Heart Spring Mountain (MacArthur)

Heart Spring Mountain 
Robin MacArthur, 2018
368 pp.

In this evocative first novel, a young woman returns to her rural Vermont hometown in the wake of a devastating storm to search for her missing mother and unravel a powerful family secret

It’s August 2011, and Tropical Storm Irene has just wreaked havoc on Vermont, flooding rivers and destroying homes.

One thousand miles away—while tending bar in New Orleans—Vale receives a call and is told that her mother, Bonnie, has disappeared. Despite a years-long estrangement from Bonnie, Vale drops everything and returns home to look for her.

Though the hometown Vale comes back to is not the one she left eight years earlier, she finds herself falling back into the lives of the family she thought she’d long since left behind. As Vale begins her search, the narrative opens up and pitches back and forth in time to follow three generations of women—a farming widow, a back-to-the-land dreamer, and an owl-loving hermit—as they seek love, bear children, and absorb losses.

All the while, Vale’s search has her unwittingly careening toward a family origin secret more stunning than she ever imagined.

Written with a striking sense of place, Heart Spring Mountain is an arresting novel about returning home, finding hope in the dark, and of the power of the land—and the stories it harbors—to connect and to heal. It’s also an absorbing exploration of the small fractures that can make families break-and the lasting ties that bind them together. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1978 (?)
Where—Marlboro, Vermont, USA
Education—B.A., Brown University; M.F.A., Vermont College of Fine Arts
Awards—2017 PEN/New England Award-Fiction
Currently—lives in Marlboro, Vermont

Robin MacArthur is the author of the novel, Heart Spring Mountain (2018), and Half Wild: Stories (winner of the 2017 PEN/New England Award). She grew up on the same farm her grandparents bought in 1950 and on which her parents later built their home. She received her B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

MacArthur married Ty Gibbons, a fellow Vermonter, who writes music for documentary films. The two formed the folk duo, Red Heart the Ticker, and issued a couple of albums. After living in Providence, New York, and Philadelphia, they decided that moving back to Vermont would spur their creative impulses. They built a cabin on their own, including milling their own logs. They've continued to expand it along with their growing family (now two children).

MacArthur is also the editor of Contemporary Vermont Fiction: An Anthology. She has received  grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. (Adapted from the author's website and from Design Sponge. Retrieved 3/5/2018.)

Book Reviews
(Starred review) [N]uanced, poetic, and evocative; MacArthur empathetically depicts each of her characters in their wounded but hopeful glory.
Publishers Weekly

Lyrical and faintly political (but never pedantic), Heart Spring Mountain is a timely wonder of a debut.
Shelf Awareness

Powerful.… MacArthur demonstrates a commanding ability to weave meaning from separate narrative threads, exploring how the impact of a person’s choices can echo through generations, even as a storm washes the past away.

[O]ccasionally pockmarked with only-in-a-novel dialogue and actions ("Find me!" Vale cries after flinging her clothes off in a rainstorm). But MacArthur ably sustains multiple narrative threads and voices.… A fecund and contemplative feminist family saga.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for HEART SPRING MOUNTAIN … then take off on your own:

1. Heart Spring Mountain considers the extent to which our ancestral past determine many of our actions and beliefs, basically who we are. As Aunt Deb says, our ancestors' lives form "blueprints for how to be in the world." Do you agree? How powerful is our heritage in forming who we are?

2. In the wake of hurricane Irene's devastation, Deb wonders what other natural catastrophes lay in wait for us in the coming years. Vale asks, "what, then, is the cure?" Does the novel provide an answer? Are there cures?

3. Deb comes to Vermont after having lived on a commune and filled with 1970s idealism. Now years later, is that idealism in any way flawed?

4. What does the novel suggest that we owe, if anything, to the land?

5. Were the shifts in time and voice difficult to follow for you? Does the author succeed in weaving together the disparate narratives into a whole?

6. Follow-up to Question 5: Describe the various characters—their quirks, personalities and challenges. Do you have a favorite section or character? Are some more compelling than others?

7. As Vale uncovers some of the family secrets, she wonders whether any of that knowledge, especially the family's Abenaki ancestry, might have made her mother less vulnerable to drugs. What do you think?

8. Consider Robin MacArthur's use of the storm—not just as a plot point but as a metaphor.

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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