Catherine Wheels

Catherine Wheels

by Leif Peterson

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Thomas’s carefully built life has been shattered. Everywhere he turns, he finds tragedy. After being left at the altar, he retreats to a remote castle in the mountains of Northwest Montana to live with an old college friend dying of lupus. But their painfully peaceful seclusion is ripped apart by the news that Thomas’s brother, an Episcopal priest, has killed himself–and his sister-in-law is abandoning her seven-year-old daughter, Catherine, into Thomas’s care.

After her unexpected arrival into this grim corner of the world, Catherine slowly breaches the isolation and penetrates the self-absorption. Like the prayer wheel on the wall of a nearby convent, Catherine gently but surely pulls the various dying people around her into the robust company of the loving and living.

Catherine Wheels is a lyrical novel of hope and redemption, the honest story of men and women who have had all the zest for life knocked out of them–damaged souls who are slowly brought back to health by a little girl who knows something the rest of them either never knew or had forgotten: something about prayer, love, and sacrifice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307551139
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/23/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Leif Peterson earned a BA in literature from Whitworth College and an MA in literature from the University of Colorado in Boulder. He was the publisher/editor of a literary magazine and fiction editor for Mars Hill Review. He lives with his wife and children in Northwest Montana where he raises pheasants and writes full time. This is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Catherine Wheels

By Leif Peterson

Random House

Leif Peterson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1578568943

Chapter One

In Spokane, we built our own field of dreams. My brother and I were living there the summer my mother died. I'd just finished my junior year at a small college nestled on the north end of town in an oasis of towering ponderosa pine. Normally I went home to Baltimore for summers and holidays, but that summer I decided to stay. I got a job at a sporting-goods store and joined the softball team it sponsored. Stephen painted houses. He'd just finished his first year at General Theological Seminary, but his fiancee, Mary, was in Spokane. We lived with our friend Perry Palmer in a little house in the heart of Dog Town.

We had a large, fenced backyard that was covered in landscaping bark. During the first weeks of summer, Perry converted the backyard into a Wiffle-ball field. He shoveled up the bark and hauled it away, then brought in sod for the infield. We laid the sod on a Saturday afternoon, cutting the pieces with a kitchen knife. Perry dug dirt from a flower bed at the front of the house and built a pitcher's mound. He extended the fence posts and put up lights for night games.

Summer days in Spokane are hot and dry, the evenings long, and the nights cool and starry. After work we'd play Wiffle ball while a sprinkler on the neighbor's lawn ticked back and forth. We'd play late into the evenings long after it got dark, the sound of the bat on the ball, plastic on plastic, hollow and sharp like exclamation marks.

But it was during a softball game that my mother died. I'd just hit a shot over the right fielder's head. By the time he got to it, I was rounding second. It was an easy triple, but I thought I could stretch it into a home run.

I rounded third and glanced to right field where the fielder was winding up to throw home. He seemed to move in slow motion, part of another dimension. A gust of wind blew and kicked up clouds of dirt. The sound of the field was dampened, everything muted. Halfway down the third-base line, I had a vision of my mother. She was walking on a dark city street in a neighborhood she shouldn't have been in. She was wearing a black cape, walking between parallel sidewalks toward a distant vanishing point. I got the distinct impression she was walking away from me. I wanted to yell to her, but before I had the chance, she disappeared, enveloped in a fog.

I've often wondered if I made it safely home, but I have no memory of the rest of the game. That evening, Perry and I were in the backyard playing Wiffle ball when I thought of my mother again. She'd been scheduled for a minor surgery that day. It was so minor and so routine that I didn't even remember what it was. Still feeling a little unsettled by the vision, I told Perry that I thought I should call home. I went inside, but before I could get to the phone, it rang.

I picked it up and listened as someone from my parents' church tried to explain to me that my mother had not come out of the anesthesia. At first I thought she simply meant that my mother hadn't yet woken up, and I couldn't understand why she was calling. When it dawned on me that she was dead, the vision replayed itself-my mother on a dark street of an unfriendly city, dressed in black, walking away. I put the phone down without hanging up and looked around the room. All the furniture was mismatched and worn, typical college stuff, handed down, not bought. Outside it was getting dark. The rhythmic clicking of a sprinkler from the neighbor's yard serrated the stillness of the night.

The back screen door opened and Perry came in. "What's wrong?"

His voice was dull and matted; the air in the room gauzy.

"What's wrong he repeated."

"My mother died," I said. "I need to find Stephen."

Excerpted from Catherine Wheels by Leif Peterson Excerpted by permission.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Throughout the book Thomas is grieving–for his brother, for his mother, for his failed marriage. All of us have experienced grief to some extent in our lives. Describe what it feels like to witness Thomas’ grief. Does his eventual comfort become your own?

2. It’s Catherine, a nine-year-old girl, who slowly begins to pull the damaged souls around her back into the world of the living and loving. Why do you think Peterson chose a child to perform this function?

3. There are several things in the book that are either unexplained or unresolved. For instance, we never get to know who or what the young pregnant dancing girl is. We don’t get to know why the statues of the saints are appearing. Normally leaving things unresolved in a book is taboo. Do you think this was done intentionally? If so, why?

4. It’s basic to human nature to want to be able to explain things. On page 253 Clare tells Thomas, “…if we insist on understanding everything, we’ll never get it. We need to simply do our best to live into it, and accept that we may never know what it all means.” Describe the conflict in your own life between wanting the answers and accepting the mystery.

5. On pages 253-254, Thomas tells Clare the story of the seven daughters of Atlas and how they were metamorphosed into stars. It’s clear by this point that the characters in the book are undergoing their own metamorphosis. How is it happening? Is it their growing love for one another? Their experiences? Something else?

6. The theme of randomness versus being fated is brought up several times in the book. Do you believe your life is primarily a random course of events, or is it more determined than that? Does it have to be one or the other, or can it be both?

7. The Right Reverend Daniel Tuttle, who flourished in the late 1800's, once remarked that he engaged in a faith not afraid to reason and reason unashamed to adore. Discuss this idea in relationship to the characters in Catherine Wheels.

8. Throughout the book, Catherine tells stories of various saints. What do you think the purpose was for including this material? Is there a correlation between the stories of the saints and the stories of the characters in the book?

9. During the course of the book the characters move from one island (the castle) to another island (the one in the Caribbean). By the end, do you have any hope that they’ve broken free of their isolationism?

10. There are two Catherine wheels in the book (one in Montana and one in the Caribbean). Is there a third? What role do they play?

11. What would you say the tone of this book is? How does the tone affect the story?

12. On page 79, after seeing a saint, Catherine tells Thomas, “My father had something to do with it.” On page 320, Thomas stands at the window and says, “Stephen, what do you want from me?” Again, on the last page of the book, Stephen’s presence is felt very strongly. In many ways, Stephen’s presence haunts the whole book. What affect does this have on you as a reader?

13. If you had to describe in two or three sentences what this book was about, how would you do it?

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