In a summer community on the coast of New Hampshire at the turn of the last century, a girl is drawn into a passionate affair with a man nearly three times her age. Fortune’s Rocks is the story of Olympia Biddeford — privileged, well educated, and mature beyond her years — and her affair with John Haskell, who is married with four children. Drawn together on the night of the summer solstice, the pair set in motion a series of events with far-reaching consequences for all involved. This is a haunting novel about an unforgettable young woman and the tragic consequences of reckless love.
Questions for Discussion
1. Is Olympia’s innocence in the opening scene believable?
2. How did the absence of strong female role models affect Olympia’s emotional development?
3. Olympia evolves into a passionate woman in a rigid society. Does her isolated upbringing as an only child who is home-schooled contribute to this? How?
4. How does Shreve foreshadow future events? Do these scenes help to explain Olympia’s decisions later in the book?
5. Was Zachariah Coates’s action justifiable? Was it purely malicious? Did he have ulterior motives?
6. “It seemed the most elemental gesture to take a child from a man,” says Olympia (p. 441). Discuss the various instances in which Olympia takes a child from John’s hands.
7. Olympia is a mature teenager, and she accepts responsibility for her situation. As a fifteen year-old, though, can she be blamed for the affair and the pregnancy?
8. If John was not married and a father of four children, would you feel differently about his relationship with Olympia? At the beginning, did he love Olympia, or just feel tremendous desire for her?
9. If you were in Olympia’s shoes, could you have made the decision she made regarding her son? Was it the right decision for the child? For her?
10. Discuss the theme of possession. Olympia says that she never “possessed” either John (p. 208) or her son (p. 436). Is it ever possible for a person to possess another?
11. What issues are raised at the trial regarding class? Could these be raised in a court of law today? Are they valid?