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Reading Group Guide

The Glory Walk: A Memoir
Cathryn E. Smith

1. Who and what is the real subject of The Glory Walk? Is it Bob Smith, Cathryn Smith, Alzheimer’s disease, family relationships, or something else entirely?

2.In the introduction Smith admits her intention to “rebuild” and “reassemble” her father’s life (p. 3). What role may fiction play in this nonfiction memoir? Can you think of instances in which Smith may be distorting or fictionalizing actual events? Why might Smith have chosen to do this?

3.At one point Cathryn’s sister Polly observes that their father “lived with Thoreau in that quiet desperation” (p. 32). But he also loved gardening and sailing, playing the piano, and telling stories. How would you characterize Bob Smith—the good and the bad?

4.Discuss Cathryn’s relationship with her father before and after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. How did the disease affect the way she responded to her father?

5. Ultimately, how has Smith succeeded in recreating her father? How has she failed?

6.Discuss the “Disease Man” sections. Who is speaking here? Why has Smith taken this approach?

7.In the section titled “Looking for Warm,” Smith writes that “Mom wasn’t too thrilled about moving since she loved her home and wasn’t the one shivering, but Dad was persistent, so she went along with it, which is often what a wife does” (p. 28). Discuss Smith’s portrayal of women’s roles.

8.In the “Conversation” sections Cathryn reminisces with her sisters and mother about their father and husband. What do these sections say about dialogue and community?

9. Discuss the passages from Life and Its Marvels: Plant, Animal, and Human that Smith cites (first one appears on p. 67). How does she use these sections? What do they add?

10. 10) Why are the flashback sections given such a different compositional treatment (font, punctuation, typography)?

11. In the introduction Smith calls The Glory Walk a “collage” (p. 4). A few of the different literary elements that comprise this collage are poems, conversations, and flashbacks. What purposes do these and the other literary elements serve? What effect do they have on you, the reader?

12. Smith adopts a fragmented approach in The Glory Walk. How might this be an appropriate and effective narrative strategy for a memoir about Alzheimer’s disease?

13. A passage from The Glory Walk:

“[I picture] him with his hair all raised the way it gets now, looking like broken wheat. I can see his skinny legs moving like a chicken flap-flapping around my sister’s kitchen (p. 23).”

On display here are a few of the literary techniques—simile, hyphenation, onomatopoeia—that inform the writing of The Glory Walk and exemplify Smith’s unique approach to language. What is the tone established by this language? Is this tone appropriate, given the subject matter?

14. Discuss some of the symbols in The Glory Walk, such as boats and the red butterfly. Why might symbolism serve as a useful tool for Smith in her effort to express painful memories and emotions?

15. Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, argues that “the success of a memoir…has a lot to do with how appealing its narrator is.” Do you agree with this statement in terms of The Glory Walk? In what ways is this narrator appealing or unappealing? Does the success of the work depend on this?

16. Think about other memoirs you have read. What makes The Glory Walk a unique contribution to this genre?

17. What do you think “the glory walk” means?

18. Are there certain scenes or events that have remained with you after finishing the book?

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