Browse Reading Guides

Reading Group Guide

  1. Book ImageArchangel: Fiction

    Andrea Barrett

    "[Andrea Barrett's] work stands out for its sheer intelligence…The overall effect is quietly dazzling."—New York Times Book Review

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think Barrett chose not to arrange the stories in chronological order? How would the book change if the stories were told chronologically?
  2. In addition to the thread of characters that move in and out of the stories, what connects the distinct sections of the book? Is there more than one link?
  3. All the stories are told from the third-person perspective. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this perspective in the book? Do you think the stories could be told from a different point of view? Why or why not?
  4. Timing is a recurring motif throughout the book. Explain how timing plays a role in each story.
  5. In “The Ether of Space,” Sam encounters the tangled dependence of science and personal passions. He writes, “What I do know is that the questions we ask about the world and the experiments we design to answer them are connected to our feelings.” Explore Sam’s journey to arrive at this conclusion. Does this attitude resurface in other stories?
  6. In the story “The Island,” Henrietta questions the notion of the chain of species and of one creature’s dependence on another: “If those fish had been created all at once, in the blink of an eye, what about the creatures they ate, or the creatures who ate them?” How does this question link to the book as a whole, both thematically and structurally?
  7. Is Henrietta a strong character in “The Island”? What about her character is different in this story as compared to “The Investigators”? What may have caused this change?
  8. In the story “The Particles,” the reader is introduced to now-thirty-four-year-old Sam, the same Sam the reader previously met when she was a child in “The Ether of Space.” Although the reader is already familiar with Sam’s upbringing from the earlier story, why do you think Barrett reintroduces Sam’s background as though the reader is learning the information for the first time? How does this technique affect the story?
  9. Explain the role of politics in “The Particles.” Do other stories in the book address this topic?
  10. Constantine Boyd’s character bookends the collection—opening the book as a child in “The Investigators” and closing the book at the age of twenty-two in “Archangel.” In what ways do you think Constantine’s experience in Hammondsport shaped his character? Explain with examples from the last story.
  11. When Constantine arrives in Hammondsport in “The Investigators,” he initially introduces himself as Stan in an effort to sound more mature, and later he prefers to be called Constantine. In “Archangel,” the reader learns rumors of a Private Boyd, yet when we meet Constantine for the first time in this story, he introduces himself to Eudora as Stan, a name he claims to be called at home. Explore the transformation of Constantine’s name and how this change influences the book.
  12. Were you surprised by the ending of “Archangel”? What about Constantine’s character may have led him to this decision?
  13. Why do you think the book ends with the story “Archangel”? What do you think the title signifies?

About Andrea Barrett

Andrea Barrett is the author of The Air We Breathe, Servants of the Map (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), The Voyage of the Narwhal, Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. She teaches at Williams College and lives in northwestern Massachusetts.

Books by Andrea Barrett

  1. Book CoverThe Air We Breathe: A Novel

    "An evocative panorama of America...on the cusp of enormous change" (Newsday) by the National Book Award-winning author of Ship Fever.More

  2. Book CoverArchangel: Fiction

    "[Andrea Barrett's] work stands out for its sheer intelligence…The overall effect is quietly dazzling."—New York Times Book ReviewMore

  3. Book CoverServants of the Map: Stories

    "Luminous....Each [story] is rich and independent and beautiful and should draw Barrett many new admirers."—Publishers Weekly, starred reviewMore