Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- How did your impressions of Eli and Emily shift throughout the novel? How does their marriage
compare with Peter and Lisa's?
- What does the novel say about love in the twenty-first century? Have expectations for relationships changed very much since the 1960s and '70s?
- How were Emily and her sister, Sherry, affected by their mother's experience as a wife?
- Discuss Marriage Is a Canoe as if you had chosen it for your book group. Is Peter's advice relevant to your situation? What inspiration can you take from his grandparents Hank and Bess?
What metaphors, besides a canoe, would you use for marriage?
- Peter and Helena talk candidly about the illusions and untested advice contained in Marriage Is a Canoe. Do self-help books have to be steeped in facts and reality in order to be helpful? Was
Emily harmed by the fantasy of a watertight marriage?
- In "Stolen Bases," Peter tells the story of his friend Johnny, whose parents had a rough marriage
but whose problems were easily sorted out by Hank. Why did Peter's parents struggle so much in
their relationship, despite the great role models of Hank and Bess?
- What are the essential differences between Jenny and Emily? What does Eli need from each of
them? Would you have stayed with Eli for as long as Emily did? Are he and Peter evidence that
monogamy is unnatural, especially for men?
- How did the success of the book help and harm Peter and Lisa's marriage? How does Peter's enterprise compare with Eli's ambition for Roman Street Bicycles? How involved do spouses need
to be in each other's professional lives?
- What kept Peter and Lisa together for so many years, despite severe disappointments, especially
financial ones? How would the story of their marriage unfold if it were described from her point
- How does Belinda figure in Peter's life? How does he see his role as a parent? When Eli and
Emily considered becoming parents, what were their motivations?
- During the contest award dinner, Peter prefers harmony and reconciliation, quashing any unpleasant topics that Eli and Emily try to raise. Does he prove to be a good counselor? What
would you have discussed with him if you had won the contest?
- Why is it hard for Peter to commit to moving west with Maddie? What was he ultimately looking
for in a relationship?
- Why is Stella so intent on pleasing Helena? What does the Canoe project teach Stella about business and about love? What do you predict for her future with Ivan?
- Reread the novel's conclusion (the introduction to the revised, annotated, and retitled edition of Peter's book). What do you make of the statement that "love is not so fickle and meannot as
tough as marriage can be," and the idea that love is distinct from marriage?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.