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About this book
Three years into the second millennium, Majestic, Alberta is a farm town dealing with depressed crop prices, international borders closing to Canadian beef, and a severe drought. Older farmers worry about their way of life changing while young people concoct ways to escape: drugs, partying, moving away. Even the church is on the brink of closing.
When local woman Annie Gallagher is struck by lightning while divining water for a well, stories of the town’s past, including that of Annie and the grandmother who taught her water witching, slowly pour forth as everyone gathers for her funeral.
Told through the varied voices of the townspeople and Annie herself, The Death of Annie the Water Witcher by Lightning reveals Majestic to be a complex character in its own right, both haunted and haunting. Here, Audrey J. Whitson has written a novel of hard choices and magical necessity.
Book Club Questions:
- This novel is told from the first person point-of-view of eight different narrators. What difference did the structure make in the way you read or understood the book?
- Alberta was a leader in the Eugenics movement in the early 20th century. The Provincial Training School for the Mental Defectives turned into Michener Centre in the 1970s. What do you think about Alberta’s complicated history with Eugenics, how much did you know about this history, and how does that history affect your reading of the book?
- There is much discussion in this book about a changing way of life in rural areas, from crime rates to farming practices. What surprised you the most about these changes? Different characters had different responses to these changes. Whose perspective did you most identify with?
- Who is your favourite character and why are you drawn to them? Is there a character you don’t like and do they have redeeming qualities?
- Does Majestic itself feel like its own character? Why or why not?
- Annie has overcome a life of hardships. How does she survive? How does she eventually heal? Does she experience stigma regarding different aspects of her life: alcoholism, water divining, her acting as a female healer, etc.?
- Annie frequently refers to the la fève (broad bean)? What meaning did la fève have for Annie? For her mother?
- Magpies show up more than once in the story. What is their meaning for you? What is their meaning in this novel?
- After Annie’s death, her friends sense her presence in the water. What meanings does water have in the book? What meaning does it have for you?
- What do you think of Jack’s statement: “I know we’re capable of loving many people in a lifetime?” Do you agree or disagree? How has this been true for you? Or not? How does his belief reflect the way his character reacts to Annie’s death?
- If you were to write the epilogue, how do you think things would turn out for Kristian and Kelsey? Jack? Alex? Mike and Vera? Buster and Daisy? Father Pat? The Bishop? Bob and his roses? For the town and church at Majestic? For Annie’s memory?
“Despite the lemon squares and the familiar agri-business headlines, this is not a domestic novel. Rather, The Death of Annie the Water Witcher by Lightning reads as if it has come out of translation, out of a language created and shared within a community formed by geography, memory, and its own expedient, indefinable spirituality. It’s a funeral story told in forks of lightning, dozen of voices, flashing in and out of transfiguration. Like a good translation, it’s unafraid to leave in shadows what it can assume everyone already knows, rushing instead to throw light on what—until now—has been unknowable.”
"With humour and heart, Whitson peels back the small-town preoccupations of a winning cast of characters, laying bare the mysterious undercurrents of their world and beyond. Annie the water diviner is a force to be reckoned with, even after her death. This book is lyrical and lovely, a stunning achievement."
"Majestic is depicted with poetic complexity. Annie's friends have a salt-of-the-earth goodness, and Annie herself is a faceted, compelling woman who emerges from personal darkness to find her own peace."
”Whitson’s novel is, by the end, a reckoning with the past, both personal and communal, but also a tale of joy—the earthy preparations for the dead and a divining born of the body.”
"It’s tricky business, allowing so many voices to create the narrative in a story, but Audrey Whitson has linked these people together not only as people who loved Annie, but as community. Relationships with Annie emerge, and so too do the intimate details of the lives of her neighbours." full review
"[a] stunningly written novel...." full review
"... a powerful read that weaves together these characters in an intricately fascinating way that made me want to continue reading. It gives death an endearing and peaceful face that satisfied me from the beginning to the end." full review