Feeling for BonesFeeling for Bones
Bethany Pierce
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Interview, Excerpt


At sixteen, Olivia Monahan is uprooted from her home when a scandal in the local church costs her father his ministry. The family retreats to the seclusion of a small Pennsylvanian town, where a host of rich characters all play part in Olivia's struggle to understand her disillusionment with Christianity and gather courage to fight the eating disorder threatening her health. As a young painter learning to re-interpret the visual world, she begins to examine God and her own body with lively imagination and newly trained eyes, taking readers on a journey into a world which cannot be seen.
     

 Feeling For Bones Discussion Questions: by Bethany Pierce

 

1. The book begins and ends with experiences that Olivia hesitatingly refers to as a vision.  The idea of vision is an integral subject of the book: vision as the physical act of seeing as well as visions of revelatory, spiritual nature.  Do you see these themes as overlapping or interrelated?  What does this idea of “vision” mean to someone suffering anorexia?  What does it mean to an artist?...a believer?

 

 2. At one point Lori gives Olivia a book entitled Design Language.  From that moment on, several chapters begin with quotations/ definitions from the book that announce or reflect the subject of the subsequent section.  Why did you include these definitions?

 

 3. There are multiple references to fairytales: Olivia’s father read fairytales to her as a child. Callapher is frequently seen playing princess and dress-up.  Olivia is attracted to the magical-like kingdom Milton paints of heaven and even considers her bedroom collage the representation of another world: “I wanted to step into the magazine like Alice through the looking glass, like Mary Poppins into the magical world of a chalk drawing.”  When she tears the magazine pictures from her wall she calls the scattered, crumbled images “her paper kingdoms.”  Where did all this fairytale imagery originate from for you as an author and how do you see it as connected to the subject matter of the book?

 

 4. Going off the last question, Olivia frequently paints her own acquaintances in a mystical or magical light.  Mollie in her beauty and playfulness, reminds her of fairies and sprites from children’s books, and Margaret is described as an Angel in robes of tablecloths.   What led you to consign such mystical roles on everyday characters?

 

 5. Dolls make frequent appearances.  Upon arriving in Bethsaida, Mani the car lot mannequin is one of the first things Olivia sees.  The life size doll is personified in an almost ominous manner: “She taunted me with her cold stare and her empty hand.  She offered me something.  Or maybe she withheld it.”  Secondly, Callapher is always playing with Barbies, smaller dolls which are always present but never addressed with the same tone applied to Mani. Was it purposeful on your part that Callapher is always seen with dolls and what were you trying to say with their constant presence?

 

   6.  Mollie’s friendship has an enormous influence on Olivia’s struggle with Christianity.  What effect does Mollie’s confession of her past have on Olivia’s attitude towards her own secret shame?  

 

 

7.  Photographs play a major role in the novel. Matthew is a photographer, Olivia covers an entire wall in her bedroom with a collage of magazine pictures, and she states that she learns both the history of her family and her own life through her mother’s photo albums: “the pictures embed themselves in my mind until I learn them as memories, though I have no actual recollection of the thing remembered.  In this way, I have learned to watch my own memories from the outside looking down not from the inside looking out.”  Can you talk about the importance of this motif?

 

  8.  Margaret’s unexpected death has an enormous and rather definitive effect on Olivia’s spiritual doubt.  Can you talk about the nature of her revelation?

 

  9.Toward the conclusion of the novel, Olivia rips the magazine collage from her bedroom wall.  On one hand, this is a practical gesture, a way to comfort and appease her mother who had demanded that the pictures be taken down.  But the act is symbolic as well.  What does it symbolize?

 

 10.  Olivia has a moment of almost visionary spiritual enlightenment toward the very end of the story, but the revelation is specifically of Christ and though tearing the collage down and undressing in the snow represent Olivia’s determination to change, her revelation seems to have no practical bearing on her eating disorder.  The epilogue, on the other hand, is written with in a victorious tone. Why this implied gap of time between the revelation and the victory?

 

  

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