This reading group guide for Still Water includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the bookIntroduction
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How do you find the truth in a town full of secrets? Sally Proulx and her young boy have mysteriously disappeared in the stormy town of High River. Clare O’Dey is hired to track them down, hoping against all odds to find them alive. But High River isn’t your typical town.
In a town where secrets are crucial to survival, everyone is hiding something. And the police clearly have an ulterior motive beyond solving the case. Malcolm Boon, who hired Clare, knows more about her than he reveals. Their benefactor, Helen Haines, conceals a tragic family history of her own. As the truth surges through High River, Clare must face the very thing she has so desperately been running from, even if it comes at a devestating cost. Compulsively gripping and twisty, Still Water
is a deep dive of a thriller that will leave you breathless.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. How does the first chapter invoke the mood for this novel? Why do you think the author opened the novel this way?
2. As Clare is assuming the identity of Sally’s friend, what does she realize about herself? How does her experience feed into this new identity?
3. How would you describe Helen and Ginny’s relationship? What is Clare’s impression of the women at High River?
4. Describe Clare’s interaction with Markus in the bunker. Why do you think she was “grateful to be away from him at last” (page 71)?
5. During the interrogation with Somers at the police station, why does Clare agree to give Somers her phone number? If you were in her shoes, would you have done the same? Why or why not?
6. When Clare meets Malcolm at Sentinel Park after not seeing him for weeks, what does she notice is different about him? How does this make you feel about Malcolm?
7. Describe Clare’s meeting with Jordan at his office. What’s your impression of Jordan? Of Philip?
8. On page 118, Raylene says, “We lie to protect ourselves,” to which Rebecca responds, “We lie to get what we want.” Which character do you agree with and why?
9. What does Clare eventually learn about her time with Malcolm at the motel?
10. After Rebecca’s confrontation with Markus about Sally, the rest of the group gather in Helen’s living room, where the characters start making certain accusations. What grievances and grudges emerge, and are you surprised by any of them?
11. Describe Clare and Grace’s reunion. Are you surprised by how it turns out?
12. Just as Clare starts to give up on the High River case and give in to her addiction, something changes her mind. What is it?
13. Janice says to Clare, “Women are capable of that. Of burying things” (page 287). Do you agree with Janice’s statement? Discuss what each female character might “bury” in this novel.
14. In the end, what does Clare plan to do? What do you think about her decision? What do you imagine will happen in the next book?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read (or re-read) Still Mine
where Clare was first introduced to us. Discuss her character development in this novel.
2. People from Clare’s past, like Jason, her mother, and Grace, particularly their gestures and words, seem to appear in her subconscious, triggered by some external event. Discuss the imprint that some people leave on an individual. Is it possible to get rid of or to silence this imprint?
3. Consider volunteering or visiting at domestic abuse shelter in your area.A Conversation with Amy StuartWhat kind of research was involved in writing this book? What resources did you use?
I spend time researching practical things I don’t know a lot about, like guns and police procedural work. But the most helpful research for me is reading about real-life experiences that come as close to my characters’ stories as possible. In the early stages of a book, I look at real-life cases or accounts to help me authenticate details. What I love most about the process is the unbelievable true stories you come across. Writers, especially thriller writers, often worry we are straining credulity in our plot points, but the reality is that stranger and more far-fetched things than what I write happen all the time in real life. How did you invent your new characters in Still Water?
In writing Still Mine
I learned that the best way for me to build character was to treat the first draft of the book as a sketch, an outline of their personalities. It takes me a few drafts to figure out who they truly are and what roles they play in the story. Sometimes you end up cutting or adding or merging characters after an early draft so the ones you’re left with are richer and more integral to the story. Ginny and Raylene started out as four characters, but after the first draft I fused them into two better ones. Building people from scratch isn’t easy! I’ve learned to give myself the time to do it. Is there one character you relate to or sympathize with the most?
My favorite character in Still Water
is definitely Somers. She didn’t actually appear until the second draft, but by the final stages of writing I was having so much fun with her. It was nice to create a strong woman character who exists on the outside of the story and is more of an observer. But the character I empathize with the most is still Clare. She’s the one who’s been with me since the beginning, and by the time I was done writing the second book I felt like I knew her so well. She feels real to me. She annoys me too, which is funny because I’m the one making her up!Ginny, despite appearing young and immature, seems to be the most honest person at High River. Do you think her age factors in to her ability to speak the truth?
I’ve taught high school for many years, so it was important to me to get Ginny right and to have her reflect the smarts I see in the young people I teach. I think adults can underestimate youth in many ways, especially these days when they are often far more savvy with technology, messaging, and media than we are. I wanted Ginny to reflect that reality. She is observant and wry and angry with the adults around her for ignoring the issues plain to see, but because of her age, she is dismissed.Water is mentioned in the title and it serves as a setting for the novel. Is there a significance to water? Why did you choose High River?
The first thing that comes to me when I’ve got a novel in mind is the setting and how it impacts the characters and the story. With Still Mine
it was the remote mountains and the thin air, and in Still Water
, it was the heat and the churning water of a river. The elemental nature gives me a focus in the early stages of writing. And sure enough, I’m writing the third book and I find myself fixated on fire.The idea of truths and lies are two notions that often come up in this novel. What fascinates you about these two concepts?
The thing about truth that fascinates me the most is its subjectivity. I do an experiment with my students where we watch something together and then everyone writes down what they saw. The results are as remarkable as they are consistent; even though we all watched the same thing, we re-tell it very differently. Truths and lies are so wrapped up with our memory, our experiences, and our intentions. We might not always mean to lie, but we may still tell a version of a story that suits us more than the whole truth. That subjectivity is a gold mine for novel writers.How did your experience writing Still Water compare to writing Still Mine?
It was surprisingly different. Still Mine
was written slowly over five years as I found my legs as a writer and then worked with editors to whip it into shape. With Still Water
, the process was much faster, which made it more difficult in some ways. At the same time, I felt better equipped as a writer to deal with certain issues, particularly around plot complexity. I think the biggest lesson I’ve taken into writing the third book is to not fiddle too much with the early drafts or stress about them being messy and somewhat incoherent. It takes a few drafts for a book to take meaningful shape, and two books later, I’m finally okay with that.What draws you to the psychological thriller/suspense genre? Given the genre’s popularity, how do you make sure to stand out?
I always knew I wanted to write books that focused on character. Even though Still Mine
and Still Water
are thrillers, it was important to me to give the characters a lot of depth and make the books just as much about them as they are about the plot and the whodunit aspect. I hope that makes them stand out a bit.Name a few writers who influenced your writing. Are there any recent books that caught your eye?
When I first started out, I searched for authors who were masters of plotting. Some big influences include P, D. James, Dennis Lehane, Louise Penny, and Ian Rankin. These days, I’m overwhelmed by the breadth and quality of books out there, even within the thriller genre. Some amazing writers I’ve read lately are Mary Kubica, Jennifer Egan, Louise Erdrich, Nathan Ripley, and Iain Reid.Without giving too much away: What can readers expect in the next chapter of Clare’s journey? What else are you working on?
Right now I’m working on Clare’s next adventure. Even though I’m the one who wrote her, I’m still amazed by how far she’s come along since the first pages of Still Mine
. She started out very troubled, and while that will always be part of who she is, I think readers will see her strength and determination and resilience shine through a lot more in the third book. I’m excited for that.