READING GROUP QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1) What is your first impression of Roslyn Byrne at the beginning of THE RIVER WITCH? What tone does she take in remembering her childhood in Glenmary, Tennessee? How does this effectively distance her from the events in present day Atlanta?
2) How does Roslyn’s attitude toward her mother contrast with her memory of her Granny Byrne? In what ways do these attitudes effect Roslyn’s expectations for herself as a mother? Does her relationship change with her mother by the end of the book? In what ways does Roslyn begin to understand the rift between her mother and grandmother?
3) What does Sacred Harp music represent in THE RIVER WITCH? Is there anything in your life that haunts you? How does Roslyn come to feel about the music by the end of the novel? How does she feel about the day she danced for the church in Glenmary?
4) How does Damascus Trezevant’s brave act of planting the pumpkin seeds contrast with Roslyn’s struggle? Why does Damascus continually display such disdain for Roslyn’s music when she shows such a great amount of faith in her mother’s seeds?
5) Roslyn believes she has a responsibility toward her gift of dance, but does she see it as a blessing or a burden? Have you ever known someone whose gifts weighed heavily on their life? Gifts play a large role in the novel as messages or expectations – Roslyn’s talent, her mother’s pottery, Fawn’s seeds, Nonnie’s charms. Are gifts always received in the way they are intended? Have you ever been given a gift that influenced your choices? Have you given a gift that ultimately cost the person receiving it?
6) Damascus believes Roslyn has the ability to talk to the alligators and communicate with the dead. She accepts this supernatural possibility because she has grown up listening to Nonnie’s Saltwater Geechee traditions. How do Nonnie’s traditions about death contrast with Granny Byrne’s? What superstitions did you grow up with? Why do you think people need them?
7) Ivy Cain appears to be wise beyond her years, but in many ways she is less wordly than Roslyn. What do the two women find they have in common? In what ways to do they help one another find freedom from the roles they’ve been assigned by family or peers? Do you agree with Ivy’s abandonment of her family? Or do you see it as a betrayal? Why?
8) Urey Trezevant causes Roslyn to constantly inspect her motivations with Damascus, Ivy and even the time she spends at Sunrise Hills. Why do you think he inspires such harsh self-judgment? What other emotions does he stir in Roslyn and in his daughter and sister? Why does Roslyn feel guilty when she watches him casting his net in the river?
9) There are many mentions of hauntings in THE RIVER WITCH – the unconsecrated burial of Roslyn’s stillborn child, Granny Byrne’s burial of her husband’s ashes, the music that follows Roslyn, the Trezevant farm, and the shell ring. What are your thoughts on hauntings? Do you agree that a ghost is nothing but regret? Have you ever experienced the supernatural or the divine?
10) Nonnie gives Roslyn charms of protection and claims to have a kind of premonition about Roslyn’s part in the events that befall the Trezevant family in THE RIVER WITCH. In what ways do her predictions come to pass? Do you believe she foresaw the future or only influenced it? What do you think of her motives? Do you believe in fate or free will, or a combination of both in your own life?
11) Roslyn, her mother, each of the Trezevants, and even Nonnie, deal with the expectations of their parents. Do you think who we become as adults is because of what our parents expect? How do each of the characters adopt the expectations of their families? Do any of them move away from those expectations? In what ways do they embrace those expectations?
12) What do you think of Roslyn and Urey’s relationship and how it evolves over the course of the novel? Have you ever had a similar relationship in your life? Do you think their relationship might have been different had they met at a different time and place? How do you think it fed into the overall themes of THE RIVER WITCH?
13) Roslyn and Damascus have a complicated relationship from the start. How do they help each other come to terms with the losses in their lives? In what ways do they change one another?
14) There are several animals in THE RIVER WITCH. How do they represent the situations and themes being examined in the novel?
15) Roslyn believes her gift has been taken from her as a kind of punishment. Have you ever felt you lost something in your life because of a higher power or a universal judgement? In what ways is this loss a blessing for Roslyn? Do you see this same experience occur for others in the novel? How does Roslyn feel about the ways her life has changed by the time she leaves Manny’s Island?
16) The island represents the theme of cycles in the novel and also the state of the souls who set foot there. In what ways do you see cycles reflected in the lives of the characters? The communities of Manny’s Island, Georgia and Glenmary, Tennessee?
17) Damascus believes that by growing the seeds her mother left, she can show Urey that the farm is not cursed and bring him home. What does she realize about the seeds by the end of the novel? Have you ever tried to forgive someone who can’t accept the gift? Do you believe Urey’s fate was selfless? Why does Roslyn’s decide to bury his gun? What do you think that says about her opinion of him (and of herself) in the end? Do you agree with her? What do you think happened to Urey? Have you ever known someone whose life and circumstances simply could not end well? Do you believe in mercy or grace?
18) The power to give and take life is inspected throughout THE RIVER WITCH. In what ways do the characters exhibit power over their own lives? The lives of others? Their deaths? Do you think these actions define them as good or bad people? Did their choices make you uncomfortable?
19) Roslyn could not name her baby at the beginning of the book because she said she ‘didn’t know who she was.’ At the end of the novel, why do you think she is able to finally name her child? Why does she take Damascus to the Sacred Harp singing?
20) What do you think the title THE RIVER WITCH means? Who is the river witch in the story?