End of the Point (Graver)

The End of the Point
Elizabeth Graver, 2013
HarperCollins
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062184849



Summary
A place out of time, Ashaunt Point—a tiny finger of land jutting into Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts—has provided sanctuary and anchored life for generations of the Porter family, who summer along its remote, rocky shore.

But in 1942, the U.S. Army arrives on the Point, bringing havoc and change. That summer, the two older Porter girls—teenagers Helen and Dossie—run wild. The children's Scottish nurse, Bea, falls in love. And youngest daughter Janie is entangled in an incident that cuts the season short and haunts the family for years to come.

As the decades pass, Helen and then her son Charlie return to the Point, seeking refuge from the chaos of rapidly changing times. But Ashaunt is not entirely removed from events unfolding beyond its borders. Neither Charlie nor his mother can escape the long shadow of history—Vietnam, the bitterly disputed real estate development of the Point, economic misfortune, illness, and tragedy.

An unforgettable portrait of one family's journey through the second half of the twentieth century, The End of the Point artfully probes the hairline fractures hidden beneath the surface of our lives and traces the fragile and enduring bonds that connect us. With subtlety and grace, Elizabeth Graver illuminates the powerful legacy of family and place, exploring what we are born into, what we pass down, preserve, cast off or willingly set free. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1964
Where—Los Angeles, California, USA
Raised—Williamstwn, Massachusetts
Education—B.A., Weslyan University;
   M.F.A., Washington University in St. Louis
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in Boston, Massachusetts


Elizabeth Graver is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. She was  born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She received her B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1986, and her M.F.A. from Washington University in St. Louis in 1999. She also did graduate work at Cornell University.

A recipient of fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment for the Arts, she has been a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Boston College since 1993. Married to civil rights lawyer James Pingeon, Graver is the mother of two daughters.

Graver writes character-driven psychological fiction set in a wide variety of times and places, as well as more experimental short fiction, and non-fiction essays on a variety of subjects. Her 2013 novel, The End of the Point, is set in a summer community on the coast of Massachusetts from 1942 through 1999 and is a layered meditation on place and family across half a century.

Her first novel Unravelling, published in 1999, is set in 19th-century America in the Lowell textile mills and tells the story of a fiercely independent young woman and the life she eventually fashions for herself. The Honey Thief of 2000, a contemporary novel, explores a mother/daughter relationship, as well as the fall-out of living with—and losing—a mentally ill father. Her 2005 novel In Awake uses the genetic disease Xeroderma Pigmentosum to explore a mother's relationships with her sons, her husband and, eventually, her lover; the novel is set at a camp for children with this rare disease. A Chicago Tribune review called Graver "one of our finest writers on the grand drama of simply growing up."

Awards

  • 1991 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, for Have You Seen Me?
  • 1991 Cohen Prize from Ploughshares Magazine, for “The Mourning Door”
  • 1991 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
  • 1992 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
  • 1997, 2009, 2011, 2012 MacDowell Colony Fellowships  (Author bio from Wikipedia.)


Book Reviews
It’s 1942, and the Porters are coming back to Ashaunt, Mass., the piece of the New England coast they’ve always come back to, no matter that the Army is building barracks and viewing platforms there. Graver (Awake) opens her fourth novel with a beautifully evoked glimpse of the very first arrival at Ashaunt—that of the Europeans—and the native people’s eventual sale (or, alternately, “bargain, theft, or gift”) of the land. She then moves omnisciently and believably through the minds of Bea, the Porters’ Scottish nanny, and the wild Helen, the oldest daughter. As 1942 gives way to 1947, 1961, then 1970, and finally 1999, Graver also moves fluidly across time, all on this same beloved piece of land. Bea is a wonderful character, and Graver is incredibly good at evoking past, present, and future, and the ways in which they intersect. Unfortunately, the latter sections of the book, which focus mostly on Helen, no longer a wild girl, and her adult son Charlie, aren’t quite as strong, perhaps because the issues of generational strife, blowback from drug use, and land development are more familiar. That said, Graver’s gifts—her control of time, her ability to evoke place and define character—are immense.
Publishers Weekly


The Porter family, which has summered for generations at Ashaunt Point, a spit of land pushing into Buzzards Bay, MA, is entirely unsettled when the U.S. Army arrives there in 1942. The next generation tries and fails to find escape at Ashaunt Point as Vietnam looms. From Drue Heinz Literature Prize winner Graver; perhaps not the biggest title here, but it's loved in house.
Library Journal


(Starred review.) With a style and voice reminiscent of William Trevor and Graham Swift, Graver's powerfully evocative portrait of a family strained by events both large and small celebrates the indelible influence certain places can exert over the people who love them.
Booklist


(Starred review.) This multigenerational story of a privileged family's vacations on Massachusetts' Buzzards Bay is as much about the place as the people.... As one generation passes to the next, Ashaunt Point remains the gently wild refuge where the Porters can most be themselves. A lovely family portrait: elegiac yet contemporary, formal yet intimate.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. The End of the Point begins with an epigraph from William Starr Dana's Plants and Their Children. How does this quote set the tone for the novel? How does it reflect the story's themes?

2. The novel is told through three main points of view⎯Bea's, Helen's, and Charlie's⎯over a period of more than fifty years. What does each perspective and timeframe bring to the story? What would the book lose or gain if the author had set it in one era and/or followed a single character's perspective?

3. What is Bea's relationship to various members of the Porter family? How does it evolve over time? Discuss Bea's bond with her charge, Jane. Is she too close to Jane—closer than Jane's biological mother? Do you think such a deep and close bond between nanny and child could exist in the United States today?

4. Bea has an offer of marriage from Smitty, the soldier she meets at Ashaunt during World War II. Why does she turn him down? Do you think this is ultimately the right choice for her? Though she spends most of her life in America with the Porters, she eventually returns to her native Scotland. Why?

5. Helen, who comes of age in the 1940's and 50's, is torn between a number of ambitions and drives. How do the circumstances she was born into inform who she is? What do you view as her strengths and weaknesses as a sister, wife, intellectual, and mother?

6. The Porters are a wealthy American family. What privileges does their wealth afford them? How might their money be detrimental to themselves or others?

7. Many major events and trends of the twentieth century⎯World War II, the Vietnam War, women's liberation, psychoanalysis, environmentalism, land development—are portrayed in the story. How are these wider contexts made visceral through the characters' experiences? How do these wider movements affect the characters' relationship to Ashaunt?

8. When he is older, Charlie remembers that his mother accused him of courting suffering. Did he? What about Helen herself? Bea? How do the three of them change over the course of the story?

9. Would you characterize the three protagonists as idealists? Why or why not?

10. What other authors or books might you place in the same literary "family" as The End of the Point, and why?

11. Author Gish Jen writes, "In this globalized age, with everyone talking about migration, here comes Elizabeth Graver to remind us of just what place can mean. The attachment in this book . . . transcends time and personality. It is deep, extraordinarily ordinary, and finally provocative." What might be "provocative" about the book's evocation of place? What sorts of questions does the novel prompt us to ask about how we live our 21st-century lives? Is there a place in your own life that you feel a great attachment to?

12. Discuss the novel's fine scene. Why end here?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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