We discussed the fizzled storyline involving Jack and Lila, John’s godson and wife. Was it a disappointing aspect of the story structure, or a revelation of the fact that the subplot told us more about John Ames’ fears than the actual feelings of Jack and Lila?
CD didn’t feel that John Ames was a convincing character and was struck by the narrow perspective of the book regarding Jack’s early indiscretion. DC enjoyed the prose, but found the story forgettable; CS skipped over the “tedious” theological reflections, but recommended the audio version of the book. AL struggled to finish Gilead, annoyed by the structure, yet found herself in tears at the end. The scene in which John blessed Jack touched many of us. JS commented on the generational conflict between the fiery, belligerent grandfather and his equally idealistic but pacifist son.
Although JS wasn’t entirely positive about the book, she read aloud from a couple of the funniest bits - the food provided to the bachelor minister by the ladies of the congregation, including the “suspiciously Presbyterian” bean salad and the unwanted yet recurring jello salad. She also pointed to a favorite passage toward the end: “It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire. Another reason why you must be careful of your health.”
CS highly recommends Robinson’s book, Home, about the same characters and place, told from a completely different perspective.
Other books and authors recommended during the conversation:
Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain
Emma Donoghue, Room]]>
A couple of people commented that they preferred Julia Alvarez’ In the Time of the Butterflies for a novel about the Dominican Republic.]]>
We were in agreement as to the excellence of the writing and the powerful descriptions of the natural setting. One reader pointed out the perfection of the first two stories, each of which can stand on its own. Still, we wondered why this book was selected for the Pulitzer Prize. According to the Pulitzer Prize website, Olive Kitteridge won in 2009 for “distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life”. They describe the book as “a collection of 13 short stories set in small-town Maine that packs a cumulative emotional wallop, bound together by polished prose and by Olive, the title character, blunt, flawed and fascinating.” Take a look at the Pulitzer site for more information, including the other finalists that year.]]>
We split down the middle on this unusual detective story. Some readers never wanted the book to end; others had to force themselves to finish. Those who loved it talked about the vivid setting, the dark yet life-affirming tone, the playfully brilliant writing and quirky characters. Readers who were not amused found the plot over-complex and the Yiddish vocabulary off-putting. I found it enjoyable yet exhausting.
As always, related titles were part of the discussion. Philip Roth’s alternative history, The Plot Against America asked, what if Charles Lindbergh had been elected President in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt? Russell Hoban in Riddley Walker and Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange both created new languages for their characters.]]>
Readers were reminded of other recommended titles:
On Thursday evening, June 17th, at 7:30 PM, the Waltham Public Library Book Club met to discuss Louise Erdrich’s book, The Master Butchers Singing Club. The book takes place in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota
Some of the book club members felt that the title was not a good fit. They saw Delphine Watzka as the heroine of this book. In their estimation, the butcher’s singing club was more of a sidebar. Others felt that the juxtaposition of butchers who sing like angels was a good one. We all wondered why there is no apostrophe after the word butchers in the title.
One member opined that this book explores the “violence of war”, the “violence of an abortion.” There is the “quiet beneath the surface of our lives”. Roy Watzka, Delphine’s father and the town drunk personifies the “violence we do to ourselves and others by excessive drinking”.
Click the link below to find out about a stage production of this book.
Many members of the group felt that a lot of what happened in this book could be explained in two words “North Dakota”. For example, when members expressed disappointment at the romance that seemed to be building between Fidelis and Delphine, one person said, “Hey, it’s North Dakota”. Plus, one member noted, “Delphine was always working.”
Group members who were familiar with other Erdrich works, felt that this novel was very different from her overall oeuvre.
Everyone loved to hate the character of Tante. One member even felt sorry for her as she went hunting for a position in her fancy metallic suit.
Some members were sad when Cyprian left and were surprised that Delphine did not miss him more.
The revelation about Delphine’s birth mother horrified some and made sense to others.
One member speculated that the original version of this book must have talked more about the master butchers singing club. She thought that the editor slashed (butchered?) the original.
In any case, we had a lively and interesting conversation. Tonight’s substitute group facilitator is now an ardent fan of Louise Erdrich. I love her use of language and her ability to develop characters who are off the beaten path.
Two butcher’s cleavers up!]]>
We had some discussion about how non-judgmental the author really was (or wasn’t), how satisfying such episodic storytelling is (or isn’t), and how much license Seierstad must have taken in reporting the thoughts of participants in such incidents as Mansur’s pilgrimage. Several readers were impressed with Seierstad’s vivid descriptions of of Kabul, down to the dust in the houses and the intimate smells within a burka.
We struggled to understand the tribal nature of life for the bookseller’s family, and found ourselves angered by the effects of such a strongly hierarchical and patriarchal society. Leila’s thwarted efforts to establish a place for herself as a teacher, away from the constant demands of her family, were heartbreaking to read. It was painful to read of Sultan’s mercilessness toward the impoverished man who stole some of his postcards. The report of the girl killed by her brothers with her mother’s consent, for sitting with a man on a park bench, was enraging and unfathomable.
We talked about the difference between Islam and fundamentalist tribal culture, considering that patriarchal religious fundamentalism and extremism appears in connection with Christianity and other religions as well.
Some readers found the book a reminder of their doubts that our country’s involvement in Afghanistan can have a positive outcome for either nation. One mother of an Iraq war veteran spoke up about her need to believe that the military effort is making some difference for the better.
Members suggested a few other titles:
James Michener, Caravans
David Baldacci, The Camel Club
Rory Stewart, The Places In Between
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel
Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses
None of the characters was terribly popular, but Laura’s concrete thinking made her charming to one reader with an affection for kids who have different ways of learning and seeing things. Readers drew a range of different conclusions about which of the sisters were visiting Alex in his rooms.
Atwood captures well the friction and affection between siblings. Her portrait of a father and his family coping with the pain of losing his factory in the face of the Great Depression is poignant. But the same father that is driven to drink and despair at the loss of all of those factory jobs shows stunning insensitivity to his daughter when he arranges her engagement to a business partner, in an inept attempt to save the business.
The most animated discussion came at the end of the meeting, when people tossed around recommendations for other books they liked better than this month’s book club selection:
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
The Dante Club, Matthew Pearl
The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
The Art of in Racing the Rain, Garth Stein
Scribbling the Cat, Alexandra Fuller]]>
Her connection to the land comes through in gorgeous descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood home. Fuller managed to convey the best and the worst of her parents and sister, with mind-boggling subtlety and clarity. Our group commented on the portrayal of such unorthodox parenting, alcohol abuse and the disturbing state of race relations. Fuller managed to write with humor and matter-of-fact compassion for individuals, even while clearly describing a situation fraught with tragedy and brutality.]]>