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About The Book

With a strong, warm voice that brings the South to life, New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe writes richly textured stories that intimately portray the complex and emotional relationships we share with families, friends, and the natural world. "Every book that Mary Alice Monroe has written has felt like a homecoming to me," writes Pat Conroy, bestselling author of The Prince of Tides.

Time Is a River is an insightful novel that will sweep readers away to the seductive southern landscape, joining books by authors such as Anne Rivers Siddons and Sue Monk Kidd.

Recovering from breast cancer and reeling from her husband's infidelity, Mia Landan flees her Charleston home to heal in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. She seeks refuge in a neglected fishing cabin belonging to her fly-fishing instructor, Belle Carson.

Belle recently inherited the cabin, which once belonged to a grandmother she never knew -- the legendary fly fisher and journalist of the 1920s, Kate Watkins, whose life fell into ruins after she was accused of murdering her lover. Her fortune lost in the stock market crash and her reputation destroyed, Kate slipped into seclusion in the remote cabin. After her death the fishing cabin remained locked and abandoned for decades. Little does Belle know that by opening the cabin doors to Mia for a summer's sanctuary, she will open again the scandal that plagued Belle's family for generations.

From her first step inside the dusty cabin, Mia is fascinated by the traces of Kate's mysterious story left behind in the eccentric furnishings of the cabin. And though Belle, ashamed of the tabloid scandal that tortured her mother, warns Mia not to stir the mud, Mia is compelled to find out more about Kate...especially when she discovers Kate's journal.

The inspiring words of the remarkable woman echo across the years. Mia has been learning to fly-fish, and Kate's wise words comparing life to a river resonate deeply. She begins a quest to uncover the truth behind the lies. As she searches newspaper archives and listens to the colorful memories of the local small-town residents, the story of a proud, fiercely independent woman emerges. Mia feels a strange kinship with the woman who, like her, suffered fears, betrayal, the death of loved ones, and a fall from grace -- yet found strength, compassion and, ultimately, forgiveness in her isolation. A story timeless in its appeal emerges, with a power that reopens old wounds, but also brings a transforming healing for Mia, for Kate's descendants, and for all those in Mia's new community.

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. What does the title, Time is a River, represent for you? What characteristics do the passing of time and the flowing of the river share? How did time and the river act as representations for one another in the story? Why did the river come to mean so much to Mia?
2. The road to healing does not follow a straight course. Often emotional healing takes two steps forward and one back in a circuitous route to recovery. The opening of the book reflects that backwards and forward movement. Cite the small steps forward Mia takes and the subsequent set backs as she gradually gains strength and purpose. Discuss how the movement of casting--back and forth--symbolizes this pattern of healing.
3. Go back and read the Mark Nepo poem, "Holding Each Other Up" that opens the novel. What is the significance of opening the narrative with this poem?
4. On the first page of Chapter 1, when Mia is making her way to Belle's cabin, the narrator tells us, "Mia Landan no longer believed in fairy tales" (Pg 1). By the end of the book, do you think Mia believes in fairy tales again? Discuss how the mountainous landscape and Mia's experiences in Watkin's Mill can be likened to a fairy tale?
5. Discuss Mia's relationship with her sister Maddie. How is Maddie like a mother to Mia; how is she like a sister? How like a friend? What is the difference?
6. At the start of the novel, Mia is in need of rescue and Belle is there for her. How do their roles reverse by the end of the summer? Is Mia there for Belle in the same way? In your experience have you found that friendships are strengthened when each person gives and takes?
7. Do you think rain had any significance in Mia's story? Did you notice that important events seemed to happen during a downpour? Being that nature was so important to Mia, could this have been nature's way of acting as an actual character in the story? How else did nature affect the plot?
8. As Mia learns and grows as a resident of Watkin's Mill she improves Belle's cabin as well. When it is time to leave she "[breathes] deep as if she could somehow absorb the soul of the cabin to carry with her" (Pg 360). In what ways does the cabin have a soul and a spirit? Have you ever felt that a place or an object has a personality or a soul?
9. When Mia begins exploring the cabin she finds not only Kate's diaries, but an armoire filled with treasures, including hand-painted china, priceless silver, bamboo fishing rods, and beautiful clothes (page 45). If you were to fill a hope chest today, with your most prized possesions, what would you include? What would these things say about you should somebody find them 50 years from now?
10. Discuss Mia's relationship to her body throughout the course of the novel. On page 49 the narrator tells us that Mia felt as betrayed by her body as she did by Charles. How does her time in Watkin's Mill affect her feelings toward her own body? Has she made peace? How has Stuart played a role in this?
11. It seems that Kate and her granddaughter Belle have quite a bit in common, even though they've never met. A love of fly-fishing "ran through their bloodline as sure and strong as the currents in a river" (Pg 106). Do you think preferences like this are innate or learned? What hobbies or preferences do you think you have inherited from a relative?
12. Mia learns much of Kate Watkins' history directly from the people in town. Whether it is through stories passed down through generations, or from Kate's old friends who are still around to share. How does this technique of telling the story via an oral history affect the credibility of the narrative? In an age in which almost any information you could dream of is available at the click of a mouse, how does the unraveling of the history of Kate and of Watkin's Mill through hard-earned research, from first hand sources, seem more credible?
13. Mia nicknames the giant, and elusive, rainbow trout "Mr. Big." On page 165 she thinks, "Mr. Big was as ancient as the river he swam in, wise and wary. At what price wisdom, she wondered? Had that big trout ever felt the prick of steel in his mouth?" What do Mia and Mr. Big have in common? How does Mia's relationship to him develop? Why do you think she still has not caught Mr. Big by the end of the novel?
14. When Mr. Pace tells Mia the story of DeLancey's disappearance and the trial that followed he says, "People walked into the room saying 'poor Kate' and walked out saying 'poor Camilla.' In matters of the heart, sympathy usually goes to the wronged wife" (Pg 309). Being a wronged wife herself, how do you think Mia maintained her feelings of kinship with Kate after learning she was having an affair with a married man? Do you think Kate's story helped Mia to see her own divorce in a new light?
15. "Genes have no claim on love" (Pg 362). By the end of the novel Mia feels love toward Kate, and toward Belle. Are there any women in your life who have been so meaningful to you that they feel like family? Who has been like a sister to you? Who like a grandmother?
16. "Each step she took into the woods was a step away from her old life. Was It any wonder great fairy tales took place in enchanted forests?" Discuss how Mia's journey to a remote cabin in the mountains reflects a fairy tale. Classic fairy tale structures are included in the novel. Find examples and discuss each: 1) the old wise woman 2) the magical hut or sanctuary 3) feminine solidarity 4) dressing as a male 5) a caring lover 6) transformation 7) a restored, renewed world order
Enhancing Your Book Club
1. Casting for Recovery is a real organization! Find out more about it at
2. Get a crash course in fly-fishing at Wikipedia:
3. If you're hosting the book club, take a cue from Becky and surprise the other members with some sweet treats.
4. Nana knew just about everything there was to know about Watkin's Mill. Can anyone share interesting history about the town you grew up in? Or the one you live in now?
5. Become Mary Alice's e-friend on MySpace!:

About The Author

Photograph © Anne Rhett Photography

Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-seven books, including the bestselling The Beach House series. Monroe also writes children’s picture books, and a middle grade fiction series called The Islanders. She is a member of the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame, and her books have received numerous awards, including the South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing; the South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence; the SW Florida Author of Distinction Award; the RT Lifetime Achievement Award; the International Book Award for Green Fiction; the Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award; and her novel, A Lowcountry Christmas, won the prestigious Southern Prize for Fiction. The Beach House is a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, starring Andie MacDowell. Several of her novels have been optioned for film. She is the cocreator and cohost of the weekly web show and podcast Friends & Fiction. Monroe is also an active conservationist and serves on several boards. She lives on the South Carolina coast, which is a source of inspiration for many of her books. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pocket Books (July 8, 2008)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416564973

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