Book Club Reflection Part II: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

27 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re all getting ready for a big turkey dinner with your families. What a better way to celebrate than the dysfunctional McCullough family.

In an effort for the library to save money, I’ve been able to read Before You Know Kindness with both of my book clubs now. You can read my book review and my earlier Book Club Reflections in these links. And now on to a new discussion!

This discussion was in my ‘edgy’ book club and we debated first if it fit our theme. We thought it was a unique topic to write about. We don’t get a lot of books about vegetarianism and activism in that area, but it’s a far cry from the definitive edgy-ness of China Mieville. In the end we decided it qualified, but was low on the spectrum of Joshua Ferris to Ray Bradbury.

The narration skipped between the heads of many of the main characters. We talked about if this technique helped us know the characters or hindered our enjoyment of it. On a personal note, I enjoyed it. Our group was split. Some found it hard to keep track of all the characters and how they were related to or associated with the others. Some liked getting in the head of all the main players in the story. There was a general feeling that you didn’t get to know the characters as well as we would if one person narrated the tale. Some were more flushed out than others. We found Willow the most flushed out. She was easy to relate to and likable. Sarah was likely the least developed. She was a therapist so she listened well, but she didn’t really talk enough that we could get to know her. We wondered if her reluctance to talk about her problems was a New England mentality. Because we didn’t get into the characters heads as much, we didn’t get a lot of emotion from Nan. It felt like she cared more about how her family looked and what they did more than how they were emotionally. She seemed to care more about the appearance than the fact.

On the topic of too many character, a few people wondered why the EMS woman reappeared in the book. She seemed like a throw-away character when she first appeared and we didn’t see a reason behind her coming back to see Spencer. We wondered if she’d come back a second time, but no such luck. It seemed odd to us.

Spencer showed a lot of person growth as a result of his injury. It saved his family in a way because it forced him to change. At first he was angry and pushed his family away further. He was in denial of his injury and thought things could return to normal. And thank God they didn’t. I’m glad Spencer suffered because it brought him so much closer to his family and helped him connect with them. Would would have thought losing your arm could be so beneficial.

On that note, one member brought up that she thought the resolution between Spencer and Catherine was a bit rushed. For the whole book and before the story begins, Catherine is unhappy in her relationship and I think she felt obligated to stay with Spencer after the accident instead of wanting to. Overcoming all of that resentment seemed to happen really quickly. If Charlotte hadn’t confessed, he might have gone through with the law suit and Catherine would have left him. It was really Charlotte who saved her parents marriage more than Spencer and Catherine being able to reconcile their differences.

Spencer’s vegetarianism and devotion to FERAL were huge points of the story. Knowing what I do about the author, one would expect Spencer’s point of view about animal rights to come across strongly but to still be convincing. We didn’t see that at all in Spencer. We didn’t find him effective in converting others to his style of vegetarianism or in seeing the harm he saw in animal abuse. Spencer was so unappealing through most of the book that his point was less effective. We think Spencer felt important when he was outspoken and could force others to eat what he thought was ‘good.’ He forced his wife and daughter into his beliefs and seemed to think he could do that to the rest of America. We felt the book was rather one-sided and didn’t talk about the benefits of meat and animal products that Charlotte might have needed growing up.

Go meat!

It seems pretty clear that FERAL is a fictional representation of PETA when it comes to extreme measure to protect animal rights. These people were willing to go to court to protect animals like many people would protect their own children. We hated to see Spencer taken advantage of by his company, but that seemed to be what was happening. He was a pawn and either didn’t realize it or didn’t care.

The other character we talked about a lot was Charlotte. She seemed to fit her age more than Willow did. She still seemed pretty sophisticated for her age, but we as mid-Westerners can’t understand a blue-blood New Yorker lifestyle.

Charlotte seemed to have an up-and-down relationship with her father before the accident. She idolized him and we think she saw him as a strong person, which he probably liked. He would spend intense weekends with her, treating her to her favorite things and then be away or busy for a long period of time. She seemed to respect his values, except for her plastic shoes because she wasn’t allowed leather ones. I wonder if their relationship will improve when he’s able to spend more time at home with her.

If Charlotte hadn’t confessed, we wonder if the trial would have happened. If it did, we feel confident Willow would have told the truth because she seemed to have a lot of integrity. We think Nan suspected the girls were drunk but didn’t want to say anything in front of their parents that night and then felt forced to bite her tongue later on. This relates back to her caring more about appearances than about people.

One thing I wanted to make sure was brought up was the casing in the crow’s nest at the end. Some felt that Bohjalian was trying to close some loops and patch holes and that bringing the casing up helped him do that. Personally, I would have preferred if that part was left out. I would have been okay not knowing the truth. A few others felt the same way.

As a side note to my fellow book clubbers, Chris did tweet me back.

We won’t be meeting in December and our January selection is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. So pumped!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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