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Book Club Reflection: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

12 Sep

I don’t normally cut it close between finishing a book and the book club meeting, but I was really close on this one, finishing the book the morning of the meeting! It was great because the story was fresh in my head. Not sure if I’d do it again, though.

Many of our readers hadn’t read Jones before though I think some will go back to her backlist now. Jones holds a degree from Spellman, which was featured prominently in the book. She’s won the Women’s Prize for Fiction with An American Marriage. This book was also picked for Oprah’s Book Club and President Obama shared it on Facebook as one of his favorite summer reads in 2018. The book is currently being adapted to film but no word yet on the casting.

There was a lot to talk about with this book, a lot of ‘what ifs.’ We did find it strange that Celestial and Andre seemed to think Roy was never going to get out even though Uncle Banks was working on a defense. Did they have no confidence in him? We wondered if the story would have been significantly different had Celestial been the one in jail. Would Roy have been faithful to her? We suspect he may have been emotionally faithful, but he didn’t seem to put much stock in physical faithfulness. He’s mentioned buying lingerie for other women and is very quick to jump to Divina.

We wondered about the woman who accused him of rape. She’s not well described except that she reminds Roy of his mother. Many of us initially thought she was white but looking back at it wondered if she was black. I read that Jones deliberately kept this vague because it shouldn’t matter, but it does make you wonder. Would Roy have opened up as much to a white woman? Would she have reminded him of his mother?

Andre made a point of not apologizing to Roy at the end. We felt that he should have. A lot of other characters called him out for what he was doing to a man who he had at one time considered his best friend. Mr. Davenport and Big Roy were two that come to mind. He was being a bad friend and Big Roy told him he was going to get beaten up and to just take it. I felt he should have said he was sorry.

Celestial is not blameless in the story. She wasn’t a very strong character, often seeming to go with the path of least resistance. She’s talked about as being a strong woman and having learned to be independent at Spellman, but we disagreed. Maybe Andre took advantage of her emotional state at Olive’s funeral, but she wasn’t easily played.

The big question in the novel is if Roy and Celestial could have made it work. We don’t think so. They might have peacefully co-existed, but their relationship was too damaged to have recovered to what it had once been.

We wondered about Celestial and abortion. Did she want to have the abortion, or did she want the baby? We wondered how much she did it because she wanted to or because Roy wanted her to. And if she didn’t want to have it how much did that increase her anger at Roy? It seemed she didn’t want to have the abortion at first, but she also seemed relieved not to have a child with a father in jail.

Another reader pointed out something I missed. Ol’ Hickory was a great representation of a promise. Marital promises break down in the book and Ol’ Hickory is damaged, but both pull through, though not in the way you think they will. I bet that’s why the tree is featured on the paperback cover image.

We talked a lot about the title and what it could mean. One reader thought it referred to the state of marriage in American and how marriages are short and entered into under questionable circumstances. There are a few examples of infidelity as well (Roy, the Davenports). But there were also examples of a long-term marriage in the book, most notably Big Roy and Olive. I felt that it referred to the black experience in America and how mass incarceration of black men makes this story a uniquely American experience. Our group leader pointed out how there are a lot of examples of justice in the book and the ways that people experience social, racial, and personal justice. Many things seem unfair to Andre, Celestial, and Roy and they must find a way to seek their own justice within the American system.

This was a great book for discussion and I’m glad we read it. My mom’s book club is reading it soon, so I’ll have another discussion with her about it shortly.

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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Book Club Reflection: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

5 Aug

My book group met to discuss Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal last week. We got off the topic of the book a bit because a lot of us wanted to discuss the same topic more than what Gawande had to say about it. Many of us have had loved ones go through end-of-life care so we all had a lot to share.

We did talk a bit about Gawande before we began. He’s a very impressive person. He was born in Brooklyn and earned his MA from Oxford and his MD from Harvard. He served as a health care advisor under Clinton during his campaign. He’s currently working on developing a new kind of health care company with major players in the business world called Haven. I’d love to get coffee with this guy, but I doubt he has the time.

We had a new member join us this month who works as a social worker with older adults and she had a lot of personal insight to share. She revealed to us that many older adults are afraid of death and how they will die. Some members of our group were surprised. They talk about death and dying with their families and friends openly. Of course, these are trusted loved ones, but the topic still comes up.

The social worker mentioned that she met Bill Thomas, the man who brought birds and plants into his retirement community to bring life back to it. She said he’s a little crazy, but most people with radical ideas are a bit out there. The idea of it is to make people feel useful. Sometimes, this is accomplished by having residents wash a dish or peel carrots for dinner. Thomas’s way was to have them take care of animals. Often, you see these ideas implemented incorrectly. A birdcage in the lobby where the staff care for the animals is in the right vein but doesn’t put the responsibility on the residents and defeats the purpose.

Suicide among the Baby Boomer generation is increasing (see this article). One of the reasons cited is the loss of power. We read a lot in Gawande’s book about how you lose your individualism as you grow older and the power to control what you do. This loss of power can fuel depression and it seems to be growing as the Baby Boomers age.

We talked at length about the difference between hospice and palliative care. I was still a bit unsure of the difference after reading the book. Palliative care is meant to keep someone who is ill out of the hospital and anticipate problems before they occur. It’s a bit of ‘comfort care,’ but it’s also on the preventative side as it mitigates side effects. Hospice means you are no longer being treated for the disease you are dying of. You won’t be rushed to the hospital for a symptom of your disease. This is the idea of ‘making every day as good as possible.’

These are hard topics for some people to talk about because they’re very personal. Our conversation got emotional but I’m proud of us and how much we trust each other to talk about these difficult issues. It was interesting how this book focused on keeping the elderly or sick person in control of their situation while the book we read about cadavers, Stiff by Mary Roach, focused on how what happens to our bodies after we die is completely out of our control. We can’t forget that the change should happen only at death and not before.

I can’t believe summer’s almost over but we’ll meet one more time in August before the fall picks up. 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!

Book Club Reflection: Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens

9 Jul

My book club met to discuss Wolf’s Mouth by John Smolens a few weeks ago. I’m behind on getting this up and I apologize but it works out nicely that this is going up the day after I posted my review, right? I totally planned that.

Smolens is based in Marquette, one of the largest cities in Northern Michigan and the location of Northern Michigan University, which I believe is the largest school in the Upper Peninsula. Smolens teaches English at NMU.

We were all interested to hear that there were really five POW camps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). Au Train was the largest and considered the least violent and had the least security. It’s a remote location! There were a total of 400,000 POWs located throughout the US. We appreciated the perspective of this book, how it was about an Italian soldier in an US-based POW camp. I’d never read a book about this before. It was also fun hearing the misinformation that the Axis powers had spread about the US.

The phrase in the opening pages that led to the title, Wolf’s Mouth, is from an Italian phrase whose equivalent is ‘Break a Leg.’ It was wishing luck to Frank when he had to be brave and face something intimidating, whether that be the woods of Northern Michigan or Vogel. There was a lot of humor in the book about misunderstood colloquialisms. I liked that this was one I misunderstood as an English speaker.

We spoke a lot about Vogel in our discussion. We wondered if he was protecting himself and what he’d done in the camp, or if he really felt he was protecting the Reich. Having his son working for him was an odd situation as well. We wondered how much of his father’s story Anton believed. And we wondered if his beliefs changed when he went through the trial or visited Munising. It was hard for everyone in our group to believe that there would be groups in the US carrying out the Nazi’s war. Especially with the war over for so many years.

We were asked to describe the book in one word. Troubling came up, as readers were troubled by the Nazi’s running the training camps and how the Axis powers mistreated each other. Forgiving came up since Frank was asked to forgive so much through the course of the book. And nostalgia as many of our members have fond memories of Detroit in the 50s when Frank was living there.

We had very few complaints about the book. One was that there were too many characters introduced during the Detroit section. We lost track of them and they didn’t come into play in the book again. There was one specific complaint where it was mentioned that in 1956, buses in Detroit were segregated. Our members didn’t remember that at all. There was no true segregation on the buses, though there were buses that stayed north of 8 Mile Road, the border road between the city and the suburbs (is anyone else singing Eminem now? Just me?). This was brought up again when Leon got on the Greyhound and seemed to sit at the front.

Overall, we enjoyed the book and the memories of Michigan that it brought up. It was fun to read a book in our home state. Maybe we’ll be able to again soon.

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!

Book Club Reflection: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

18 Jun

My book club met up last week and we talked about a book I loved, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. No one in the club disliked the book. It would be hard to, I think. Trevor is such a likable guy!

I was surprised to hear that there will be a movie adaptation of this book in the works! The role of Patricia has gone to Lupita Nyong’o and Noah is on as a producer. Noah is also working on a second book, Place of Gold. It’s set to release in June 2020. This one covers his early adulthood, from late teenage years to his stardom.

We all learned a lot about South Africa, its’ history, and apartheid from this book. Many of us knew next to nothing about this difficult history. Many of us had the misconception that after Mandela was released from jail, things got better but that was clearly not the case. It seems like things got worse before they got better. It was crazy for us to see how divided people were. The white minority had divided the oppressed blacks into ethnic groups and encouraged separatism between the groups, so they wouldn’t unite and rise. It just seems so crazy to us that it worked for so long!

One member read along to the audiobook and noticed that a few names were different. We wondered which ones were ‘real’ or if Trevor was protecting his friends! The audiobook won the Earphones Award for the awesome narration. Trevor talks about how language is used to unite people and the audiobook was even more powerful hearing him speak all the languages that he learned to be a chameleon. His way of speaking is wonderful. A few of our readers had seen him live and said he was wonderful. Another had heard that he was popular back in South Africa as well and I was glad to hear that.

Many of us were a little thrown off by the non-linear storytelling at first. I had trouble figuring out when Andrew was born and when apartheid ended because of it. Trevor’s decision to group his stories by theme did help explain what appeared to be a very complex culture. He was able to address the culture he lived in better this way.

We were surprised at how differently Trevor was treated in his mothers’ village. Not being punished the same way, being an honored guest at events, all these things because of his skin color was so strange. We wondered if there was a risk of him being spoiled because of this treatment, but it sounds like his mother wasn’t about to let that happen.

Patricia was an amazing character in this book. She was very strong and well equipped to raise a son as outspoken and naughty as Trevor. She’s portrayed so favorably that it’s hard to imagine her making a mistake and marrying Able. She fought so hard to keep that marriage and family afloat that she almost ‘settled’ into the misfortune that came to her. She believed in making mistakes and she made some of her own. But she did stop Trevor from making the biggest mistake he could have and ending up in jail!

Trevor’s criminal enterprises didn’t sound quite so criminal from the way he described them. They sounded like smart hustles, almost cheating the system. We did like his insight into the ‘teach a man to fish’ metaphor. Yes, you can teach someone to do something. But if they don’t have to tools to do that new skill, they’re no better of than they were before. Getting the CD writer changed his life. He had the tools to use his skills and become successful when he hadn’t been able to before because of supplies, not ability.

The other insight we all loved was how Hitler was more or less unknown to black South Africans. When they had to name the worst person in history, he wasn’t on their radar. They would choose someone who directly affected their own misfortune, not a group of people in a place they’d never heard of or been to. It led to some rather amusing situations, to be sure!

That’s the last meeting of this group until the fall. It’s nice having one that takes the summer off so I can pick some summer reads for myself. 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!

Book Club Reflection: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

4 Jun

My book club met to discuss Exit West by Mohsin Hamid a few weeks ago. For the most part, we really enjoyed this one. We were led by a reader who had found this book a while back when it was featured on PBS. She enjoyed it so much she’s read Hamid’s backlist.

Hamid was born in Lahore, Pakistan and got his undergraduate at Princeton. He ended up getting a law degree from Harvard. Talk about smart! He currently splits his time between Lahore, London, and New York. Like Exit West, his other books have a vein of current events running through them and Hamid is a good analyst of human nature.

A lot of readers were bothered by how vague the setting of Saeed and Nadia’s hometown was. I saw several guesses for its true identity when I was reading reviews, but no one seems to know for sure. Having it unidentified makes the story a little more universal. Throughout the story, Saeed and Nadia are the only named characters as well. It helped focus on the two main characters, but also keep the story vague. You had to suspend disbelief for a moment, as you did with the doors, to not be bothered by this.

When the people passed through doors, they had no idea where they’d end up. Historically, this wasn’t always the case with immigrant groups. People would have boat tickets or train tickets. But today, you get out when you can go where ever you can. It makes the doors scary but that’s the reality today.

We puzzled over the reason for the quick interludes to other characters. They taught us little lessons that Saeed and Nadia’s story didn’t always emphasize. One was about the doors and how lost and disoriented the newly arrived can be. One was about things changing around you when you don’t leave and how it can be just as disorienting as when you do leave. And more than one was about racism and having to face it when you wind up somewhere new.

As more and more refugees started to arrive, they were watched by some over-seeing authority that we never see and is never named. They complied in groups of other people like them to feel safe from this authority figure, though Saeed and Nadia (mostly Nadia) resisted the change.

Most of our group thought the ending was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed to fizzle to a close instead of having more of an event. It was odd that it was fifty years later, putting these characters in their 70s. They’d had coffee on their first date, so it seemed appropriate that they did that again on this, their ‘last’ date. Their uncoupling was done with so much kindness that we believed they could be so civil with each other after so much time.

We had to wonder if the two would have even gotten together if Saeed’s mother hadn’t died. It was her death that pushed Nadia to move into his house. They were very different and were trying to change each other subtly. When they realized it wasn’t going to happen, they realized it was time to split. Nadia didn’t realize that she was unattracted to Zaid because of her homosexuality. Or maybe she was bisexual and was attracted to him. We thought it was more likely that she didn’t realize she could be homosexual and that was part of why she never felt comfortable with Zaid.

I haven’t started our next book yet but I’ve got an extra week because of the Memorial Day holiday. 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!

Book Club Reflection: The Power by Naomi Alderman

28 May

My book club met last week to talk about a book I didn’t particularly like, The Power by Naomi Alderman. It was very OK for me, nothing outstanding and nothing terrible. It seems we were all a mixed bag on this one.

Despite having so many American characters, the writer is British. She mainly writes science fiction and is friends with Margaret Atwood. She won the Baily’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for this book.

The letters that began and ended the novel were a bit out of place and confusing. We thought they may have been more effective if they’d been scattered throughout the novel instead of only at the beginning and end. Naomi seemed very critical and heavy-handed, but we wondered if this was criticism because she’s a woman or because she was honestly heavy-handed.

The other structural thing that we talked about was the artifacts. They seemed a bit out of place in the book and one reader noticed an inconsistency. One of the artifacts was an Apple device (bitten fruit) and how it was unknown what that thing was. Yet at another point in the book, someone was using an iPad. It just didn’t seem to jive.

The story was quite violent and brutal. Some of our readers felt this was just what one should expect with war and such radical change in a country.

We pointed out that Alderman did address transgender people as it applies to this new world. Jocelyn’s boyfriend at one point has some small power in a skein and he’s ostracized and criticized by both men and women; for not belonging and for thinking he could belong. It was a nice touch for her to include this.

Each of the different speakers gave us a unique perspective on the changes. Roxy was very powerful but she still had the ‘feminine’ quality of mercy. She had mercy on her father when we suspected he would not have had the same. That ended up being her downfall.

Ally raised a lot of questions for us. Some wondered if the voice she heard was a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with the trauma she faced in foster care. If it was divine intervention, did Ally really believe in what she was doing? Or was she enjoying a way to manipulate the system and grow into her power?

Tunde’s classic observer view was great and a lot of us liked him. He was so used to male privilege that he assumed he would be OK and evade the rules. He stayed longer than he should have, as happens to journalists today. We all had to shrug when he said he felt unsafe walking down the street. We’d all felt that way at one time or another. It was just funny coming from a man.

The part that shared the comments section from the UrbanDox site was chilling because of how real it felt. It could have been the comments section of almost any news article today. When someone in power feels threatened, they lash out at a minority or a group that is gaining power. It’s this reason that changes can take so many centuries to happen: the powerful don’t want to give up their power. It’s why we still struggle with racism today in a world that is ‘equal.’

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!

Book Club Reflection: Dodgers by Bill Beverly

23 Apr

My book club met a few weeks ago to discuss Dodgers by Bill Beverly. I’m so behind in posts (so many books to talk about!) that I’m getting to this a bit late. That’s why I take notes.

One of the biggest surprises to me was that the author was a white man from Michigan. Those who read the physical books saw the picture of Beverly on the back cover, so they weren’t surprised once the book was over like I was. We wondered how much he knew about his subject matter and what authority he had about it. Beverly now lives in DC and he lives and teaches in an area where he interacts with primarily black people. He’s also written a non-fiction book on criminal fugitives, so he does have some background on the subject. It still doesn’t seem like a fit, but I honestly wouldn’t have guessed he didn’t match East’s background until I looked up his photo. I wonder if someone from that background would feel the same way.

Some readers pointed out that the difference between the beautiful descriptions in East’s head and the eloquent way he thought was a rough contrast to the rough and rude dialogue of the boys. It made the words feel like they didn’t fit.

The shoot out at the beginning had a lasting impact on East and what he felt through the rest of the novel. It was a small team of boys, like the team in the van and something didn’t happen that should have, making the whole thing fall apart. One reader likened it to a school project where one person doesn’t do their part and the whole thing comes crashing down.

We all enjoyed the scene where the boys are buying guns. It emphasized how young they all are and how out-of-place they are in that world. They were trying to get out of a tough situation and felt they were finally making progress when they ditched Michael just to fall into an even tougher situation.

We find out during the novel that the boys didn’t necessarily need to kill the judge, they just needed to be out-of-town for a while. We wondered if Ty might have known. East was a rule-follower and he wasn’t going to deviate from the task, so he would never have suspected. Ty might have. Finn knew he couldn’t tell the boys just to leave town for a while, he had to give them a reason to be out-of-town and killing the judge seemed like a legit reason.

The characters in this book gave us a lot to talk about. Michael Wilson was the idiot of the group. He was impulsive, and it got him in trouble quickly. We wondered why he was referred to by his first and last name. Were there a lot of other Michaels? Or did it give him a level of authority, like his age, to be in charge? He wasn’t much of a leader.

We all agreed that we liked Walter better. He knew more than anyone else in the van except maybe Ty. He knew how they got the IDs and seemed to understand Finn’s operation a bit more than East and Michael Wilson.

As I said, Easy was a rule follower. He sometimes followed his own rules, but he followed them. He was meticulous about the things he decided were important. We have many examples of him keeping himself clean and showering while on the road. He kept the range clean after Perry died because that was his habit. The book ends with him not following a rule for once and running East.

We all felt there was something more to Ty that needed to be explained. Something must have made him the way he was, but we don’t know. He’s clearly a sociopath with no empathy and no possessions. A boy who stops coming home at nine and is moved out by eleven needs help and his family didn’t have the means to get it for him. From early in the book, when we first meet Ty, it’s clear he’s going to be the one to pull the trigger.

Martha Jefferson was a great character. Her plotline came up only because Walter was there. East never would have been able to charm her or been quick enough to join her on his own. We think Martha instantly felt bad for the boys. She understood how lonely it could be as a black person in rural Iowa. She may have known something bad was going on right away but went with it because she felt bad for the boys. We think she must have realized something was wrong by the time they got to the airport. She probably kept moving forward to avoid something worse happening to her.

There were a lot of parallels between East’s life at the beginning of the book and his time at the paintball range. There was a gang in town, the Christian Wolves. It was a white gang, but gangs are born of poverty and it was there in Ohio. The men who come are described as addicted at times, spending their whole paychecks on paintball and ignoring their families to be at the range.

In the end, East heads east. We talked about how historically, people struck west in the US to seek their fortunes. That wasn’t East’s way.

Our next book is The Power by Naomi Alderman. I’ve already finished it and I think it will be an amazing discussion. 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!

Book Club Reflection: The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

15 Apr The Gilded Hour Cover

After much delay, my book club was finally able to meet and discuss The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. I finished reading this book back in December and we were supposed to meet in January to discuss it. However, Mother Nature had other plans and we pushed the book back to March to accommodate. So here we are, finally.

We found out the sequel to this book comes out in September. We’ll finally figure out who the murderer was! (The ambulance driver? One of the doctors in the inquest?) There was so much content in this first novel that we must imagine the second and third books will be bloated with content as well.

We asked ourselves if a situation like the one presented in this book, of dangerous abortions, could happen in the US if Roe v Wade was repealed and abortion was criminalized again. Anthony Comstock was a real person and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was real. Could we see these again? Many felt it was likely. With the availability of oral contraceptives, it might not be as prevalent, but it could still happen. With the way US law works, the decision to criminalize would go to the states and its likely some more liberal states would decriminalize it while more conservative ones would outlaw. It would be like recreational marijuana is now.

The majority of our discussion revolved around Ana. She was a very modern woman for her time, something that bothered me a bit while reading. Though every time period must have some progressives, some modern women. Ana was a women’s lib fighter before there was women’s lib! She was not the common woman of her time because she was rich and educated but that doesn’t mean she’s unbelievable. Even still, we were surprised she continued to work after she got married. She was a bit of an odd duck, but she was protected by her aunt’s wealth and status, it was OK for her to be a bit different.

Ana and Jack’s relationship was a little surprising because of how outspoken Ana was. Jack was also very progressive and accepted her easily. He was hard to surprise because of his profession, seeing things that were unusual. He made her vulnerable, which was hard for her to deal with at first, but he wore her down and then she couldn’t resist him.

Her dedication to the Russo children was a bit hard for all of us to wrap our minds around. One reader explained it as Ana seeing herself in Rosa and being reminded of losing her brother. She never felt she got him back, but she wanted to help Rosa get her brothers back as best she could.

I may be the only one in my group who goes on to read the second book. I adored the writing and how intricate the world was, even if it did seem a bit long-winded. Maybe I can talk them into it.

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!

Book Club Reflection: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

14 Feb

My book club met this week to discuss Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani. I’m glad I got my review of the book finished before we talked because there were a long of strong opinions in the group!

We started with a little background about Trigiani. Her family is from Roseto Valfortore and her grandfather was the mayor at one point. They visited the town and had automotive trouble getting there because the road was so bad. This helped explain the random-ness that was the Italian road (more on this later). Strangely enough, her brother is named Carlo and her friends were teasing her about the title of her book.

My questions about the cover were shared. The flowers and the woman on the cover made us believe this was a uniquely ‘feminine’ book. We can’t imagine a man reading it! Apparently, the woman on the cover isn’t a specific character from the novel, but a fashion model from the 50s who’s supposed to give the book a period feel. We felt the title was misleading as well and gave the idea of a romantic plot. One reader pointed out that Trigiani is a well-known author and that she has an established audience. That audience is mostly female and she’s probably not trying too hard to create a male fan base.

Someone brought up how the fight between the Palazzini brothers felt like a Shakespearean feud. It was like Dom and Mike’s dad wanted there to be a fight between his boys and the way it split the family was reminiscent of a Romeo and Juliet style family fight. We felt the story could have paralleled a Shakespeare story better if this was the intention. Or it could have dropped the feud and been a little more focused. There were so many people involved because of it that we needed a family tree to figure out who was the child of who and if they got along with someone else. Ugh.

Hortense felt a bit contrived for some people. She kept to herself at work and had a solitary job, but she was very close to the family. It seemed like a little too much. Maybe if she’d worked in their home it would have been more believable, but with her job in the shop, we didn’t buy it. She also seemed very bicultural and working in that environment didn’t seem like enough to give her that level of fluency in Italian American culture.

Calla was very modern for the time period. She felt more like someone in our modern world than a girl of the 1950s. Cutting her own hair and wearing pants was one thing, there are always those rebelling against fashion. However, going to the bank and being in charge of her own finances and business seemed like a bit too much.

We spent a lot of our meeting time talking about parts of the story that seemed illogical or nonsensical as part of the book. Even though I enjoyed some of these parts, I had to admit they weren’t very logical and some didn’t move the plot well. I’ll bullet to save space.

  • Nicky going to Roseta. Why wouldn’t he just skip town and lay low? Why put himself in such a visible position?
  • Hortense and Minna becoming friends. She’s such a recluse she never leaves the house yet becomes life-long friends with a weekend border?
  • Peachy figuring out where Nicky was. What would make her think that the filer she finds in the trash at his apartment is where he is hiding? That’s a huge leap in logic and a long shot at best.
  • Elsa being Jewish. We wanted so much more out of this unlikely (and slightly unbelievable) marriage. She wanted to go to temple, but we never find out if she does or how the family feels about it.
  • Nicky’s jerk attitude toward Calla before they get together. It was so obvious they were going to wind up together, why was it dragged out in this way? And what was his motivation for being such a jerk? Based on his conversation with Hortense before leaving New York, it seemed clear he went home for Calla!
  • The man dying in Nicky’s cab. We didn’t see how that would be such a ‘wake up’ moment for him. We also didn’t see why it was such a big deal that the man had sullied the cab and they had to get another one. That scene felt like a little too much.

Overall, the book could have been a lot shorter and a lot more streamlined. I’m hesitant to read another book by this author, but I’ll be hearing her speak in April and would normally buy a book as a souvenir. I have some time to decide.

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!

Book Club Reflection: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

21 Jan

We had our biggest group ever for our discussion on Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. We had to be moved to a bigger room to accommodate all of us. I missed taking notes for the first part of our meeting because I was eating an amazing crab cake BLT (yummmmm) so I apologize if I missed anything and I hope any fellow readers from the meeting can add what I may have missed.

We noticed that Gil was the only character whose body wasn’t recovered or found from the crash. If he has ‘gills’ like a fish, did he maybe escape? He had the skill set to do it and be stealthily hidden away! He was very perceptive and seemed to be the only one who was suspicious of the fight between Charlie and Emma. He was a very thorough person. We had a debate if he’d been able to find out about Charlie if he’d known the personnel for the flight. He knew about the co-pilot that was booted. If he’d stopped or even delayed the flight, would he have dug up anything about Charlie? Personally, I doubt it. The FBI had weeks to look into Charlie after the crash and didn’t turn up anything suspicious. What would he have found in five minutes about Charlie?

Scott’s character is very central to the plot. His relationship or lack thereof, with Maggie becomes the first mini-mystery. Why would she invite him on the plane? We felt that Scott could tell that Maggie was more grounded than the people she was surrounded by. He knew that she understood him and his working-class life even though she lived in the big house. Some readers felt that the Jack LaLane plot line was a bit too much. If Scott was inspired by him to swim, then what motivation did he get from his sister’s death? Couldn’t the death of his sister be enough to encourage him to swim and join the team? I’ll give my personal opinion here again. I’m a swimmer. I can see being motivated to fitness by LaLane. I can’t see being motivated to swimming for fitness by the drowning of another. I can see that as an encouragement to learn to swim for survival. Survival swimming would not take you eight miles in open water. That requires a level of fitness that LaLane inspired in Scott. I think both were necessary.

The book itself was both a mystery and a thriller. We felt it was a bit more of a mystery, though. The ending was abrupt and came just after the mystery of who crashed the plane was solved. A lot of plot lines were left unfinished. Was Bill arrested? Did Eleanor and Scott have a romantic relationship? The abrupt ending was much like a tragic accident. It happens without warning and changes things. One reader felt that sudden, drastic life changes were the major recurring theme of this book. Ending the story like one was keeping in line with this theme. The ending also started rearranging events. Many readers (including me) were confused about the timeline of Scott hearing about the black box recordings. At first, I thought Scott remembered what had happened. The more I thought about it, I realized that Gus had told him, that the reader had gotten the story out-of-order.

The criticisms of the conservative news were very thinly veiled. I jokingly called Bill Cunningham Bill O’Reilly and for the rest of the meeting, people would mix them up and refer to the character as O’Reilly. We were all disgusted that Bill would parlay the death of his ‘friend’ into a way to keep himself on the air. He was supposed to be taken off the network but with David’s death, he became a personal touchstone and was able to prolong facing consequences for wiretapping. We were all surprised that Scott would agree to speak to such a man, especially on television. We reasoned that he did it for JJ. Scott felt that he needed to clear the air about himself and Maggie so that JJ wouldn’t grow up with the idea that his mother had ever been unfaithful or that Scott was in some way involved with the crash. He wanted JJ to grow up in a world where people didn’t whisper behind his back.

The sudden, dramatic change of circumstances of the characters developed as the plot went on. On top of the crash, we saw Kipling face pending charges that would make him lose his business, Maggie marrying a billionaire, and Scott’s sister’s death. Scott’s paintings continued this trend, covering sudden, irrevocable changes and loss. It was his way of processing the sudden death of his sister. The last painting in the series said ‘We are sorry for your loss.” This is what we say when we don’t know what to say. It’s what we say when we are not affected and can’t understand the sudden change someone else has gone through.

It was a great discussion this month. I apologize for anything I missed because my food was so delicious. It was worth it.

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!