Minerva’s Fox Discussion Guide for Book Groups

Minerva’s Fox
By Kristina Baer

Discussion Guide for book groups

Part 1: Brookton University, 1969-1970

1. In what ways is Malorie’s reaction to the fox in the fresco an over-reaction? In what ways does it prove to be valid? Does Malorie set herself up to fail at Brookton?

2. Malorie feels out of place at Brookton from the beginning of her first term, out of synch with the teaching methods, at odds with several people she meets there (Jack, Danielle, Hal Rose). What are some of the reasons?

3. There’s a rowan tree outside Malorie’s dorm window, which gives her “an illusion of solitude”. Why is that sense of isolation so important to her? What role do trees play an in Malorie’s life?

4. Malorie’s teaching methods are at odds with the ones prescribed by her department. Both the TA coordinator and Jack advise her just to “follow the rules.” Although she describes herself to Patrick as someone who prefers to ‘stay within the lines’, she doesn’t, in this case. Why not?

5. Malorie doesn’t tell Jack about her pregnancy and miscarriage; she refuses to confront Hal Rose or the Dean with the evidence of Danielle’s plagiarism. How does she justify her rationale in both cases? What does her thinking show us about who she is?

Part 2: Flagy, Saône-et-Loire, 1971-1975

1. Flagy’s small size is a point of pride to its inhabitants and one of the reasons Malorie feels at home there. What are some of the other reasons Malorie feels such an affinity for this village? And Milou?

2. Malorie and Ted have very different relationships with their parents than with their grandparents. How would you describe those differences and what do you think accounts for them?

3. Lucie and Milou reveal to Malorie a long-held secret that fundamentally changes her understanding of the relationship between them. How might the relationships among all three change now that it’s out in the open?

4. What are some of the reasons Malorie initially hesitates to reveal to Ted her feelings for him?

5. Describe the changes Malorie experiences in Flagy. In what ways does the place itself encourage and nurture this change?

Part 3: Newport, 1980-1992

1. Malorie left Brookton for Flagy under the weight of multiple traumas. Five years later she returns to the U.S. What have her years in France given her?

2. Contrary to the advice of her mentor, Sandor, Malorie decides to keep the giant sycamore maple in the back yard of the Beech Street house. Sandor is far more knowledgeable than Malorie. Why does she ignore his advice?

3. What events does the chapter title “The Dying of the Light” (277) refer to? How are these events related?

4. How does Malorie’s parenting style differ from Ted’s? How do they work through the tension created by these differences? How does Malorie’s infertility come into play in her relationship with Annie?

5. Malorie dreams of a secret room in the Beech Street house (278). How do you interpret this dream? She has the dream again (338), but this time its tone is different. What has changed?

6. Malorie and Ted’s time in Newport is shaded by pain and difficulty. What are these painful events and how do they lead to the final section of the novel?

Part 4: Alden, 1992-1993

1. What do you think of Malorie’s decision not to tell Ted that Jack is the new owner of their house? Did she do the right thing? Did it play out in the way you expected?

2. Just before the housewarming party at Prospect Hill, while she’s on the phone with Steve, Malorie spots a fox standing with its paws resting on the stone wall. It appears to be watching her watching it. Before she goes back to Newport for her talk, Malorie sees the fox again. She decides she wants to be like him, “alert yet relaxed” (402). How has Malorie’s affinity for the fox developed over the course of the novel?

3. As much as Malorie hopes to avoid seeing Jack, when she arrives in Newport the night before her talk she takes a real risk and steals onto the property of the Beech Street house to visit her old garden. How do you interpret her reaction to the disappearance of the tree? To the slide of the tree that she shows at the beginning of her talk?.What does this tree mean to her?

4. In what ways does the final conversation between Jack and Malorie tie up the loose ends of their relationship? Is the conversation a satisfying conclusion to this subplot? In what ways does it leave matters between them unclear or unsettled?

General

1. In this novel, Malorie’s relationships help or hinder her development of self-awareness and self-confidence. Which relationships are nurturing ones? Which ones are destructive?

2. How would you describe Malorie’s relationship with her mother? With her grandmother? What are some of the emotional and psychological issues between and among these three women? Are they resolved by the end of the novel?

3. What role do deceitful or deceptive acts play in “Minerva’s Fox.” Examples: Malorie and Lucie cover up Alan’s alcoholism; Jack lies about the foxes; Hal Rose betrays Malorie’s trust; Henri conceals his and Théo’s attempted escape into Switzerland and Théo’s disappearance; Milou and Lucie conceal from Malorie the existence of Milou’s first daughter, Malorie, who dies of scarlet fever. Others?

4. Rarely are life-changing decisions clear-cut. Sometimes circumstances force our hand; sometimes we talk ourselves into doing something because we believe it’s for the best, even though there may be other equally “right” options. Sometimes we get a second chance to repair a misstep. Examples in “Minerva’s Fox”?

6. Here is a partial list of the themes in “Minerva’s Fox.” Which ones seem most important to you? What themes would you add?

1. Learning to trust one’s self and others
2. Empowerment
3. Overcoming isolation
4. Learning to balance ‘needs’ and ‘wants’

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