ONE VACANT CHAIR

Joe Coomer

 At the funeral of Grandma Hutton—whom Edna has cared for through an agonizingly long and vague illness—Sarah begins helping her aunt clean up the last of a life. This includes honoring Grandma’s wish to have her ashes scattered in Scotland—although she had never left the state of Texas.

“We were two fat women, eighteen years apart, a chair artist and a designer of Christmas ornaments, who only knew we had troubles and a hot summer to get through,” says Sarah. But as it turns out, there is a great deal more to her quirky aunt’s troubles than Sarah could possibly imagine.

more …

 At the funeral of Grandma Hutton—whom Edna has cared for through an agonizingly long and vague illness—Sarah begins helping her aunt clean up the last of a life. This includes honoring Grandma’s wish to have her ashes scattered in Scotland—although she had never left the state of Texas.

“We were two fat women, eighteen years apart, a chair artist and a designer of Christmas ornaments, who only knew we had troubles and a hot summer to get through,” says Sarah. But as it turns out, there is a great deal more to her quirky aunt’s troubles than Sarah could possibly imagine. As the novel turns from the oppressive heat of Texas to the cool, misty beauty of Scotland, she learns of her Aunt Edna’s remarkable secret life and comes to fully understand the fragile business of living and even dying.

less …
  • Graywolf Press
  • Paperback
  • October 2008
  • 288 Pages
  • 9781555975142

Buy the Book

$14.00

indies Bookstore indies Bookstore

About Joe Coomer

 Joe Coomer is the much celebrated author of Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, A Flatland Fable, and The Loop, which was a New York Times Book of the Year. He splits his time between Texas and Maine.

Praise

“An enjoyable read, without a dull page.” —Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions

In the opening chapter, the revelation of Sam’s affair radically shifts the way Sarah views her husband, their marriage, and her plans for the future. After traveling to Scotland with Aunt Edna, have Sarah’s feelings concerning the affair changed? Will she leave Sam, or will they work through their marital problems?

Sarah says she loves Aunt Edna and regrets not seeing her sooner. What do you make of Sarah’s decision to stay with Edna? Is it motivated by love? Is it an act of revenge? A form of self-protection? Avoidance?

Sarah’s parents, Aunt Edna, and James all provide Sarah with advice about her marriage. All three seem to suggest that Sarah should give Sam another chance, or at least give him an opportunity to explain his actions. What do you think about their opinions? Does Sarah take them to heart?

In Plockton, Aunt Edna puts her fingers in her mouth and sucks them clean of her mother’s remaining ashes after she scatters them. What do you make of this action? What does it mean?

What do you think Aunt Edna is trying to say when she compares Bean Highe, the washerwoman, to Sarah?

Did your opinion of Aunt Edna change after she revealed how her mother died? Why or why not?

When Sarah goes to Jonathan’s house to talk about Aunt Edna, her cancer, and the future of all her paintings, she asks Jonathan to draw her. Why? Does she have anything to feel ashamed about?

Do you agree with Aunt Edna’s belief that it was right to hide her pancreatic cancer and the true nature of her mother’s death from James until after their wedding?

Do you think Sarah’s actions were justified when she did what Aunt Edna asked? What do you think motivated her decision to follow Aunt Edna’s instructions?