Skip to Main Content
Book Clubbing


The Dive from Clausen's Pier
by Ann Packer




Ann Packer

Ann Packer

Author Interview

About the Book

Carrie Bell and Mike Mayer have been a couple forever; dating at fourteen and engaged after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, they have settled into a comfortable relationship. However, Carrie is beginning to struggle with feelings of doubt about their future. In the midst of her doubts, tragedy befalls Mike. At Carrie’s and Mike’s traditional Memorial Day picnic with friends, Mike dives from Clausen’s Pier into water that is too low, breaking his neck and falling into a coma. An anxious Carrie diligently visits Mike in the hospital, praying with their friends and families that he will wake up, knowing that he will be a quadriplegic if he does survive. But when Mike does awaken, Carrie’s initial relief is quickly replaced by nagging doubts. She avoids the attempts of her mother and of Jamie, her lifelong best friend, to reach out to her. She dreads her inevitable contact with the Mayers, and she resents the accusing looks of Rooster, Mike’s best friend, who senses her wavering commitment to Mike. Weary of her confused, hidden feelings, Carrie finally breaks up with Mike and runs off to New York in an attempt at self-discovery. Carrie’s taste of new life in New York City leads her to places in her heart and mind that stimulate and thrill her in ways she never knew were possible. But Carrie finds she cannot easily leave behind her old life in Madison, nor can she escape from herself.

About the Author

Ann Packer received the Great Lakes Book Award for The Dive from Clausen's Pier, which was a national bestseller. She is also the author of Mendocino and Other Stories. She is a past recipient of a James Michener award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and other magazines, as well as in Prize Stories 1992: The O. Henry Awards. She lives in northern California with her family.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is Carrie unable to cry until Mike awakes from the coma [p. 9, 65]?
  2. What effect does Rooster have on Carrie’s emotional turmoil during Part One? Is Rooster fair in his attack on Carrie outside the library [p. 85-87]?
  3. When Carrie and Mike see the bride and groom on TV in the hospital, Carrie thinks: “If his next words were Let’s get a minister over here and get married tomorrow, I would say yes” [p. 101]. What feelings are driving her at this point? What might have happened to Carrie and Mike if Mike had persisted in getting married after the accident?
  4. What does Mike mean when he says: “It was like we were already married—we’d gone too far” [p. 413]? What went wrong or changed in Carrie’s and Mike’s relationship? Did Carrie or Mike change, or did their circumstances change, or both?
  5. When she leaves Madison, Carrie seems to believe that people are defined by the actions or perceptions of other people. She says: “Because we were caretakers of each other’s habits and expressions, weren’t we, witnesses who didn’t just see but who gave existence?” [p. 142]. Remembering Kilroy’s touch, she says, “How extraordinary . . . that someone could touch you and make you into something” [p. 367]. Carrie’s mother asserts that “people aren’t defined by what they do so much as they define what they do” [p. 354]. Are people defined by what they do, or by how others perceive them, or by neither? Does Carrie’s opinion on this topic change by the novel’s end?
  6. How does Mike’s family react to his accident? How do his friends react? What about Carrie’s outward behavior in reaction to Mike’s tragedy makes her behavior so surprising to their families and friends? Are there typical or expected ways people react to tragedies like this? What do deviations from this expected behavior signify?
  7. Is it Jamie’s call that propels Carrie to finally return home, or is some other event the catalyst for her return? Does guilt or obligation play a role in Carrie’s decision to stay in Wisconsin? Is she trying to prove something to herself or to others? Is she acting truly selflessly? Is she settling, giving up, or being true to herself?
  8. Could Carrie properly be called a heroine? What would have been the heroic path for her to take?
  9. Carrie poses the question: “How much do we owe the people we love?” [p. 147] When she leaves Madison, she seems to view the answer as an all-or-nothing proposition: “What I had discovered was that I couldn’t give up my life for Mike—that’s how I saw it at the time, that’s the choice I thought I had to make. And because I couldn’t give up everything, I also thought I couldn’t give up anything” [p. 147]. Does Carrie see her answer differently at the end of the novel? What does Carrie give up for Mike? Did she need Kilroy in order to have something other than herself to give up for Mike? What does Kilroy owe his parents? Can love be separate from obligation? How might Jamie’s or Rooster’s or Kilroy’s definition of love differ from Carrie’s definition?
  10. What is Carrie looking for in a relationship? What characteristics of Kilroy attract Carrie that were or are absent in Mike? Is Carrie’s resolution of her relationship with Kilroy satisfying? By “being there” in Carrie’s life, what does Kilroy teach Carrie about herself? What does Lane teach Carrie about herself?
  11. While Mike literally dives from Clausen’s Pier, who figuratively dives from Clausen’s Pier? What metaphoric images does the title conjure up for the reader before and after reading the novel?
  12. Envision an inverted version of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier written from Mike’s point of view in which Carrie had been the one to have had the accident. How might their lives have played out differently? What does this exercise reveal about their relationship and Carrie’s character?