"Some women can touch a man and heal like Jesus. The man who sees sunrise from a Belle woman's bed will swear he's been born again."
So begins Paula Wall's funny, poignant, and sexy novel, The Rock Orchard. Musette Belle could lay her hand on a baby's heart and see his life as if he'd already lived it. Even in death, she continues to shock the good citizens of Leaper's Fork, Tennessee, and her descendents are doing their best to carry on her legacy. Angela Belle, a haunting and beautiful siren, lures every man she meets into greatness, while her illegitimate and very independent daughter, Dixie, serves tea and vanilla wafers to the statue of the Confederate soldier she believes is her father. But when Charlotte Belle, a woman who would rather spend the night with Jack Daniel's than any man she knows, seduces a stranger in the cemetery, it not only transforms the two people involved but the entire town.
Blending sensuality, wisdom, and wry wit to create a truly unique love story, The Rock Orchard is about the strength of community, the might of God, and the ultimate power of extraordinary women.
Reading Group Guide
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Reading Group Questions: 1. In the preface we are introduced to Musette Belle and her ability to "read the future." Most Belle women have retained this gift of "sight." In what other ways do the Belle women see differently? How do they use this gift to enrich their community?
2. What similarities do Angela and Charlotte share? What makes them distinctly different? What do you think these characters learn from each other? 3. "The Rock Orchard" of the title is a reference to a cemetery. "A cemetery is like an orchard. Some lives were sweet. Some bitter as lemons. And some were rotten to the core." The cemetery in Leaper's Fork is practically a character in itself - a place that figures especially in the lives of the Belle women, often in unexpected ways. In this way the cemetery sheds its stigma as a place of sadness and death. Discuss the cemetery as a place of happiness and rebirth. How does the cemetery serve as a turning point for Charlotte? For Lydia? For Reverend Thomas? 4. Reba Earhart and Mila are just two of the many people Charlotte inspires. "You are what you are, till you decide to be different," she says. Compare and contrast these two women - how did they both succumb to the initial lots they had drawn in life? What patterns of behavior did they share? How did they go about changing those patterns? How did they perpetuate the chain of inspiration in others around them? 5. Empowerment is an important factor throughout the novel. How do various characters overcome their circumstances? Does empowerment always come in the form of financial wealth? Where else do these characters find power? 6. What was the significance of Levon Sevier initiating the kiss at his and KyAnn's wedding? 7. Charlotte is described as having "a man's mind" and frequently engages in behaviors stereotypically reserved for men, such as drinking and smoking cigars. Discuss the reversal of gender stereotypes found throughout the novel. How does it change the reader's point of view on gender roles in society? Are the characters who adhere to the classic gender stereotypes viewed differently from those who break out of their gender roles? 8. The Belles, KyAnn Merriweather, and Julia Mercer are independent women who take ownership of their sexuality. This intimidates some, and inspires others. By the end of the novel, both KyAnn and Charlotte are married. Does this in any way undermine their independence? Why or why not?
9. Throughout the novel we see a variety of partnerships - business, friendship, marriage, religious, and sometimes a blend of two or more. Discuss some of the partnerships found in The Rock Orchard. Which were most successful? Which surprised you most? 10. While national and world events are occasionally mentioned in The Rock Orchard, much of the story seems to take place in a suspended space and time. Why do you think this is? How does it help the plot? Does it hurt the story in any way? 11. Where do you see Charlotte, Angela,and Dixie in the next five years? In what ways will they have changed? In what ways will they remain the same? 12. Just for fun, imagine you are a casting director working on a film version of The Rock Orchard. Discuss whom you would cast to play some of the main characters and why. Who would you cast for Charlotte? Angela? KyAnn? Adam? Lydia? Boone?
Paula Wall is the author of two collections of short pieces, My Love Is Free...But the Rest of Me Don't Come Cheap and If I Were a Man, I'd Marry Me. The latter was a semifinalist for the Thurber Prize. She currently lives outside of Nashville in a converted barn on 150 acres at the foot of the Highland Rim. Her nearest neighbor is one mile down the road, which, frankly, is a little too close for comfort. The Rock Orchard is her first novel. Visit her website at www.PaulaWall.com.