Alone on the Shield discussion points
Vietnam was a war that sharply divided American society. What did you think about the war in the Sixties and Seventies? What do you think about it now?
Gabe Pender focuses his fury on people who avoided military duty during the war, but became outspoken hawks afterward. He was also convinced that most people participating in anti-war demonstrations weren't interested in the cause, they just wanted to party. What do you think of his point of view?
Pender makes reference to the My Lai Massacre, an infamous 1968 incident in which elements of a US Army company murdered between 347 and 504 men, women, and children in a rural Vietnam hamlet. In addition to executing hundreds of unarmed civilians, the soldiers performed acts of savagery such as gang rapes and body mutilation. Many considered the incident the product of the fear, tension and exhaustion that soldiers lived with, an opinion Pender shared. After investigations by the military and Congress, only one man, platoon leader Second Lieutenant William Calley, was found guilty of a crime at My Lai, and his sentence was reduced to less than four years, most of which was served in house arrest. Should war crimes like My Lai be prosecuted like murders in civil society, or should we take into account the conditions under which soldiers are operating (including the fact that their jobs are to kill)?
Annette bristles at the suggestion that many of the people in the anti-war movement in the Sixties and Seventies were insincere about their moral objections to war. What do you think?
The Great Recession
Alone on the Shield is set in 2008, as the grim days of the Great Recession are settling in and the company Pender has served for 25 years is going under. What effects of the recession did you see back then? What emotional effects did you see on people who lost jobs during the recession?
Part of Pender's fury has to do with the fact America was fighting two wars at that time and the military was forced to subject its personnel to consecutive tours in the war zone. Did you know any veterans during that time period? How did they feel about the pressure on our active-duty military people then? How did you feel about it?
Quetico Provincial Park and its U.S. counterpart, the Boundary Canoe Waters Area, occupy one of the most unique environments in the world. As you read Alone on the Shield, what impressions did you have of Quetico?
Would you consider taking a canoe trip in Quetico or the Boundary Waters? Why or why not?
Fear of bears and mosquitoes are two reasons many people never experience Quetico or the Boundary Waters. What did you learn about bears and bugs in Quetico from reading Alone on the Shield?
What was your first impression of Gabe Pender? How did your view of him change as the story went on? Where did you end up with him—would you invite him over for dinner?
Was Pender justified in sabotaging the fishermen's camp? What would you have done? Why would that make the world a better place?
How did you feel about Pender's anger in the early part of the book?
Why do you think Pender never got over Annette?
Why do you think Pender tried to save the Khaki Lady? Would you have done the same thing?
Annette's first scene is with a very aggressive salesman. What were you hoping she'd do? How do you feel about the way she handled the situation?
What did you think about how Annette rescued Chaos? Were her dog-training methods appropriate? How would you have handled the situation?
How did you feel about the confrontation between Annette and Chaos' owners? What did you expect to happen when Mr. Stuart confronted her about the dog?
Did her lifelong attraction to Pender make sense to you? What drew her to him?
How did you feel about Annette as the leader of the group? Especially, how she handled Pender and Gus?
How do you see Annette and Pender and the other characters in terms of courage, resourcefulness, and grit? How would you rank them, and why?
The Khaki People
What was your first impression of the Khaki Lady and her husband?
How did you feel about the attitudes that Annette, Pender and Gus took toward the Khaki Lady?
Did the Khaki people remind you of anyone you've seen or known? How so?
If you could paddle for five days in Quetico with any of the characters in Alone on the Shield, which would you choose? Why?
Were you aware of derechos before reading this book? How did you feel as you read the derecho scenes and the aftermath?