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Nobody Gets Out Alive
Table of Contents
About The Book
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD AND THE STORY PRIZE
Named a BEST BOOK OF 2022 by Oprah Daily, Vogue, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and Electric Lit
From a prizewinning author comes an “electric...stunning” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) debut story collection about women navigating the wilds of male-dominated Alaskan society.
Set in Newman’s home state of Alaska, Nobody Gets Out Alive is an exhilarating collection about women struggling to survive not just grizzly bears and charging moose, but the raw legacy of their marriages and families.
Alongside stories set in today’s Last Frontier—rife with suburban sprawl, global warming, and opioid addiction—Newman delves into remote wilderness of the 1970s and 80s, bringing to life young girls and single moms in search of a wilder, freer, more adventurous America. The final story takes place in a railroad camp in 1915, where an outspoken heiress stages an elaborate theatrical production in order to seduce the wife of her husband’s employer.
“Rich with wit and wisdom, showing us that love, marriage, and family are always a bigger and more perilous adventures than backcountry trips” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), these keenly observed stories prove there are some questions—about love, heartbreak, and the meaning of home—that can’t be outrun, no matter how hard we try. Nobody Gets Out Alive is a dazzling foil to the adventure narratives of old.
Reading Group Guide
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Set in the author’s vibrant home state of Alaska, Nobody Gets Out Alive turns a spotlight on women struggling to survive not just grizzly bears and charging moose, but the psychological complexities of love and family. Alongside stories set in Anchorage—a city challenged by suburban sprawl, global warming, and opioid addiction—Newman delves into the remote, unsettled wilderness, bringing to life best friends, sisters, and single moms getting by in this raw, beautiful landscape.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In “Howl Palace,” the first story in Nobody Gets Out Alive, the protagonist carefully prepares her home to be viewed by prospective buyers, even though “Anybody who buys a house on Diamond Lake brings in a backhoe and razes the place to rubble” (page 1). In your opinion, what is she attempting to show the family who will purchase Howl Palace?
2. Consider what we are told about Dutch’s wolf room. Where did the wolf pelts come from? Why do you think they are so important to Dutch? What might this room and its contents represent for her?
3. In “High Jinks,” Katrina’s and Jamie’s families are “twin families and each other’s only real family, since their other families, with grandparents, lived thousands of miles away, in the Lower 48.” What role does isolation play in this story and in the other stories? In what ways does it make the families’ friendships stronger, and in what ways does it strain them?
4. Reread the final two sentences of “High Jinks,” on page 51. Why do you think the author might have chosen to end this story with these lines? Discuss.
5. In “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” Janice says to Carter, “You know the sad thing about weak people? They fall in love with strong ones, thinking they’ll get stronger. . . . But it’s the weakness that rubs off” (page 74). Consider the four main characters in this story. Who do you think she is she talking about? Who are the weak characters, and who are the strong? In your opinion, what do weakness and strength mean to Janice, and what do they mean in the context of this story?
6. There are five protagonists in “Alcan, an Oral History”: Janice, Maggie, Laurel, Danielle, and Maureen. Each is en route to a destination. Do any of them make it? Pick a character to discuss. What sets her off course?
7. In her letter to Maggie, Danielle writes about Alaska, “Nothing here is fixed, nothing is any better” (page 133). Why does she feel the need to say this to Maggie?
8. In Bobby’s memory of his childhood prank at JCPenny in “Slide and Glide,” his amusement turned to fear when his mother, who had surprised him by joining him in the clothing rack, failed to respond to his sister’s frightened calls. He recalls his mother smiling at him, “her face white, smooth, almost serene,” and remaining silent (page 174). Why did her reaction make young Bobby fearful? What do you think his mother was experiencing in this moment? In your opinion, why might this memory have returned to Bobby during the family’s trip to the cabin?
9. In “Valley of the Moon,” Jamie and Becca respond very differently to the traumatic event in Montreal. How do Jaime’s and Becca’s respective relationships to their mother shift after the incident? What accounts for the difference?
10. What are some ways the idea of motherhood surfaces in the story “Our Family Fortune-Teller”? The narrator notes that, of all her clients, “[a mother] is there to find out who she is and who she might have been and who she almost was” (page 216). In other words, a mother is in pursuit of the truth about herself. Consider the world of the story and the mother figures it depicts. Do you notice this pattern, too? Did it come up in other stories?
11. Turn to the description of Mr. Carmichael’s mother in “An Extravaganza in Two Acts” (pages 274-75). Name some similarities between Hazel’s story and that of Mr. Carmichael’s mother. What becomes of their abilities, and why? How do their outcomes differ? How is artistic talent, particularly when possessed by women, significant to the story?
12. On the second-to-last page of the final story, we learn the origin of the properties along the shore of Diamond Lake, one of which would eventually become Howl Palace, the home from the very first story. This is one of many subtle interconnections woven throughout Newman’s collection. How does reading “An Extravaganza in Two Acts” enrich your experience of “Howl Palace”? Why do you think the author chose to end the collection in this way?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Read and discuss Leigh Newman’s memoir, Still Points North, about her upbringing in Alaska.
2. To learn more about Alaskan wilderness and urban life, consider reading John McPhee’s narrative nonfiction book on the subject, Coming into the Country.
3. For more work by Alaskan women writers, check out Chia-Chia Lin’s novel The Unpassing and Eowyn Ivey’s novels The Snow Child and Last Days in Hunting Camp.
- Publisher: Scribner (April 12, 2022)
- Length: 288 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982180324
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Raves and Reviews
"The collection shares a pool of characters who come and go, but the stories otherwise stand on their own. The characters are deeply crafted and filled with complexity. While their reappearances extend their individual histories, even when contained within a single story, we see multiple dimensions: good and bad, flaws and strengths."—The Chicago Review of Books
"Mesmerizing."—The Arts Muse
"[Newman’s] characters move between stories like pieces in a sliding puzzle…their backcountry bravado — shooting wolves from turboprops, using float planes like taxis, plucking mastodon fossils from melting glaciers — is animated by Newman’s flair for description…We are all marching toward our demise, the title of Newman’s collection reminds us. But, as these vivid tales make clear, it is our 'flinty, fearsome resolve' for survival that gives us life.”—The New York Times Book Review
"Newman’s electric debut collection (after the memoir Still Points North) follows hardscrabble women in Alaska whose rough exteriors conceal myriad vulnerabilities… throughout, Newman’s prose is both distinctive and efficient…the author’s crisp portrayal of the Alaskan landscape and rugged culture holds the collection—and its magnetic characters—together. Newman firmly establishes herself as a talent with these stunning stories.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The Alaskan wilderness is unforgiving, and so is life for the people who live there. In this arresting collection of stories, we meet people who are fighting not only the snowy tundra, but addiction, heartbreak, complicated families and the demons so many of us carry with us, regardless of when or where we live.”—Good Housekeeping, Most Anticipated
"The women in this absorbing debut collection are larger than life, perhaps because this is what the harsh Alaska landscape demands ... These stories are rich with wit and wisdom, showing us that love, marriage, and family are always a bigger and more perilous adventures than backcountry trips ... Bighearted stories of domestic discord by a writer with a cleareyed view of Alaska's romance and hardscrabble realism."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“From Newman, whose memoir Still Points North was a finalist for the National Book Critic Circle’s John Leonard Prize, Nobody Gets Out Alive highlights women struggling to get by in rugged Alaska.”—Library Journal, pre-pub alert
"I have never been to Alaska, but it came alive for me from many wonderful angles in Leigh Newman's irresistible fiction debut. I didn't want Nobody Gets Out Alive to end — to have to leave behind its warmth and soul and glittering writing, its honesty and its laughter in the dark. The stories in these pages are, as one memorable character in this book observes of another's tall tales, 'funny and self-lacerating and so horrifically precise about our love and fury for each other.' You feel you're in the company of a writer who has embraced unpredictability and breathes deeply while seeing far."—Jonathan Lee, author of The Great Mistake
"The stories in Nobody Gets Out Alive are big and lush, full of exuberance, sorrow, and swagger. The characters roam highways, rivers, backwoods, and bus routes searching for something immense. Their boundless needs and vast hopes have nowhere to go except Alaska—a place that Newman brings wholly to life for us, alongside delight and devastation."—Chia-Chia Lin, author of The Unpassing
“Nobody Gets Out Alive is a thrilling collection. Leigh Newman’s indelible characters chart the turbulent waters of hope and regret in an Alaskan landscape that crackles with danger and wonder. These are gritty and powerful stories, from a wildly gifted writer.” —Laura van den Berg, author of I Hold a Wolf by the Ears
"Leigh Newman’s Nobody Gets Out Alive is a fierce, funny, heart-wrenching book. With wit and precision, Newman lays out the entrails of the frontier narrative—part fortune-teller, part taxidermist—and shows us the bravery that masks recklessness and desperation, and the entwined beauty and devastation of Alaska’s landscape and people."
—Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It
"Emotionally astute and slyly funny, Nobody Gets Out Alive is a commanding examination of home, family, intimacy, and self-reliance. With exacting precision and endless wit, Newman gracefully leaps into any perspective she pleases—you get the impression she’s not only writing unforgettable, brilliantly complex characters, she’s somehow inventing souls. This is a stunningly beautiful debut collection by a masterful prose stylist."—Kimberly King Parson, National Book Award Finalist, Black Light
"Nobody Gets Out Alive is an astonishingly beautiful collection: wickedly smart, psychologically rich and expertly crafted. Every one of these stories knocked me sideways. Leigh Newman is one of the wisest, funniest and most compassionate writers working today."—Molly Antopol, author of The Unamericans
"Behold a storyteller completely at home in herself. Each story in Nobody Gets Out Alive flashes a new facet of Leigh Newman's singular style. This is a stellar collection with wit and wisdom galore."—Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Battleborn, Gold, Fame, Citrus, and I love you but I've chosen darkness
"Nobody Gets Out Alive is a stunning debut collection, with the most generous ratio of wickedly funny details to devastating plot lines. It's a joy to travel through these characters' overlapping Alaskas, where violent longings go thrashing under the frozen stillness of the everyday, and the hard, hot work of navigating the wilderness of family can give way at any moment to 'a dazzle of ice and blue and light.'"—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
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