Heart of the Beast

A Novel

Heart of the Beast

Twenty-eight-year-old Iris Steele has just inherited her family's ranch in northeast Oregon. It is the ranch where she grew up herding cattle and harvesting wheat, and where her brother and father both died. It is also, it turns out, land that the Nez Percé Indians now claim is rightfully theirs. As Iris begins to piece together the property's legitimate ownership, she unearths not only her family's turbulent history but also two centuries of tortured relationships between homesteaders and Native Americans. Struggling with a new crop and a fragile romance, she must ultimately confront the true nature of her legacy.
In astonishing language, Joyce Weatherford combines unflinching descriptions of ranch life with the sensuous beauty of the Oregon landscape. part romance, mystery, courtroom drama, and history, Heart of the Beast is a family saga of epic power and import.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743211802 | 
  • September 2002
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Reading Group Guide

1. Heart of the Beast opens to Iris's disturbing and bloody dream of the Nez Perce Indians and concludes with her father's violent death. What other violent images and scenes do you remember from the story? What do these scenes tell us about this land, this life, and this family? What does the calving scene illustrate about the relationship between Iris and her mother, and, likewise, what does the branding and castrating scene show about Ike and his children?
2. Farming has often been portrayed in literature as the work of men against an implacable earth. In this novel, the farmland is often portrayed as feminine: on page 7, we learn that the family farmed by the cycles of the moon; on page 8, the ground lies "vulnerable, carvable, and pliant," and later, the "gold grain rushed into the bin the way a mother's milk comes in a while after a baby is born." How do these and similar images shape our perception of the land and the act of farming? What do they say about Iris as a single woman running a farm on her own?
3. The novel revolves around the question of whether Iris and her family are the rightful owners of the property they call Heart of the Beast or whether the land belongs to the Nez Perce. Were you surprised by the way this issue was ultimately resolved? Was the decision fair? Who do you believe the land belongs to, and what would you have done in Iris's p see more