Readers’ Group Discussion Guide: Dream Singer
What talismans – or signs - prod Elijah to embark on an unexpected journey? And what do they intimate about the nature of the journey?
The first chapter introduces a different worldview from mainstream American culture. How would you describe this alternate worldview?
“Dream Singer” is roughly equal parts story and backstory. How does one augment and deepen the other?
“Oregon . . . Home and not home” has different meanings at various points in the story. What is the context of each?
Where and how does Elijah significantly first “cross” the threshold between dreaming and the real world? And can you identify other instances where this happens?
Where do you first perceive that “the way will be difficult”? And how is this theme repeatedly amplified?
Where do you first perceive the effect of “one the shadow, one the light”? And where and how is it repeatedly amplified?
This theme of shadow and light is threaded throughout the story. It ultimately becomes a philosophical question about the nature of duality – whether duality actually exists. How is this developed and played out in the story? Where do you stand regarding the notion of duality?
Jackie’s presence in Elijah’s life is at first a curiosity, then an annoyance, and finally a blessing. What compels Elijah to take responsibility for Jackie? And how does doing so change Elijah?
At times throughout the story, we see that Elijah is both a man of high principle and low behavior. Does this complexity humanize him and win him empathy, or indelibly mark him as a rogue?
Dreaming is another central motif – central to the story and to the very nature of Elijah’s character. How is the trajectory of his life’s path altered by dreams, and how does this illustrate the nature of his evolving character?
Toby and Marna react varyingly to their father’s absences and returnings. Why are they so different, and can you empathize with both?
What was at the heart of Elijah’s struggle after his release from jail?
What is the deep and subtle longing that pulls at Elijah throughout the book?
As Elijah journeys south with Jackie, the spirit of the land becomes more “alive” to him. What is the significance and meaning of this in the story?
How do the two different interpretations of the constellations Orion and Taurus that Elijah’s uncle relates to him exemplify Elijah life’s struggles?
The time on the Feather River has a kind of magical aura about it. How is this developed, and what marks it? And what is the purpose and importance of it to the overall story?
We are always inventing stories about ourselves, constructing narratives to inform us as to who we are and how to live in the world. How did Elijah’s self-narrative change over time, and how did these different narratives both imprison and liberate him?
Elijah’s understanding of his vision quest dream changes over time. What is the great lesson in this for him?
Do you have any empathy for Elsa Garnett? Why, or why not?
Does your opinion of Emma change in the unfolding of the story? If so, how and why?
The four major women characters in the story – Emma, Elsa, Marna, and Sarah (Jackie’s mother) each have their own strengths, weaknesses, and conflicts. Which of these women’s narratives are the most compelling?
Do you view this as a “men’s book,” a “women’s book,” or both?
What genre do you feel best characterizes this story: love story, mystery, adventure tale, tragedy, or historical fiction? Or some other?
Did this story influence your perceptions of a worldview that is different from your own? And if so, how?
Do you think this story romanticizes or stereotypes Native Americans?
Do you think it appropriate for a writer who is white to assume the narrative voice of a Native American? And what are the risks in a writer doing this?