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In the Heart of the Canyon Reader’s Guide

By Elisabeth Hyde

In the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde


The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of In the Heart of the Canyon, Elisabeth Hyde’s propulsive new novel about a river rafting trip pushed to the extreme.


From the author of The Abortionist’s Daughter, a gripping new novel about a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon that changes the lives of everyone on board.

Meet Peter, twenty-seven, single, and looking for a quick hookup; Evelyn, a fifty-year-old Harvard professor; and Ruth and Lloyd, river veterans in their seventies. There’s Mitchell, an overeager history buff with no qualms about unstaging the guides with his knowledge. There’s Jill from Salt Lake City, wanting desperately to spark some sense of adventure in her staid Mormon family; and seventeen-year-old Amy, so woefully overweight that she can barely fit into a pup tent, let alone into a life jacket.

Guiding them all is JT Maroney, who loves the river with all his heart and who, having made 124 previous trips down the Colorado, thinks he has seen everything. But on their first night, a stray dog wanders into their campsite, upsetting the tentative equilibrium of this makeshift family. Over the next thirteen days, as various decisions are second-guessed and sometimes regretted, both passengers and guides find that sometimes the six most daunting adventures on a Colorado River trip have nothing to do with white-water rapids, and everything to do with reconfiguring the rocky canyons of the heart.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Reread the epigraphs. How does each apply to the novel?

2. Which character did you relate to most closely? Why?

3. Who surprised you the most over the course of the novel? Who changes most radically?

4. What purpose do Amy’s journal entries serve?

5. Discuss the role of mothers in the novel. How does the trip affect their parenting styles?

6. On page 35, Ruth thinks about the “renewal of the soul” she and Lloyd feel while on the river. Who else feels this way? Who comes to feel it by the end of the novel?

7. Should Ruth and Lloyd have come on this trip? What about Peter, who can’t swim?

8. What role does the dog play in the events of the novel? How might things have been different if he hadn’t appeared?

9. “You name it, you love it,” JT thinks on page 54. He’s referring to the dog, but does the truism apply elsewhere, too?

10. If you were on this rafting trip, how would you have dealt with Mitchell?

11. Discuss JT. What are his strengths? And his weaknesses?

12. On page 46, JT thinks, “You saw a lot of Plan Bs develop on a river trip.” Is there anyone in the novel for whom this doesn’t apply?

13. Compare the three marriages on the trip: Mitchell and Lena, Lloyd and Ruth, and Mark and Jill. How does each couple learn from the others?

14. What role does Evelyn play?

15. Why do Peter and Amy get along so well? What do they teach each other?

16. In order to stay safe during the trip, the guests are told they must trust the guides. What happens when they don’t? Who is the worst offender?

17. Discuss Amy’s story on pages 295-7. Did her behavior surprise you? Why didn’t she tell Susan?

18. “You lose your confidence, you lose everything” is JT’s motto for the trip. When does this prove to be most important, and for whom?

19. Reread the paragraph on page 304 that begins with, “But a large part of him was feeling way too fragile on this trip.” Why do you think this trip was so different for JT? Was his assessment of his behavior as “fraud with a wrecking ball” accurate?

20. Why does Sam go after Mitchell on page 307?

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About this Author

Elisabeth Hyde is the author of four previous novels. Born and raised in New Hampshire, she has since lived in Vermont, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. In 1979 she received her law degree and practiced briefly with the U.S. Department of Justice. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.

Suggested Reading

Swimming by Nicola Keegan; The Last River: The Tragic Race for Shangri-la by Todd Balf; Deliverance by James Dickey; Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain; Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon by Edward Dolnick; Canyon Solitude: A Woman’s Solo River Journey Through the Grand Canyon by Patricia C. McCairen; There’s This River: Grand Canyon Boatman Stories, edited by Christa Sadler; Breaking into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon by Louise Teal.
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