English Creek Discussion Points

  1. Much of the success of English Creek stems from the credibility of the narrative voice. Show how Jick McCaskill's acute sensitivity and observant personality make him a prime candidate for creating a balanced narrative structure. How does Doig artistically meld Jick's psychological musings with his more historical accounts?
  2. The novel is in great part about Jick's journey into maturity, into wisdom. How does Jick bridge the gap between boyhood and manhood? Who is particularly influential in his coming of age?
  3. Laconicism is a common characteristic of the ranchers and mountain-men in Western film and fiction. Jick inherits his father's wry wit; show how he uses it to deal with life's bitter situations.
  4. Is Alec a foil to Jick? Are there key choices that Alec makes and particular events in his life that save him from being a flat character and make him, rather, someone worth serious consideration?
  5. At the end of Chapter One, Jick says, "Skinning wet sheep corpses, contending with a pack horse who decides he's a mountain goat, nursing Stanley along, lightning, any number of self-cooked meals, the hangover I'd woke up with and still had more than a trace of—what sad sonofabitch wouldn't realize he was being used out of the ordinary?" Jick's pack trip with Stanley Meixell is a jolting thrust from innocence to experience. What prompts Jick to discard his first impressions of Stanley and delve deeper into the meaning of the man behind Dr. Al K. Hall?
  6. Why is Beth eager to avoid looking back? Compare and contrast Jick's attitude toward the past and its stories with his mother's attitude. Do the deaths of Varick and Alec rattle Beth into retrospective musings, even regret about what might have been?
  7. Discuss how the Double W embodies the characteristics of the classic villain of the West.
  8. Consider Velma Simms and Leona Tracy and how Doig paints their entrance into a room full of males. Compare and contrast the adoration they receive with the more quiet acknowledgement Beth receives from the men who love her. Why is Leona so alluring to Alec, even Jick? Is her highly physical role in the novel, a role charged with sexual tension, somehow comparable to the role of Cather's Lena Lingard in My Antonia?
  9. The 4th of July dance adds mystery and musicality to the novel. Discuss the imagery surrounding this "beautiful haunting" and how the scene helps Jick to see his parents in a way that illuminates "all that had begun at another dance, at the Noon Creek schoolhouse 20 years before."
  10. Why does Varick McCaskill listen to Stanley's advice about the fire in Flume Gulch? Were Jick not "prey to a profound preoccupation," would the novel have turned out the way that it does?
  11. Doig recognizes the danger of engaging in literary symbolism at the risk of adding pretense to a novel that aims to be more realistic. What literary devices does he use instead to enliven both the narrative and his characters' voices? Do you think the inclusion of these devices, particularly song lyrics, is Doig's attempt at a fusion of poetry and fiction?

Synopsis  |  Discussion Points  | Background Notes