Amy Hassinger

Writer. Teacher. Manuscript Consultant.

Book Clubs and After the Dam

After The Dam led to an in-depth discussion about the characters. We dug into their lives because they were like people we knew and because some of them changed in the course of the book. Lots of lively conversation and a few ah-ha moments.  
 --25-year-old book club in Cincinnati, OH

I love meeting with book clubs, either in person, or via phone, Skype, or Google Hangout. Please contact me if you'd like me to appear at your book club. In the meantime, consider using these questions below to get the discussion going: 

Discussion Questions

1.     Rachel leaves home with her baby Deirdre in the middle of the night, as if she’s escaping something. What is she escaping? What does she hope to find at the Farm? Does she find it or not, by the end of the book?

After the Dam is a perfect book club choice.  The characters are very real in their complexity, each one struggling with prior life choices and relationships. This well-written novel shows that there are no easy solutions to human problems.  
 -- Beth El Temple Center Book Club, Belmont, MA

2.     Mothers appear throughout the novel, in different forms. Identify five different mother figures in the book, and discuss each of them. Which representations are positive? Which are negative? Which are mixed? Is the novel making a statement about motherhood? What might that be, if so?

3.     Michael urges Rachel to see a therapist for what he believes might be post-partum depression. Rachel resists this. Who’s right? Why?

4.     Rachel and Diane come into conflict with one another over the course of the novel. Why are they fighting and what are they fighting over? How does each of them approach the conflict? Do you identify more with one character or the other? Why?

5.     Setting is a crucial element in After the Dam, most especially the motifs of water, woods, and the eagles. How do these motifs function in the novel? What associations do they take on as the story progresses?

Our book group loved reading and discussing After The Dam. The conversation moved from land ownership to post-partum depression, from adultery to activism. And we read aloud some of our favorite lyrical paragraphs, about the rain falling and the water rising.
--Odyssey Bookstore Fiction Book Group, South Hadley, MA

6.     Both the Old Bend Dam and the Farm are central symbols in the book. What does each thing represent to Rachel? To Joe? To Diane? To Maddy? Does this change by the end of the book? How?

7.     Does the novel present a convincing argument for the removal of dams? Why or why not?

8.     At one point in the book, Joe tells Rachel, “You can’t go back.” And yet he spends much of his time searching under the reservoir for a lost world, longing—arguably—for the past. How do you reconcile this? Is Joe living in the past? The present? The future? Does this change over the course of the book? 

9.     One of the novel’s epigraphs is a quote from the scholar Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” What connection do you see between the quote and the novel’s themes?

10. The novel’s ending leaves much to readers’ imaginations. What do you think happens beyond the last page? What will Rachel’s life look like in five years? Joe’s? Diane’s? Michael’s?