POCKETFUL OF NAMES

Joe Coomer

Inhabiting an island off the coast of Maine, left to her by her great-uncle Arno, Hannah finds her life as a dedicated and solitary artist rudely interrupted one summer when a dog, matted with feathers and seaweed, arrives with the tide. The dog quickly endears himself to her and easily adapts to Hannah’s schedule, but he is only the first of a series of unexpected visitors. He is soon followed by a teenager running from an abusive father, a half sister in trouble, a mainland family in need, and a trapped whale. Now in the midst of a community that depends on her for support and love,

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Inhabiting an island off the coast of Maine, left to her by her great-uncle Arno, Hannah finds her life as a dedicated and solitary artist rudely interrupted one summer when a dog, matted with feathers and seaweed, arrives with the tide. The dog quickly endears himself to her and easily adapts to Hannah’s schedule, but he is only the first of a series of unexpected visitors. He is soon followed by a teenager running from an abusive father, a half sister in trouble, a mainland family in need, and a trapped whale. Now in the midst of a community that depends on her for support and love, Hannah faces new emotional challenges as a series of family secrets are uncovered, each one more alarming than the last.

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  • Graywolf Press
  • Paperback
  • March 2007
  • 304 Pages
  • 9781555974619

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About Joe Coomer

Joe Coomer is the author of several novels, most recently One Vacant Chair. He lives in Texas and Maine.

Praise

“The rhythms of coastal life weave in and out of the family relationships and personal dramas in this enjoyable tale.” —Library Journal

“The ups and downs of the inhabitants and visitors to this island off the coast of Maine will keep the reader riveted until the last page. Perfect literary summer reading!” —Meganne Fabrega, RiverRun Bookstore, June 2005 Book Sense Selection

Discussion Questions

Why is Hannah so driven to have complete solitude on the island? How does she change with the arrival of her numerous visitors? Is she happy alone at the end of the book? Consider the beginnings of Hannah’s artistic career. When does Hannah become a loner?

How do Hannah and Arno resist or accept the impermanence of the island? Discuss the meaning of the holes that have mysteriously appeared on the island.

How does Will challenge Hannah’s solitude? How are they similar to and different from one another? When does Will first call Hannah “Mom”? How are Hannah’s feelings toward her young guest affected by being in her mid-thirties and single, without children of her own?

Early in their friendship, Tom asks Hannah, “What are you hiding from?” What, if anything, do you think she’s evading? Is everyone who comes to Ten Acre No Nine hiding something? In what context do they reveal these secrets to each other? How is each of the characters vulnerable? What happens when truths come to light?

What effect does Hannah’s sister Emily have on our perceptions of Hannah? Do Hannah and Emily like each other? What are the similarities and differences between the two sisters? What does Hannah discover through coming to know her sister after all these years?

What do you think about Hannah’s thirteen years as an artist on the island? What does Hannah think about them? Trace the different kinds of art Hannah makes from early in her life through her last art projects in the book. What does the novel have to say about being an artist, isolated or within a community? Would “Immaculate Conceptions” have been an apt title for Hannah’s art retrospective? Was Arno’s gift to Hannah truly a gift?

By the end of the story, Hannah, Emily, and Tom have each faced a significant loss. What has each of them lost, and what made it important? What comes next? How do Emily and Hannah grieve? What are the costs and (if any) benefits of each character’s loss? What new experiences are possible?

Shirley, who arrives to help rescue the trapped whale at Ten Acre No Nine, says she names every whale she tries to save. What is Shirley saying about the nature of love and the risk of loss? Discuss the importance of names and naming.