Pub. price: $15.00
A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood
Publisher: Random House (P) Published: Jun 1 1999 Pages: 219 Weight: 0.45lbs. Height: 8.25" Width: 5.50" Depth: 0.75" Language: English
1. The first chapter of Outside Passage is a flash forward, yet chronologically, the story really begins with Chapter 2. Why do you think the author chose this narrative device? Is it effective? 2. In recounting her childhood, how does the narrator suggest the importance of her memories of her father, as few and hazy as they might have been? 3. During her two year stay in the San Francisco orphanage, the young Billie finds ways of extracting emotional sustenance from this difficult situation. What are some of these ways? How does this same ability to find the positive within hard circumstances impact on her adjustment to life after the orphanage? 4. In some ways the orphanage provides the two young girls in Outside Passage with cultural advantages, associations and learning opportunities not previously available to them. Today the very word 'orphanage' causes a shudder; yet we hear of the many failings of the foster care system which replaced them. How might the author and her sister have fared better or worse if they had existed in today's system? 5. In desperation, Rose chose to leave her two daughters in San Francisco and return alone to Alaska. Why do you think she decided to leave her children in an orphanage rather than taking them with her? Was this the best decision for herself? For her children? 6. Reunited with her girls, Rose seems like a permissive parent, imposing 'no rules,' as Billie observes. How would you explain this behavior: is it evidence of a lack of caring; a guilty response to having abandoned them in the orphanage; does it represent a hope that this freedom might provide a healing process for the girls? 7. Billie expresses positive feelings about the men who frequent her mother's roadhouse. What is the basis for her feelings and do you think they reflect the real nature of these men or a child's idealization? 8. Rose's secrecy about her emotional and sexual life impacts on the life of the narrator increasingly as she reaches puberty. How does Rose's behavior and attitudes reflect the mores of that period in American life? In what ways might her story and that of her daughters been different had they lived in a contemporary setting? 9. Many reviewers have described the writing style in Outside Passage as 'understated.' Does this style work to good effect in telling the story? How so? 10. Two incidents in the book might be seen as turning points in the narrator's life. One is the scene in which she witnesses the malamute shot by the chief of police, the other occurs some years later when she is struck by the beauty of the sun rising over the frozen sea. In what ways are these moments particularly meaningful in her emotional development? 11. The New York Times reviewer observed that '...Scully's imagination, the tool with which she probes her mother's life, is a moral imagination, whose root is forgiveness...' Do you agree? In what way is this 'forgiveness' evident? 12. In another review ( The Cleveland Plain Dealer ) the statement appears that in Outside Passage , the 'setting and voice ... perfectly mesh.' What do you understand this to mean? 13. The author was formerly editor of Modern Photography Magazine and has written extensively about the art of photography. Some readers and reviewers have commented on the photographic, i.e. strongly visual, nature of her writing. Do you see evidences of this quality and what is the ultimate result in the effectiveness of the story being told? 14. While Outside Passage is, in effect, a 'coming-of-age' story, it is set against the background of two major events in the 20th Century history of this country: The Great Depression and The Second World War. What sense of these events does the reader glean as observed through the eyes of a young girl? 15. In Time Magazine , a writer described Outside Passage as 'a simple reminder of the immense power of a child's love, which can last through terrible neglect,' while, as mentioned above, the New York Times reviewer found it 'rooted in forgiveness.' Are there other emotions and feelings that can be inferred about the narrator's attitude towards her mother?