrays Gerry to defend her country and thus loses the love of her life. She also betrays her son Robert to defend the honor of her other son Andrew. What does she defend in making these choices? What does she sacrifice? Why do you think she makes these choices, and what do they reveal about her character? Do you agree with her choices or at least understand them?
  3. When Martin decides to serve the cause and help capture Gerry, he describes himself as a "vessel for information." When he arrives in Kentucky, he takes a job as a cartman. He says, "I'll be a cartman...the link between those who do not want something and those who do." In light of his relationship with his wife Bridie, is Martin right to see himself in the role of vessel and cartman? For what is his being always the middleman a metaphor?
  4. Dorris entitles Robert's first chapter "Broken Things." Name all the things materially,spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically that are broken in the chapter. How do they relate to Robert? Robert marries a woman who does not treat him with love. He says it's as if "I had gone and married my mother." In what ways does history repeat itself in his situation with Bridie? How is his marriage to Bridie similar to his mother's marriage with his father? How are Rose and Bridie alike?
  5. Both Martin and Robert are vessels. Robert says, "...poison of that awareness had hollowed me out." Both are left empty by different things and in different ways. Describe the differences and similarities lar, ties of their condition. Why is it appropriate that Robert literally and figuratively disappears (with TB and amnesia) in relation to the situation in which he finds himself in his life?
  6. Robert says, "Memory is paradise denied. The garden was not the same lived as when recalled, and only when the gates forever close does the view between their bars achieve a true perspective." Given his amnesia, what does this mean to Robert—to the novel as a whole? Is he a prisoner of memory? If so, how? For what is his amnesia a metaphor? In the novel, Robert's memory comes back, but he pretends that it hasn't. What is the significance of Robert concealing his regained memory?
  7. In Cloud Chamber, Edna contemplates becoming a nun, but ultimately decides against taking the vow. Why does she want to become a nun, and why does she ultimately decide against it? What is the reason that Edna never marries? In the sanitarium, she finds a soul mate in Naomi. What does Naomi represent to her?
  8. Edna says about romance, "Where would it get me...would it get me a new life?" Yet Marcella believes that it would. What does their different relationship to romance suggest about their characters? When Marcella falls in love with Earl, she says that it is love that has made her better. If love has made her better, did a lack of love make her, Edna, and Robert sick? Even though Marcella does marry and have a child, both she and Edna end up living at home with their mother. What similarities in their characters make this possible?
  9. When Edna and Marcella revisit the sanitarium, they hold hands, and when Edna admits that she loved Naomi, she thinks to herself, "The mention of the word love, a word that never passed either of our lips...wakes us up, reminds us that we are making contact with each others skin, a circumstance we avoid at all costs. Simultaneously, we drop our connection." Why is the word "love" never spoken between Edna and Marcella, and why do they avoid physical contact?
  10. Elgin feels "isolated...gagged" and "stifled in the limited range of emotions [that the women sanction] so wrapped in protective plastic." He asks his mother, "Who are we protecting?" She replies, "We're protecting me. And you. And Mama. And Edna." Why do the women keep their emotions under wraps? From what do they feel they must protect each other and Elgin? When Elgin marries Christine, he doesn't let his mother meet or even talk to his wife. Why?
  11. At the beginning of the novel, there are many references made to chains and walls. Images of being trapped abound in Cloud Chamber. Dorris describes Martin as a "boy rattling around in a full grown shape...farmers gathered within the walls for safety...open to heaven and bound on all sides by crumbling stone...far side the piled stone walls of our enslavement." What are some of the different associations that walls and stones have in the story? How do these relate to the themes of the novel? How do the images of things being "trapped" relate to the situation that Rose, Martin, and the people of Ireland find themselves in?
  12. Throughout the novel, religion is a frequent subject. The women are always praying or doing rosary. What role does religion play in their lives? What do the rituals of religion represent to them? Is faith important to them? Does it have any real impact on their lives? If so, in what way or ways?
  13. In Cloud Chamber all the characters have secrets and tell lies to themselves and to other people. What are some of these lies and secrets? How do the lies and secrets of one generation affect the lives of their descendants? Dorris writes, "The dead are never really quite gone. The influence of their deeds and personalities is always pushing us and nudging us one way or the other." How does the past bring the generations together? How does it separate them?
  14. Dorris spends a great deal of time at the end of the novel describing Rayona rollerblading. Why does he do this? In the end, with Rayona, is the chain of history broken or preserved? If so, how? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Can we ever break the chains of the past? If so, how? If not, why not? Concerning the past, what does Dorris intimate is the best we can hope for? The worst?

Recommended Readings

Accordina Crimes

E. Annie Proulx

Angela's Ashes

Frank McCourt

Bucking the Sun

Ivan Doig

The Country Girl's Trilogy

Edna O'Brien

East of Eden

John Steinbeck

Flesh and Blood

Michael Cunningham

The Greek Tragedies

Euripides

Look Homeward, Angel

Thomas Wolfe

The Moor's Last Sigh

Salman Rushdie

Moses Supposes

Ellen Currie

The Short Stories of Frank O'Connor

The Surface of the Earth

Reynolds Price

Ulysses

James Joyce

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2001

    A Great Follow up to A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

    Cloud Chambers is an excelent book to read. I am only in 10th grade yet I can't put it down. I read A Yellow Raft in Blue Water for my English class and finished it before anyone else did. I really enjoyed it. Now I am reading Cloud Chamber because I am very interested in the backgrounds of Rayona's other side of the family. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone! It is the best along with A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.

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