Daniel Clevenger has a successful career as a professor and writer in Winnipeg. But his two university-aged sons are growing up and Daniel is still haunted by memories of his late wife. Then he meets Magda, an attractive, recently-divorced art historian, a specialist in the Italian Renaissance.
Magda encourages Daniel to join her for an academic conference in Tuscany. Daniel ignores Magda's chattering colleagues to immerse himself in the beauty, history, and sunshine of northern Italy.
Daniel becomes intrigued by the life of Masaccio, the Renaissance master who revolutionized painting with his depictions of emotion and use of light. He speculates on Masaccio's life, his art and loves, and his mysterious death.
As Daniel works on a novel about the painter, in the spendour of the Italian country side, he finds himself drawn back to life, and to Magda.
"Chaput's Style lends itself to being read aloud, lingering over the images it evokes, glass of wine in hand."
-- Winnipeg Free Press
"Small miracles of understanding, acceptance, and hope . . . . Readers should not hesitate to choose the road to Santiago; it's a trip worth taking."
-- Prairie Fire Review of Books
Suggested Book Club Questions for A Possible Life
- How many lives are presented as “possible” in the novel?
- In what way is the Masaccio story a working out of the impasse in Daniel’s life?
- How does Daniel’s perception of art change throughout the novel?
- What elements in Masaccio’s life mirror those in Daniel’s?
- Is art useless? Are artists irrelevant?
- Is Daniel’s rather patronizing view of his students accurate?
- Time is an important theme of the novel. What is its significance in the lives of both Daniel and Masaccio?
- Of Masaccio’s occasions of absent-mindedenss ( he forgets Miuccia the night of their “betrothal”; he forgets Cecilia in Siena; he forgets Eloisa in the Cathedral of San Clemente, to name a few), which has the most disastrous consequences?
- What connection is there between St Francis and St Clare and the conclusion to Eloisa’s story?
- Countless folk tales and Biblical stories have shown us that a gift must be given in order for it to bear fruit. Is it true, then, that “a talent will cause your death if you try to hide it”?
- Is it true that love is helpless in the face of fear?
- Is unrequited love the most cruel “of all the trials of romantic attachment”?
- Is Daniel right in thinking that “it takes nothing less than the collusion of all the earth, and the heavens, too, to make love come to pass”?
- Is Camus right in saying that “we live and others dream our life?”
- Why is the realization that art is impermanent so depressing to Daniel?
- Why is Daniel tempted to drive off with Sandy the first time he meets her? What is he trying to escape?
- Why does Daniel run away (to Assisi) the first time?
- What was it about Christie that attracted Daniel so?
- What is the meaning of St. Augustine’s words: “Love and do as you will”?
- What is the significance of Daniel’s dream and how does it affect his relationship with Magda?
- Explain this image: “…the zeal that burns on the edge of night, pushing with linked arms and hands against the onslaught of the dark.”
- Sandy calls life “a side-trip.” In Justine, Lawrence Durrell writes “I have always thought that the dead think of us as dead. They have rejoined the living after this trifling excursion into quasi-life.” Discuss.
- Why does Clevenger visit Masaccio’s boyhood home a second time?
- Traditionally, with whom is associated the scent of violets?
- What exactly “is always there”?
Simone Chaput is a Franco-Manitoban and two-time winner of Le Prix litteraire la Liberte (for her novels Un Piano dans le Noir and La Vigne Amere) at the Manitoba Writing and Publishing Awards.