The Folded World

Publication Date: May 17, 2007

300 pp


List Price US $14.99
ISBN: 9781590515044


List Price US $23.95
ISBN: 9781590512487

Acclaimed for her exquisite prose and crystalline insights, Amity Gaige returns with The Folded World, the story of an idealistic young social worker drawn into the lives of his mentally ill clients. Charlie Shade was born into a quiet, prosperous life, but a sense of injustice dogs him. He feels destined to leave his life of “bread and laundry,” to work instead with people in crisis. On his way, he meets his kindred spirit in Alice, a soulful young woman, living helplessly by laws of childhood superstition. Charlie’s empathy with his clients — troubled souls like Hal, the high-school wrestling champion who undergoes a psychotic break, and Opal, the isolated young woman who claims “various philosophies have confused my life” — is both admirable and nearly fatal. An adoring husband and new father, Charlie risks his own cherished, private domestic world to help Hal, Opal, and others move beyond their haunted inner worlds into the larger world of love and connection.

A collision of extraordinary characters, The Folded World addresses the universal dilemma of love, wherein giving to another can seem like “the death of the world of oneself.” With an unerring eye for both the joys and devastations of life, Amity Gaige once again reminds us of the pleasures and depths to be found in her fiction.

Excerpt from The Folded World


“In reading [The Folded World] I was struck by three things: Gaige’s crystalline prose, the three-dimensionality of all of her characters, even the minor ones, and her ability to convey the darkness in the mind’s of Charlie’s clients, who are suffering from schizophrenia or other mental illnesses. Gaige takes what is really just an ordinary plot (boy meets girl; boy marries girl; problems ensue) and offers us something very special indeed.” —Nancy Pearl, Puget Sound Public Radio

“[T]his darker story connects the romance of coupledom to the territory of madness… Gaige’s off-beat orientation, wit and piercing insights… [offer] greater breadth in exchange for sweetness.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Indeed, it is exhilarating to see Alice… transform herself into a competent woman. This alchemy, in concert with a beautiful story wonderfully told, makes this highly recommended for all fiction collections.” —Library Journal

“In her exquisitely written second novel, Gaige explores the ups and downs of a fragile, mostly joyful young relationship: Charlie’s overcommitment to his mentally ill clients; Alice’s fleeting attraction to a bookstore clerk; their infant daughter’s first, tentative steps. The bitterness and disillusion of marriage have been thoroughly plumbed in contemporary fiction; Gaige is one of the rare novelists who is more interested in its potential for happiness and grace.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Gaige (one of the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 under 35’) writes elegantly, and she makes the survival of this young marriage a question of grace. Grade: A-” —Christian Science Monitor

“[A] tightly written and emotionally satisfying novel….Gaige, the author of the well-received novel “O My Darling”…[is] extraordinarily adept at revealing her characters’ personalities in just a few words.” —New York Times Book Review

“Idealistic young social worker Charlie Shade tries to save his psychiatric patients, but puts his marriage and sanity at risk. Gaige offers striking prose and layered explorations of relationship boundaries and madness.” —Boston Globe

“More are the wonders awaiting you in Amity Gaige’s The Folded World. Strands of memory and thought intersect in this sensitive tale of a social worker Charlie Shade and his wife, Alice…In Charlie, Ms. Gaige has created fully developed character with whom we come to empathize. Then there’s Alice, a woman who has escaped the droning misery of her small-town past and made a life for herself with Charlie. There is nothing patently grand about her, yet in describing the motions of her life, Ms. Gaige demarcates her individuality as clearly as any other’s in fiction.” —Washington Times

1. Which of the characters in The Folded World do you most relate to? How and why?

2. Discuss the mother-daughter relationship between Alice and Marlene. How did Marlene’s relationship with her father and the fact that Alice never knew her father play a part in their relationship to each other?

3. Charlie Shade lost his job, nearly lost his family, and almost himself trying to be all things to Opal—to help her. Yet when Opal sees him as she’s flying over the earth at the end of the book she says “He looked nice enough from up here, but down there he was somehow horrifying.” What does she mean by this? What about him is “horrifying”?

4. As a child, Charlie sensed the moment Alice was born. The author writes, “Some people are born again by God. Charlie and Alice Shade were born again by one another.” Do you believe in “soul mates”? Were Charlie and Alice destined for each other? What choices could they have made to change that destiny?

5. At Charlie’s birth, his grandmother had a premonition about his death. Her other premonitions had all come to pass. Why didn’t the one about Charlie? Or did it?

6. Many of the characters in The Folded World are mentally ill, but others are eccentric, or lost. What do you think The Folded World says about mental illness? What is the fine line that separates the sane from the insane?

7. When Charlie decides to train in social work, he does so because he wants to find the “seam” between his life and others, the place where lives “touch” each other. Is this impulse to find this place a good and noble impulse? What exactly leads him astray from his original intention to help people?

8. Alice is a bookworm. She reads so much she hesitates to make real contacts. At one point, she fears that she believes real people are “less real than people in books.” What are the pitfalls of being a bookworm? Is it true that sometimes characters in books seem “more real” than real people? How or why?

9. Why doesn’t Alice go to college, the first time when she graduates high school, and the second time when she has another chance after signing up for night classes?

10. At one point, Charlie has the thought that Alice is “spiritually larger” than he somehow. Do you agree? And why are the spirits of each character limited? Which character in the book is spiritually the largest? The smallest?

11. Hal and Opal are both diagnosed with mental illness, and spend time in psychiatric hospitals-the same one, in fact. Both their lives are damaged by the illness, and yet Hal, at the end of the book, seems to have made some type of recovery. Opal, of course, does not. Why do you think their lives end so differently? Why do some mentally ill people flourish despite their illness and some do not?

12. Discuss the italicized sections in the book. Are they literally spoken by Charlie to Alice? Or are they some other form of storytelling?

13. In Part Two, when Charlie is reflecting on his satisfying life as a father and now a mobile clinician, he wonders if, after a life of successes, he can ever truly understand what it means to suffer. Do you agree? Do you think a person needs to suffer himself to understand another person’s suffering? Why or why not?

14. Discuss the concept of “the folded world.” What is it, and why is it the title of this book? When Hal becomes attracted to Alice in Part Two, he fears that his folded world might disappear, “For in its unfolding, it was no longer a world.” Do you agree that this is a predicament in loving someone else?