Doubter’s Almanac

By Ethan Canin
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for November 2016

Discussion Questions

  1. How is ‘doubt’ at the core of the novel?
  2. Who is the doubter? What is the effect of this emotion?
  3. What characterizes Milo’s childhood? How do these experiences carry over into adulthood?
  4. Can we separate Milo the man from Milo the alcoholic? Can his arrogance, cruelty, and self-sabotage all be explained by the addiction or is there an underlying, distinct personality?
  5. What role does Dewitt Tread play in the novel?
  6. Early in the novel, Milo says, “Kids–God no…That would be cruel.” How does he know this?
  7. Why does Paulie suffer more than Hans?
  8. What’s the difference between Helena and Audra?
  9. Why does the novel begin with the end, and why do you think Canin gives us a happy ending?

One of the things I love about Ethan Canin novels is what I have deemed “Caninisms.” Here are several. Why do you think he includes his personal aphorisms and how do they reinforce the themes of the novel?

Nature never broke its own laws.

Nature never lies; that’s what history tells us.

Never pretend to knowledge..learning is to be hungered for, not treated as currency.

You have to go against the times.

Stop following other people’s rules.

The truth isn’t always what needs to be spoken.

Teaching is a noble profession. Your given the opportunity to intervene.

Faith and love. That’s what it comes down to.

The will is everything. Never give up.

You can’t fight who you are.

We are destined to lose.

History is merciless.

Happy isn’t even a real idea. It’s ┬ájust like love. A reasonably skeptical person doesn’t even know what it means.

You make a decision, then you turn it into the right one.

Human existence is bounded by tragedy.

Ignorance is the thing we seek to remedy.

An infant, in his first sleepiness, must let go of the world; a man must learn to die.

If you’re disciplined, you can keep control of anything. That’s the only truth.

Life is brutal.

How ignorant we are of the lives of our parents.

 

 

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