Catherine, an archivist, has spent decades committed to conserving the pasts of others, only to find her own resurfacing on the eve of her retirement. Carefully, she mines the failing memories of her aging mother to revive a mysterious Uncle and relive the tragic downfall of her brother. Catherine remembers, and in the process, discovers darker family secrets, long silenced, and their devastating aftermath. Spanning decades between rural Alberta and Winnipeg, All That Belongs is an elegant examination of our own ephemeral histories, the consequences of religious fanaticism, and the startling familial ties—and shame—that bind us.
Dora Dueck's new novel is a lyrical, keenly-observed study of the strange and difficult beauties of family life. Her writing captures the crackle and hiss of submerged memories and mysterious loyalties. All That Belongs is flavoured with delicacy and integrity.
Sue Sorensen, author of A Large Harmonium
Dora Dueck weaves an eccentric tapestry of present and past from the uncomfortably scratchy fabric of family secrets and lies. In each of our lives there are those who remain puzzles. All That Belongs offers insight that goes far beyond archives.
Betty Jane Hegerat, author of The Boy
All That Belongs is a gentle but compelling meditation on love, aging, the nature of memory, and the need to acknowledge and forgive the pain of the past.
K.D. Miller, author of Late Breaking
Maybe it was the Winnipeg setting, the gorgeous prose, or the touching and complex portrayal or marriage and family, but reading All That Belongs made me feel one of my favourite feelings in the universe--it made me feel like I was reading a new book by Carol Shields.
All That Belongs is about family relationships – mother-daughter, niece-uncle, brother-sister, brother-brother, husband-wife, friend-friend and more. Discuss these relationships. Which did you enjoy most? Which find difficult? Did the complexities of family and marriage resonate with you?
Shame has worked its way into Catherine’s psyche, sometimes in ways that seem small and unreasonable. Why, do you think, was she especially vulnerable to shame’s power? Are you sympathetic to this aspect of her character? How has she formed herself against the shame?
We see Uncle Must mostly through Catherine’s eyes. Are you sympathetic with her conflicted youthful feelings and frustration with him? (“I steeled myself against him” (191).) What does the unusual family moniker (Uncle Must) for Gerhard/George say about him? How does the event revealed in the packet letters and documents affect your understanding of him?
Think of the various letters in the novel: Uncle Must’s notes to Catherine, his letters to the German Mennonite newspaper and college and his brother; Darrell’s letters to Catherine and his parents; Catherine’s Moleskine notes to Darrell and her uncle. How do the sometimes contradictory voices of these letters affect your views of their writers? Do you agree that there’s always something “hidden in the folds” (248)?
Catherine’s attempts to face and accept “all that belongs” to her are, at times, bold, and at other times, tentative. Where do you see the boldness? The hesitation? Is her quest more about acceptance than final answers to unresolved mysteries? When she learns the shocking “truth” of her uncle’s archive, does her insistence that it doesn’t matter surprise you as it surprises her? (“I could scarcely believe my own freedom in this turn of events; me, who’d always been so ashamed… I would have to practice saying my own genealogical truth…. Weave acceptance in, maybe even pride… Or encouragement…” 277) How has the process of remembrance prepared and helped her to this conclusion?
How does Lucy’s character contribute to the themes of shame, acceptance, growth, and love in the book?
Catherine considers herself a competent, and independent woman, yet she resents retiring “alone.” Does her yearning for Jim represent a reluctance to engage with remembrance? Is this year actually a gift that forces her to remember and do some long-neglected grieving? Discuss.
Discuss how Mother Edna’s state of disability and increasing confusion both complicates and clarifies aspects of Catherine’s preoccupation with the dead. Are the generational gaps between mother and daughter adequately bridged?
Of Darrell’s going off to walk with Uncle Must, Catherine says: “A choice he’d made to single out the world of men from the wider humanity we shared, some difference I was beginning to perceive that put me at a disadvantage.” (189) Discuss this in terms of both Catherine’s feminism and the losses she has experienced on account of her brother.
“My uncle’s strange paralysis about women was hardly original to him; it was the inheritance of an error long and pernicious” (91). How does the patriarchal tradition affect Catherine, her mother Edna, Sharon Miller?
Although shame affects both cases, how does remembering Darrell differ for Catherine from remembering Uncle Must? In what ways are the two preoccupations linked? Has Catherine finally grieved her brother properly?
Music is at the core of Jim’s being, and was also important for Darrell and Catherine in their teen years. Snatches of song appear at various points in the book. Do you have a favourite musical reference in the novel? Do we ever exhaust ways to sing about love? (see 284 and 322)
What are your impressions of and reactions to Sharon Miller?
Catherine recalls learning that “Every document represents a construction of some kind and creates an impression.” Do you agree? What impression do the documents (photos and packet papers) of the novel leave with you?
How do Catherine’s road trip reflections on her infertility fit the themes of the book (shame, love, aging, memory, acceptance)? At the end of mulling she says, “[Uncle Must] bore his traumatized mother inside him. And now, in some crazy, unintended way, I cradled him and his mother Elizabeth and my brother Darrell, too.” Do you agree with her interpretation of this year of remembering as an act of maternal nurturing?
Do you think three poems about Darrell comprise enough of an “archive” for him? Sufficiently contain, that is, who he was? What about the slender packet regarding Uncle Must? Do they contain the man, or are archives by their nature mere “husks”?
“Was it my hope to understand, then love? This seemed an error to me now. Understanding came to the aid of love, but shouldn’t be a precondition, should it? Love had to stand on its own.” Discuss.
In All That Belongs, Catherine is looking back at a year of “preoccupation with the dead,” a year which involves looking back even further back into the past. How do you imagine her and Jim’s life now – beyond that year of remembrance?
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