Unravelling

Overview

From a small, bogside cabin in rural New England, 38-year-old Aimee Slater unravels the story of her life, attempting to make sense of the tangled thread that leads from her mother's house-a short, unbridgeable distance away-to the world she now inhabits. It is soon after the Civil War; Aimee lives alone, but is graced with visits from two friends, a crippled man and a troubled eleven-year-old girl. She is perpetually caught between the sensual world she so desires and the divine retribution passed down to her by...

See more details below
Paperback
$21.84
BN.com price
(Save 8%)$23.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (47) from $1.99   
  • New (8) from $5.83   
  • Used (39) from $1.99   
Sending request ...

Overview

From a small, bogside cabin in rural New England, 38-year-old Aimee Slater unravels the story of her life, attempting to make sense of the tangled thread that leads from her mother's house-a short, unbridgeable distance away-to the world she now inhabits. It is soon after the Civil War; Aimee lives alone, but is graced with visits from two friends, a crippled man and a troubled eleven-year-old girl. She is perpetually caught between the sensual world she so desires and the divine retribution passed down to her by her mother's scorn. How Aimee ultimately creates a life for herself and bridges that distance makes for a moving story of love and loss. Told in a voice of spare New England lyricism, Unravelling is a remarkably haunting account of the power of redemption.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"My mother liked to say that life is a long straight road if you live it right, but mine has turned and tumbled."

From a small bogside cabin at the edge of a small farm in rural New Hampshire, 38-year-old Aimee Slater unravels the story of her life, attempting to make sense of the tangled thread that leads from her mother's house — a short but unbridgeable distance away — to the world she knows now. It is shortly after the Civil War; Aimee lives alone, raising rabbits and chickens, spinning yarn, making stockings, gloves, small baskets, and straw brooms, all of which are traded in town for the essentials she needs to sustain her marginal existence. But she lives uneasily, stung by the jeers of the boys who sometimes pass by, and hemmed in by the fears that keep her from going to town to do her own trading. Fortunately, there is crippled Amos, the one man who needs her as much as she needs him, who feels his own isolation from the rest of the world as acutely as Aimee, and who ferries her supplies back and forth. And there is Plumey, the strange, troubled 11-year-old girl who cannot communicate the past that haunts her, but who brings her small, curious gifts and is content to sit by Aimee's side and listen.

Aimee is haunted by her own tragic past. Filled from her earliest childhood with inexpressible yearnings for something more than the austerity of her New England farm life could provide, Aimee feels herself perpetually caught between the sensual world she so desires to be a part of and the divine retribution that her mother's every glance makes clear is in storeforher. At last, at 15, shaken by the death of a baby sister and devastated by the rupture her longings have caused in her relationship with her favorite brother, Aimee persuades her parents to allow her to go to Lowell, Massachusetts — the City of Spindles — to work in a mill, to earn her own way. But out from under her mother's watchful eyes, and cast adrift in a world in which everything is new, in which "there was no familiar," Aimee all too quickly loses her way, her heart, and her family. Only in the years since her return to New Hampshire has she regained some semblance of family, with Amos and Plumey, broken souls drawn together by loss and devastation.

Told in a voice evocative of Robert Frost (yet without a trace of Frost's misanthropy) in its spare, New England lyricism, Unravelling captures the dull ache of growing up female yet watching and feeling one's most vibrant, fertile impulses ground into dust. Elizabeth Graver's depiction of 19th-century New England rings absolutely true: This is an age of transition, a world becoming "modern," with its new buildings and inventions just glamorous enough to tantalize a young dreamer, but with values still too rigid to allow her choice to live a "different" life to be anything but brave and desperate. And yet Aimee Slater is no victim of her surroundings; she exudes a vitality that finds its expression in the homey creativity of the life she has built for herself, and a strength that enables her to stand apart. Her voice, though soft and smooth, is powerful in its determination to untangle the truth of her past, a voice tempered and tested through the trials of youth and the mellowing of years. As an adult, she reminisces about leaving home, understanding so much more than she could have at 15:

When I look back, I picture the journey marked by a long trail of white thread. It is not fancy thread, but the thinnest, cheapest, factory kind, the sort that breaks if you pull on it too hard. It begins in my mother's hand, and then it trails down the road and through the town and out by the field and into the next town, and on and on until the city, and still it does not stop. It follows the coach the whole way, and when the coach stops by the boarding house and I get out, the string follows me into the building, up to the attic room where I will sleep next to five other girls.

I picture it following me for days, going everywhere I go — unwinding longer and longer, its other end tight in my mother's fist.

This is how I picture it now. I could not, at the time, have imagined so much thread. My mother's hand was empty when I left.

By allowing Aimee this kind of perspective, Elizabeth Graver's deft, nearly invisible hand guides us along the tightly woven path of her heroine's development and continues that growth into the novel's present, helping Aimee reconcile her present self with her past mistakes — and above all, helping her feel the healing power of the love with which she is surrounded.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is a freelance writer and a doctoral candidate in English and American Literature at New York University, where she is currently writing her dissertation.

From the Publisher
“Like Margaret Atwood in Alias Grace, Elizabeth Graver examines what happens when a nineteenth-century woman defies the conventions of her place and time. . . . This tender, thoughtful novel pays tribute to the way a woman can ultimately patch together her crazy quilt of independence and fulfillment."-Glamour
“A pleasure, quiet and increasingly gripping. In images as simple and specific as that of Aimee's blind rabbit sniffing its salt lick, Graver endows the habits of coping with a profound dignity."-The New Yorker
“This beautiful novel captures the bittersweet relationship between mothers and daughters, where what is not said is just as important as what is."-Seventeen
From the Publisher

“Like Margaret Atwood in Alias Grace, Elizabeth Graver examines what happens when a nineteenth-century woman defies the conventions of her place and time. . . . This tender, thoughtful novel pays tribute to the way a woman can ultimately patch together her crazy quilt of independence and fulfillment."-Glamour
“A pleasure, quiet and increasingly gripping. In images as simple and specific as that of Aimee's blind rabbit sniffing its salt lick, Graver endows the habits of coping with a profound dignity."-The New Yorker
“This beautiful novel captures the bittersweet relationship between mothers and daughters, where what is not said is just as important as what is."-Seventeen
Benjamin DeMott
A grave, winter-wise and absorbing first novel.
NY Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The plainly eloquent voice of narrator Aimee Slater draws readers into this strong and affecting first novel. Smart, wounded but not defeated, 38-year-old Aimee raises rabbits and chickens in a tiny hunting shack on the edge of a bog in 19th-century New Hampshire. Her ailing mother lives just a few miles through the woods, but the distance, for Aimee, is nearly impassable and her story tells us why. At 15, the defiant Aimee flees her family's New Hampshire farm to work in the mills of Lowell, Mass., where she proves adept with a loom but unwilling to resist the charms of the mill's mechanic. In her own eyes, Aimee strayed from the righteous path her mother laid down the day she touched her younger brother sexually in the hayloft. But her dalliance with feckless William Tanningon a bolt of cloth on the mill's floorleaves her pregnant. Amy can't forgive her mother for forcing her to give up the twins to whom she gives birth. Nor can she forgive her mother's shame. Emaciated and longing for death (one of very few slips into melodrama), Aimee moves to the hunting shack on the edge of her family's land, where she experiences a kind of love in the arms of another exile. At the threshold of middle age, with her mother nearing death, Aimee finds the courage to cross the woods and achieves a reconciliation of sorts.

Graver (whose short-story collection, Have You Seen Me?, won the 1991 Drue Heinz Prize), conjures up the sensory environment of Aimee's world with great skill. Occasionally, the narrative strains too obviously for poignant moments, but its depiction of the dissonance between what Aimee's heart tells her and what her world expects of her is genuinely haunting.

BarnesandNoble Discover Great New Writers selection

Library Journal
Aimee Slater is a young women struggling to find herself among the traditions of a 19th-century New Hampshire town and the burgeoning factory life of Lowell, Massachusetts. Alternating between her past and present experiences, she melds a story of family relations, her desire to succeed, and her attempt at an independent life. Her parents reluctantly allow her to leave home for the "City of Spindles," yet almost immediately she mourns their absence. Is the wedge between her and her family created by her headstrong choices, as her mother claims, or does she simply draw deeper inside herself as a result of events she cannot understand? Like Ellen Glasgow's Barren Ground (1925), Aimee's struggle takes place in the absence of any strong male presence. This is a captivating novel about regrets, action, and reaction and the final achievement of understanding and contentment. Graver's first attempt to deviate from her well-received short stories (Have You Seen Me?, LJ 7/91) is a success. Recommended for readers who enjoy history, women's development, and mother-daughter issues.
--Laurel Duda, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass.
Library Journal
Aimee Slater is a young women struggling to find herself among the traditions of a 19th-century New Hampshire town and the burgeoning factory life of Lowell, Massachusetts. Alternating between her past and present experiences, she melds a story of family relations, her desire to succeed, and her attempt at an independent life. Her parents reluctantly allow her to leave home for the "City of Spindles," yet almost immediately she mourns their absence. Is the wedge between her and her family created by her headstrong choices, as her mother claims, or does she simply draw deeper inside herself as a result of events she cannot understand? Like Ellen Glasgow's Barren Ground (1925), Aimee's struggle takes place in the absence of any strong male presence. This is a captivating novel about regrets, action, and reaction and the final achievement of understanding and contentment. Graver's first attempt to deviate from her well-received short stories (Have You Seen Me?, LJ 7/91) is a success. Recommended for readers who enjoy history, women's development, and mother-daughter issues.
--Laurel Duda, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass.
--Peter Ward, Lindenhurst Memorial Library, New York
--Peter Ward, Lindenhurst Memorial Library, New York
Salon
[W]hen Melville likened "Moby Dick" to "the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships' cables and hawsers," he was really referring to the substance of America as he saw it. And while not every writer wants their images crafted out of such stern stuff, some materials do make more interesting reading than others. That said, why do women keep trying to put their stories together with fabric and thread? That's what Elizabeth Graver does in this soft, murmuring novel about a 19th century girl who flees her hearth and family for the lure of the Massachusetts textile mills. Unravelling is beautifully written and unusual, but it's so painstakingly embroidered and introspective that it could convince a more robust female reader to take up arc welding.

The difficulties of barely industrialized existence furnish much of the color here, but the subtext of this tale is the heroine's messed-up relationship with her mother. It's no surprise that things in Aimee Slater's life come to such an unlovely pass when Graver has saddled the poor girl with such modern sentiments. Aimee doesn't cotton much to religion and feels entitled to explore her sexuality where and when she wants to. Her decision to move to Lynn mimics your average ambitious college girl's flight to the canyons of Manhattan. Mom was not any more pleased then than she is now.

Mill work -- spinning and weaving -- provides handy metaphors for fraying human connections, especially when the dithering characters seem so literally wrapped up in themselves. "When I look back," Aimee ruminates, "I picture the journey marked by a long trail of white thread ... It begins in my mother's hand, and then it trails down the road and through the town and out by the field and into the next town, and on and on until the city, and still it does not stop." Aimee snaps the filament herself when she takes up with a fellow factory worker, who naturally gets her pregnant -- with twins, yet -- and takes off.

Graver might have been aiming for a view of An American Tragedy from the distaff side, but Unravelling lacks the scope of Theodore Dreiser's wrenching explorations of the division between how people feel and what they do. Then again, maybe what she wanted to do was to depict perennial female agonies in a time and place that would set off their vitality. In either case, she makes the same mistake: Women's lives are only smaller if we make them that way, and the part of the world we ignore to our peril may very well be that little fragment we left at home. -- Sally Eckhoff

Kirkus Reviews
A Drue Heinz winner for her stories (Have You Seen Me?, 1991), Graver offers a debut novel about a 19th-century New Hampshire farm girl who goes off to the fabric mills of Lowell, Mass., finds herself pregnant and abandoned á la Tess Durbeyfield, then returns home to live a life of remorse and penance ever after.

When her first child was born in 1829, Aimee's mother picked the baby's name from a magazine called The Ladies' Pearl. And with the name came early beauty, a quick mind, very stubborn disposition, and extraordinarily passionate temperament. By the time Aimee, at 15, implores her parents to let her go off to the mills, she's already come close to bursting with her new sexuality, has lusted after an itinerant mill-agent, and, in the hayloft, has had an innocent enough—to modern eyes and ears—sexual experience with her tubercular brother Jeremiah that like a memory of sin will stay with her (not altogether convincingly) all her life. Jeremiah's death soon after brings an inconsolable sense of loss to Aimee that's more than compounded when she delivers twins who are whisked off at once to waiting foster parents, never to be seen again. The author, luckily, paints this melodrama on a cloth made sturdily from the actual detail and texture of real 19th-century life, both at the mills and down on the farm—where Aimee, as scandalous to the town as a Hester Prynn (albeit without her Pearl), nurses her grief in a 12-by-12-foot bogside cabin on the edge of her parents' land. There, the years will pass; eremite Aimee's only two friends, each also crippled in one way or another, will become her symbolic husband and child; and the novel—trudgingincreasingly as it nears its close—will mete out the healing years.

A familiar old tale told by an author who doesn't make it new, but much of the time makes it lovely, vivid, and touching.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156006101
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/12/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 316
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

ELIZABETH GRAVER is the author of Unravelling and The Honey Thief. She teaches at Boston College and lives in Massachusetts

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Chapter One


This for the two stones inside me,
The two shadows gone from me--
That they may begin to understand.

    At night, because it is summer and the air is hot and close, the mosquitoes float like snowflakes over the bog. I step onto the peat, which gives like a mattress, and the insects circle me in clouds. When I was a child playing here, my flesh was plump and sweet and they flocked to me and drank my blood; now I am no longer a girl, but still they swarm me. On my bog there is heat lightning, and lightning bugs too, blinking across the pond which grows bigger one year, smaller the next. In the beginning I thought that pond would mark my life, its circle growing smaller every year, hemmed in by the peat until it was only a puddle, a drop, a memory in the sludge. Then I noticed how the mass of floating land inched forward one year only to inch back the next.

    My mother liked to say that life is a long straight road if you live it right, but mine has turned and tumbled. In 1829, when I was born, she picked my name from an article in The Ladies' Pearl. Aimee. At Factory Improvement Circle, I learned how in French it meant Loved. My mother did not know.

    "It was a lady's name," she told me. "You were born with fingernails like a lady's. You waved your fingers in the air and howled like you owned the world."

    First I was loved, like my name. Then I was unloved. Now I have Amos and Plumey who visit me, the village cripple and the village orphan, as they are known in town. I have my rabbits who give me fur to spin into yarn. I have my house, built to last, chickens who leave me eggs, clear vision and a strong back, a mother I never see. Amos brings me trinkets and sings me songs about pretty girls, though I have lived thirty-eight years on this earth.

    In beauty I am no longer a great believer, nor proud the way I used to be. It is a fact that I was prettier than most at the factory, pretty as an angel, I was told. When the strangers came through, the factory owners from England looking at how it was done, I was one of the girls who was led to the front looms and asked to demonstrate. When the men from Washington came through, I was one of the girls to carry the banner: "Welcome to the City of Spindles." We wore white muslin dresses with blue sashes that day. We carried parasols edged in green. We marched singing to the factory: "How Doth the Busy Bee." Afterwards they made us give the dresses back.

    I wove that, I wanted to say, or if not that one, then one like it. I knotted the knots when the thread broke, and ran from one crashing loom to another, and threaded the two thousand weft threads until my fingers swelled like rising dough.

    Mine, I wanted to say.

    I only looked like an angel.

    Perhaps if I had been named something else, things would have turned out differently. I might have been named Charity, or Faith, perhaps, or Grace. But Grace can go crooked and Charity is often no more than a guilty conscience, and of Faith I have my portion--or would I still be waiting every day?

    This morning, like most mornings, I make my way over the peat and wash my face in the dark green water of the pond at the center of the bog. Once a fortnight in the mild seasons I bathe there, too, and if I raise my leg to see the kiss of a black leech or feel a water snake circle my ankle, I do not shriek the way I would have as a child, do not flounder and splash and make the birds cock their heads toward my voice. A leech is a leech; a water snake, a water snake. I am in the habit. My body in the water is as bare as when I was born, and if they come while I am bathing--if the tribes of boys or some hunters spot me there--I try to take no notice, but keep cleaning myself with my sponge of brownish moss.

    The hunters, when they see me bathing, crash like awkward bears into the woods. The boys, when they come, usually hide behind trees and peek at me, but today they grow brave and start to chant:

There once was a woman
and what do you think?
Bok bok bok!
She lived upon nothing
but victuals and drink.
Bok bok bok!
And though victuals and drink
were the whole of her diet,
this dirty woman
would never keep quiet!

    Then they stick out their necks, fold their arms into their armpits and flap like chickens. "Never mind them," I can hear Amos saying, though he is not there. "Just a stupid song they'll sing about anybody. They didn't even make it up."

    But later, when they are gone and the song is still circling my head, I must wonder: What do most people live on? What do I?

    "Victuals," I might have told the boys, "and drink and love."

    The chickens and rabbits are scrambling with hunger, so I feed them. The twig brooms I started yesterday are crooked, so I trim them. In this way, the hours pass. It is almost noon when Amos comes to me with blueberries and sits down for a cleaning. They did a poor job of it, the doctors who cut and sewed him up. Over the years the skin on the end of his thigh has healed in deep folds like the inside of a navel. Amos will not clean himself, says it makes the bile in his stomach rise. He sits on a log stool by my door and unpins his coverall leg, and I lower myself down, kneel, and lean over the place where he lost his calf to gangrene, the surface veined and marbled with a month of stubborn dirt.

    "You'll lose the rest of it," I tell, "the way you treat it."

    "Clean," says Amos, "or I'll throw the berries to the birds."

    He tries to whistle a birdsong, but it comes out thin and plain.

    "The blueberries come in strong this year?" I ask him. I dip my rag in the water he has carried in a bucket from the bog pond and begin to wipe.

    He shakes his head. "I found you all there is in the state of New Hampshire. Spent a week going after them."

    "I found some myself," I say, "with Plumey--the low, wild ones. We meant to pick enough for a pie, but we kneeled right down and ate them there."

    "If you have found honey," Amos tells me in his holy voice, "eat only enough for you, lest you be sated with it and vomit."

    He was studying to be a preacher before he lost his leg, and with it the love of a woman and all faith in the workings of the Lord.

    "Stay still," I tell him, for he is squirming, the skin still tender, he says, after all these years, the ghost of his leg still begging to be scratched.

    The bog water is cloudy in the bucket but clear on my rag--strong, preserving water; bodies in the bog do not decay. Cows have been found along the bottom whole years after they went missing, still with flesh on their bones and their brandings left intact. People, too, though not in my lifetime. A witch, they say, with recipes for potions scratched needle-thin up and down her body. A hunter with his quiver of arrows still strapped to his back. No maggots and worms do their speedy work here. Water like this does not forget.

    I pour the water over the skin, into the scarred folds so that they fill like rivers at melting time, then run into a waterfall down where his calf should be. Between my fingers I mash some jewelweed and rub my fingertips stained green with juices along the ridges of his stump to keep the rash away.

    Month after month I have tended Amos's leg, year after year. In the beginning, he would hardly look at me, his mouth pressed in a bitter line, but then one day he must have felt how my hands were touching him where he would not even touch himself, for his hands moved from where they were clenched at his sides to rest lightly on my head.

    I did not smile or look up, except deep inside myself. I cleaned.

    He did not ask me to do it, the first time--so many years ago by now. He had fallen in the woods, not far from my house, and I found him with his wooden leg cradled in his arms, his wound new then, the bandage come undone, attracting flies. I brought a bucket of water to where he was, cleaned him off, wrapped him up. He was silent, went off just like that, but the next month he returned with a jug of cider strapped to his back, sat by my house and rolled up his trouser leg. That was the start of us; soon the town was talking. Soon Amos was staying through the night.

    "Say another part of the Book," I tell him now, not because I want to learn how to walk on the righteous path, but because I have been hearing those words for longer than I can remember and love the turnings of his voice.

    He grins, shifts on the log that is his seat, and says, "Your lips distill nectar, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. The scent of your garments is the scent of Lebanon."

    "Another part," I say.

    "Why not this?"

    "No nectar in the cupboard, and I'm not a bride."

    And Amos answers, "All right, the scent of your garments is the scent of your rabbits?"

    I cannot help smiling.

    "And you have snakes under your tongue?"

    I open my mouth and lift my tongue. Amos peers, but when he gets close I clamp my mouth shut.

    "Nothing," I say. "No honeybees or snakes."

    "They're just hiding," says Amos. "Let me see."

    He cups my chin and tries to kiss me.

    "Stop," I laugh. "I have to wash you. You'd think we were children."

    "Come here, pretty girl."

    "I'm no girl."

    "But pretty."

    I believe Amos when he says he likes how the skin around my eyes shows the prints of where I've been. We get better and better, like fine wine, he said to me last week, and I pictured how vinegar turns to cider, cider to wine--rich, full, and only slightly bitter. Time, I thought, as I lay in Amos's arms, is supposed to smooth the edges of all things, so why am I so jagged sometimes, still, so filled with shards?

    Now I lean forward and run my finger down his face, over the curve of his steep nose, along the cleft above his lip. He is older than I am by four years. His face is scarred from the pox, lined from the weather; his hands are rough from work. But his eyes are the deep, keen gray of slate after a rainstorm--slate flecked with the yellow hanging-ons of moss.

    "Can't stay," he says, nibbling my palm. "Too much work to do."

    "It can't wait?"

    He shakes his head.

    "What is it?"

    "A new henhouse door at the Bacons'. A fox keeps getting through."

    "The Bacons?"

    "They came a few months ago, related to the Prescotts somehow, living over on Osterhold's land."

    "How many of them?"

    "A Mister and Missus and four or five little porkers. And the mother, they brought her along. I saw her coming from the church."

    "An old lady?"

    He shrugs. "Not so old, old enough. Like some other mothers." He pauses to let his silence gather, but I will not linger there.

    "Time to go," I say briskly, though we both know he is not going anywhere. I must still wind his leg with bandage, pick up the wooden part, strap it on with the leather thongs and let the blue cloth fall. I must cover him up until he becomes something the people will look at when he goes to town. I will wash him clean as the inner petals of a bud.

    "Get along," I say, but I take my own sweet time.

    On the beams of my house are things I have not thrown away: a shell comb, a brooch pin wound with hair, a blue sash, letters from my mother. Over the door hangs my rifle, my powderhorn, and bullet pouch. At night, sometimes, I bring the rabbits in to sleep with me; there are foxes in the woods, and owls. In the twelve feet by twelve feet of my house, my rabbits eat from my hand. I give them oats and barley, apples, corn and carrots. Outside, milkweed and lupine could kill them, mudholes could suck them down. "Shush," I say, stroking back their ears. Near the door I have hung a salt lick on a piece of wire. When I set the blind one before it, she lifts her nose and sniffs, then licks, and I watch as she tastes comfort in its roughest shape, the salt of tears and skin.

    Plumey, who has no parents, sleeps in town, in the Doctor's house. Amos sleeps, most nights, in his cottage at the foot of Red Skunk Hill. My father is under the ground, not preserved in the bog. My brother Jeremiah died of consumption when I was still at the mills; my sister Harriet died of a thickness of the blood after I had come back and moved into this house. They lie beside my father in the churchyard. My brothers Thomas and John live out West--a place I cannot picture and will never see. And my mother? Just through the fields, over the hill, living out her days with my brother Luke in the house where I grew up. A few heartbeats, a short walk, an impossible distance away.

    Still, it must be said that in my way, I am rarely alone. My thoughts have been dense with voices, thick with bodies, and I have heard coughs and hiccups, breaths and cries and other things. Sometimes the crowd inside my head makes the days move faster. Other times the days move slowly, and I worry that I am nothing but a stubborn woman spiraling in on herself--the way they must think of me in town.

    Mostly the days move like days, and sometimes I gather things to eat or tend the animals, and sometimes I sit with Plumey on the bank, and sometimes I lie back on my bed with my knees bent up, as if I were birthing. Or I lie on my side with my head bowed and my knees tucked to my chest, as if I were waiting to be born.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Unravelling is a contemporary novel set in the nineteenth century. In what ways does it feel modern? In what ways does it seem to be about another time and place? Do you think that girls and women today struggle with similar issues and concerns? What links do you see between Unravelling and other recent novels set in the past, such as Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Jane Smiley's The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, or Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain?

2. The novel opens with an epigraph: "This for the two stones inside me/The two shadows gone from me/That they may begin to understand" (p.l). How does the image of the stones reveal Aimee's struggles throughout the novel? How do you interpret the image of thread, which begins in the title, appears again when Aimee leaves for the mills (p.108), and reappears after she gives birth (p.217)? What other images have stayed in your mind?

3. Aimee says, "I could have been born a child who walked the middle road; instead I needed both solitude and touch with a hunger that left me breathless, split in two" (p.250). What is it about the world Aimee lives in that makes her dual desires for solitude and touch so difficult to negotiate? How do her relationships with Jeremiah, William Tanning, her mother, Amos, and Plumey reflect or contradict this description of herself?

4. Unravelling is full of stories: the fairy tales Aimee's mother tells her in Chapter Five; the accounts of the mill that Aimee gathers from various sources before she goes; the story Plumey finally manages to relate about her past. Why does storytelling seem to be such an important activity for these characters? How dothe two fairy tales illuminate the themes of the novel? Do stories tend to help the characters or lead them astray? To whom is Aimee telling her own story, and why?

5. The Lowell textile mills were one of the first planned industrial communities in the United States and allowed young women from all over New England to leave home, earn money, and gain some independence for the first time. Yet the mills were also places of long hours, strict regimens, enforced behavior, and dangerous working conditions. Overall, what was your reaction to them? Do you think Aimee would have been better off heeding her mother's advice and staying home? Did she have any other options?

6. After she returns from the mills, Aimee says that the mere thought of her mother fills her "with a rage so distilled I felt it like a fine-ground powder in the marrow of my bones." How do you understand Aimee's anger toward her mother? Is it justified? Why did it endure for so long? What makes this mother/daughter relationship so tense and complicated? In what ways are the two characters different? In what ways are they alike?

7. Unravelling is narrated from two distinct points of view: that of the young Aimee as she struggles with her desires and goes forth into the world, and that of the middle-aged Aimee living by the bog. What purpose does this dual perspective serve? Were you equally interested in both portions of Aimee's life? How would the story be different if one strand were missing?

Copyright (c) 1999. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)