Book Club Update

Lakeview Book Club Update: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The seven off us, including new member liked the book, even if it wasn't our typical type of book we usually choose to read. Not everyone finished it. A few thought it slowed down in the middle. We all found parts that made us really laugh, some of us more than others. There was a great deal of laughter during the meeting as we discussed some of the sillier and surprising elements.
 
One member thought the plot was predictable and the humor was because of the way the events were described. That member noted that the translator had to have been exceptionally good.
 
We wondered if Jonas Jonasson was really that funny in real life. (I figure he has to be.)
 
Mr. Jonasson, born in 1961, was a journalist who at one time owned a large publication, which he sold so he could write his novel. This novel has been made into a movie. OPL does not own it. I'll have to recommend it. He is currently writing another novel called An Alphabet Who Knew How to Count (the working title).
 
Here is an interview in English (the titles are in German) with the author:
 
 
We went around the circle and talked about what we liked and what we didn't like, but mostly we just mentioned the parts that made us laugh.
 
There was a difference of opinion as to whether our hero, Allan, had knowingly stolen the suitcase of money.
 
Many loved the historical parts, which made us question if anything remotely like what was described actually happened.
 
We talked about how many people from other countries know more about our history than many Americans. We think that Mr. Jonasson really knows his history.
 
We read some sections aloud to each other and laughed all over again.
 
Some elements we really liked:
Allan walking out in slippers and taking the suitcase, because the man at the bus station had greasy hair and was rude.
The elephant sitting on the car and squashing the bad guy.
The coven of characters explaining to the police what "really" happened and Beauty feigning innocent ears and an aversion to salty language (she cussed a blue streak).
The Bibles were the solution.
The strange other deaths of the bad guys...in the freezer, etc.
The attribution of the "death" smell on the railroad push cart to the 100-Year-Old Man, who, after all, while not actually dead, had to be very near to death due to his age.
The body in the barrel being "alive," because his jewelry and identification resurrected in Djibouti.
The drinking bouts with Stalin and Truman.
Madame Chiang Kai-Shek manipulating the Chinese debacle
The escape from Russia through Korea
Allan giving the solution to building the atom bomb.
That the final group of Allen's followers consisted of police, bad guys, quirky friends and an elephant.
Allan marrying Einstein's dumber bother's Philippino wife, who was beautiful and not bright, but became the country's leader.
We liked that he escaped "the home," and thought the description of the home's administrator Alice was really good.
 
While this book was not not everyone's cup of tea, we all got a few good laughs out of it. Many of us got way more than that.
 
I'm waiting for his next book.
Happy Reading!

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, Notes from the Lakeview Book Club

We started with a few interesting facts about Thomas Hardy, who like the "Native" in his novel, loved his "heath" wilderness and rual community more than any other place he could choose to live. Hardy has said that he never wanted to grow up. He wanted to stay in the world he lived in when he was 6 years old. Many can relate to that from time to time.

Thomas Hardy was born in 1840 and died in 1928. He lived 88 years! During those years life changed drastically in his world, with major industrialization, the changes brought to rural life. The major big thinkers, Freud, Marx, Darwin, Einstein changed the world. Two major authors of his time were Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
For a person who loved his roots, his wilderness, his neighbors, the outside world was alien to him. This was a theme in this wonderful classic. Hardy's wife was probably very much like Eustasia, strong willed, beautiful and someone who did not like the world Hardy chose.
When the public did not embrace his novels the way he wished, he switched to poetry. In this novel, in a footnote, at the end, he even complains bitterly that he did not want to make a happy ending. It didn't fit the story. The publishers insisted, because of public pressure from the serialization of this novel in magazines before it was published in novel form.
 
The Return of the Native is really a tragedy. Hardy is often compared to Shakespeare, and surely the complexity of this tragedy has Shakespearean elements.
There was quite a range of opinions on this title. A few of us loved it from the start and charged through savoring the language, the descriptions of nature, the characterizations, the surprising plot, the strange "happy" ending. Others never really got into it, finding the language arcane and difficult, the dialects hard to embrace, the characters in some respects one-sided and the combination of all of that made a few not finish it.
 
There was another set of members within our group, who found it difficult to get into, but then found it very rewarding, liking what ones who loved it savored. We noted that Hardy included comments that were of current events and past history that readers of that era and some now might not know, unless highly educated. Many of us were googling words and we had never heard before. Several of us looked up furse, which are reedy bushes, which the poor people cut to burn for fuel. We commented how Hardy pointed out the class differences, mentioning that wealthy people could burn hard wood! We saw Clym descend into poverty and how he embraced it. Hardy obviously loved his poverty class friends, using their own dialect in the novel. One member of our group actually got the Cliff Notes so she could understand what they were saying! That's dedication!
 
A few never got into it. They thought the characters were unsympathetic or unengaging. They also could not relate to the plot.
 
Part of the difficulty of understanding the plot and decisions the characters made was that these decisions were set in Victorian times. Scandal was just an easy mistake about the timing of a marriage or who spends time with whom. We compared it to The House of Mirth which also focused on the tragedy of decisions made against the norm.
We were asked to name our favorite character. For several of us it was the Heath, an ocean of nature that changed from nurturing and lush to cold or extremely hot and deadly. The Heath changed as the story changed, mysterious, sensual, harsh, unforgiving, beautiful and loving.
We also mentioned the Aunt as a strong attractive character. A few wondered at her changing her mind over Thomasin's wedding and her son, Clym's wedding after making strong objections. We thought, after discussing it, that is was indeed believable for the aunt to forgive them. It was the dichotomy of Victorian rules versus a mother's love, with mother's love eventually winning.
Most of us liked Eustasia, even though she was selfish, convinced of her beauty, arrogant and alienated from the community. She was REAL! She was foolish! She was smart. She was young! She was driven by boredom and a dream of Paris and all that entailed. She thought Clym would take her away from the "backwater" world! She thought she could change him, in spite of Clym telling her he would not go back to Paris. We thought that if she could have gone to Paris on her own, which she was planning, that she would have succeeded. She was driven! Though she didn't have the freedom modern women have, she would probably have found a rich husband or sponsor to keep her in style.
We commented that all of the characters lived in their heads and did not understand the motives of the people around them. Hardy has fatalism and desolation in his novels.
All of us liked the Reddleman, Diggery! His was a mysterious role of changing the destinies of the people around him. He recouped the gambling debt, he protected the niece and the aunt's servant and he did it all in secret.
It was pointed out that drama has three elements: Time, Place and Action. For this novel the time was exactly one year, the place was the mysterious/murderous and beautiful heath and action was the many disastrous decisions our main characters made.
We wanted to know what the underlying theme was. One member said it was, "We have little control over the world. We are delusional!" We agreed that this was the theme and we agreed it was true!
We thought the death scene was very dramatic. One wonders if the Hardy's rural community had a waterfall driven whirlpool who claimed lovers.
Another thought she felt the same about The Return of the Native now as she did when she read it as an undergraduate. Other classics, she finds different, such as The Leopard by Giuseppi Di Lampedusa, which is written about what is lost when society changes. Di Lampedusa was at the end of a long rich life, full of war and many harsh changes. Hardy was 38 when Return of the Native was published. It has a younger person's sensibility and focus on mismatched love.
We ended with commenting about how the happy conclusion had the wedding and a carriage driver hired from a larger community who wanted to know after seen the poverty of the area, "Why do you want to live here?" For some of us we understood that this stark rural community had everything anyone would want, friends, relatives, drama, beauty and peace. Who would want more? Maybe Eustasia.
 
Happy Reading!

Shipping News by Annie Proulx, Notes from the Lakeview Book Club

First A Little About Annie Proulx:

She was born August 22, 1935 in Connecticut, Educated in history in Vermont and currently lives in Wyoming.

She won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Shipping News. She won PEN/Faulkner Award for her first novel, Postcards. She is the first woman to win the PEN/Faulkner Award!

A free spirit, she has divorced three times and has raised alone her three sons and one daughter. She lived many years in small towns in Vermont.

Most of her writing has been nonfiction. She has written both short and long nonfiction. Her controversial and critically acclaimed novella Brokeback Mountain was both a book and a film.

What we thought:

Like The Return of the Native, The Shipping News has “Nature” as a major character. Annie Proulx did a great amount of research, living many times in Newfoundland for months at a time. This showed in the exquisite details of the beauty of that stark, lonely, bleak and transcendent world. From the sparkling water shining as with diamonds at a glowing rainbow sunset, to slate gray, storm-tossed seas hiding its victims! Her knowledge of the details of boats, shipping, fishing and everything related to the ocean community enriched every part of her work.

Our group seemed to universally like or LOVE this book. Some had read it more than once and still really liked it the second time. The only negative comments were about the writing style, which sometimes had sentence fragments or long, run-on sentences. Others disagreed, thinking that these style “rule-breakers” enhanced the rhythm and texture of the narrative. Others didn’t even notice the unconventional style.

A few of us commented that, at first, the main character, Quoyle, his abused early life, his willingness to take abuse, his lack of confidence, made him very unsympathetic. A few wondered about reading on, but kept at it, then, it all changed!

Petal's violent death, his kidnapped very young daughters' close encounter with possible sex slavery, the joint suicide of his parents, the hostile rejection of his brother, and job loss, suddenly thrust our kind, loving, sweet-natured anti-hero into chaos with no future......that is, until his Aunt showed up for the funeral.

His Aunt's down-to-earth sense of reality and belief in redemption from adversity, led them to Newfoundland to try a new life in the harsh sea town, in the ancestral home which was filled with specters of Quoyle ancestors’ century long secrets.

What transpired there was amazing. While still afflicted with hardship, gradually all the characters transformed! The readers could barely see the changes as they occurred. We loved how Annie Proulx pitted each character's weakness, including the peripheral characters, against what that character hated or feared most. Quoyle wrote The Shipping News and he was afraid of water and hated boats. One man, abused as a child, wrote of the local sex crimes. An old bachelor wrote about home decorating and cleaning tips.

We loved the chapter headings from The Ashley Book of Knots. They were symbolic clues of the developments in the coming chapter. We loved the names! Each was such a unique Dickensian invention. Humor was evident throughout, but subtle. We would find ourselves chuckling over made-up newspaper headlines, then immediately pulled back into the plot.

One theme was sexual identity and sexual deviance. Our homegrown newspaper contained all the stories of incest and other sexual abuse they could find. The Aunt, a major character, whose actions saved them all, kept her same-sex relationships secret.

In fact, we loved all the characters, except maybe Petal, the evil wife of Quoyle, who was dispatched by the author early in the book. Without Petal, Quoyle would never have grown. This proves that all adversity, at least adversity in novels, is there for a reason. :>

All the characters were quirky, strong in their own way, honorable, likeable, solid and interesting. We tried to see if we could think of any other novel where all the characters were so engaging and strangely weird and wonderful! One member of our group mentioned Kent Haruf's Plainsong. We all agreed.

We loved the intensity of the dangerous and suspenseful scenes, such as the cheap speedboat capsizing and Guy Quoyle almost drowning, and also, the wind-storm blowing away the ancestral home. We even really liked the historical description of the pirate, inbred family of Quoyles pulling their enormous house across the frozen bay with the angry jeering villagers pursuing! What an image!

We loved the drunken "good-bye" party that destroyed one newspaperman’s trailer home and sank his hand crafted solid boat, which prevented him (temporarily) from leaving. He was loved THAT much!

We noted the themes of the changing economy and even global warming! This book was written long before global warming was widely discussed. Proulx talked of government changes that directly put people out of work, then started companies to rescue those out of work. Those new companies then immediately failed due to poor planning. In contrast the locals found ways to continue in smaller ways, helping each other and still satisfying their deep love of the sea. This was how the newspaper was started!

Bunny, Quoyle’s older daughter, was understandably emotionally disturbed after her trials. She was also "sensitive" to the strangeness of the past and the current mysterious events around her, (the white dog, the dream of the house flying away) yet she slowly and quietly evolved into a normal child. We loved that.

Quoyle's and Wave's transformation from passive, ungainly people into leaders in the community and into confident lovers was so gratifying to the reader. They both clung to loving memories of their deceased spouses only to reveal to each other later that both spouses were cheaters and abusers!

We talked about the scene at the end of the book where Quoyle, after achieving success in his community and acquiring the true love of his life, examines himself in a mirror after a shower. Approaching middle age, his stomach protruding, a loaf of a man, tall, heavy, with tree trunk legs, facial features grouped in the center of his face, thick red hair all over, Quoyle realized he was probably at his prime and he liked what he saw! It was a redemptive moment making the reader smile and almost bringing out happy tears.

We liked the end, which affirmed that winds called by magic knots can blow evil away, the dead can rise again and most importantly, true love can come gradually without obsession and pain.

Annie Proulx deserved her prizes for The Shipping News!

Lakeview Book Club Update: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behavior Barbara Kingsolver

There were eleven of us, including two new members, one who said she had been trying to get here for two years!

A little background about Barbara Kingsolver. She was born in 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland. She was raised in eastern Kentucky, where her options were to be a farmer or a farmer's wife. She knew she wanted out! She has a B.A. in biology and graduate degrees in biology and ecology. During her college years she also took writing courses, but she had been making up stories for her family since she was a child. Obviously, this story rings so true, because the themes and events have been an intimate part of her life.

Insomnia led her to write The Bean Trees, her first book. Her style was honed with journalism writing and science writing. She is aware of the need to compel in the reader to turn every page. All of her novels have been very popular and that was validated last night.

We all liked this book! Some loved it. One of our longtime members said she has read every book that Kingsolver has written and has loved each one better than the one before. When asked why, she noted that the writing style is vivid. The story is alive. Our member glowed with enthusiasm :> She said that Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer also deals with ecology. She liked the underlying messages.

We went around our circle and each shared a little. I wondered that there would be enough to say among the 11 of us. Once we read a book that everyone LOVED and found little to say other than it was really, really good :>

That was not the case here, people have much to say and most all of it was different. What follows is sort of the stream of comments in no particular order:

General comments about why we liked this book were:

The rich scientific theories she put in this novel, educating us, almost without us realizing it, i.e. the writing style was filled with beautiful prose. (one member read it twice!) Other comments were that it was hilarious, filled with symbolism, such as the "flight," Delarobia's flight away from her unsatisfying life and the flight of the endangered butterflies! Whether human or creature, the environment didn't fit.

There was suspense. The mother-in-law, Hester, and daughter-in-law, Delarobia, had similar crises at young ages that directed the stunted courses of their lives. The secret of the mother-in-law and her judgment of the daughter-in-law caused the tension and suspense. The secret was that the pastor of their church was actually the child given up for adoption by the mother-in-law at the insistence of her husband. The father of the pastor was not the husband. He is unknown to us.

The parents appeared almost unkind to Delarobia and Cub, but when we finally understood the history of the family secret, the behavior made more sense to us. The mother, Hester, stifled her grief of losing her son and moved on with her life. She was able later to join her given-away-son's church. Her son never knew she was the mother. We thought that most likely the unknown man who loved her before she married, was probably the love of her life. Hester never accepted Delarobia, because she knew that Delarobia was smarter than Cub. Delarobia had married Cub, because she was pregnant. Hester, therefore, figured Delarobia "had one foot out of the door," and would leave them all before long. As it turned out, Hester was correct, later, rather than sooner.

We mentioned the folk story of the butterflies being the souls of children who have died and we found that touching. We liked Delarobia's children, the budding scientist Preston and the free, strong spirit, Cathy. We commented on the killing of the lamb and how Delarobia mastered that skill. Life on a farm puts life and death in perspective.

The prose was beautiful, colorful, but two members had a few minor criticisms. One was that the male characters were not as fully developed as the women in the book. We would have liked to have known more about how they became how they were. In other words the men characters were a little flat. That member liked the comparisons of the haves and have-nots in the book. When people from the outside came to teach our down-to-earth farming people how to conserve resources by traveling less in airplanes, our rural people noted that they never fly and can barely buy gas for their cars or tractors. One set of ladies were knitting and selling sweaters to raise money to save the endangered butterflies and one person in the book thought they were knitting sweaters "for the butterflies."

We liked how the anguish of the mismatched marriage was described. We could feel and understand Delarobia's unease. We discussed why she had not left the marriage before when her baby, who caused her teenage marriage, died. The reason was she had no family and no way to live support herself. It made sense at that time to stay, but she was bored, bored, bored. She focused her angst by obsessing about the visiting scientist Ovid, but, thankfully, did not stray.

We figured that Delarobia had arrested development, getting pregnant as a teenager and going into a busy farmwife marriage with two children coming soon after. She had raging hormones and craved a stimulating man, a true romance. The book starts with her escapade to meet her much younger lover-to-be, with his sexy tool belt, the man who could fulfill her! This man turned out to be the randy, community lothario who was soon romancing humorous Dovey! It was a Good thing that God, Climate Change and Floods in Mexico, sent the butterflies as a miracle to distract Delarobia from her intended sin. She didn't even figure out, at first, that the flaming trees were actually millions of monarch butterflies. She was so vain she left her glasses at home, thinking her face without glasses and her uncomfortable high heeled boots would make her more sexy to her intended lover! Thank you butterflies! We really didn't want her character to "stray."

The TV reporter was manipulative and caused problems in the community. Our scientist, Ovid, finally stated the TRUTH of the situation, but did not want to lose face with other scientists, by stating the truth which is controversial. He was, however, going to get an Award for his work and he comments about it, "Yeah, a purple heart." We could feel his pain and ours as we saw, that although this is partially fiction, it could become real. One member mentioned how the Washington logging has destroyed the Seattle shores.

The consequences of the weather shift is frightening. One member commented that although conservative Christians, as in "don't put science before God," may lean toward the conservative/business oriented stance on ecological issues. Once they see, however, that God's beautiful creatures are disappearing, they may change their views.

We liked that Ovid's happy marriage stifled Delarobia's obsession over him as a possible romantic partner.

We liked the character, Dovey. She was a humorous element that kept the story light, when it was getting heavy.

Some questioned the authenticity of Delarobia's husband, Cub. He was passive and ignorant, but sweet and reliable. Some of us have known people like that and found him very believable. He was "too good" to cheat on Delarobia, even though the town promiscuous lady was circling him, yet was it just that he was too dumb? That's what Delarobia thought. Some of us thought he was a weak man, but an honorable man, serving his wife, his parents and his children.

Money seemed to be a large pressure on this community. The levels of poverty were examined. A few members thought the detailed shopping excursion to the used items store went on too long, but we liked that what came from that was the episode where Preston negotiated a purchase of an entire old encyclopedia set for one dollar!

Some of us noted the pace seemed slow, then all of a sudden there were only a few chapters left and huge amounts of plot to resolve. Some didn't like that some issues were not really resolved. We liked how Delarobia explained the divorce to Preston and that the divorce didn't seem contentious, but why didn't Kingsolver let us see more about the interaction between Cub and Delarobia, when they were figuring out how to end their marriage? In other words the ending seemed a tiny rushed.

We did like that in some ways the ending seemed hopeful, hopeful about the butterflies, hopeful about the new lives for Delarobia and her children and that they would return and bring what they learned back with them to the community that loved them and needed them.

We learned about butterflies and climate change, complicated lives filled with secrets and unbreakable rules being broken over and over. We learned about the TRUTH and the manipulation of it, about gradations of rural poverty and rural wisdom. We liked the people in this book, even if we didn't want to!

Barbara Kingsolver did a GREAT JOB!