The Age Of Miracles By Karen Thompson Walker: My Review Plus Answers To Book Club Discussion Questions

This is my review and thoughts on The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

Rating system:

God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3

Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

The Age of Miracles = 3

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was captivating and held my attention the whole book. I enjoyed the main character and the supporting cast. I would have liked the book to tilt more heavily toward the end of the world part, despite knowing the primary theme was coming of age. I just felt there could have been a bit more doom, especially since the book kept using gimmicks like “of course, in hindsight” and “little did we know at the time”. That made me believe there was more doom to come. If the author had just cut that out, my expectation for more end of world disaster would have been lessened.

Here are my answers to book club questions (questions provided by the publisher).

1. As readers, why do you think we’re drawn to stories about the end of the world? What special pleasures do these kinds of narratives offer? And how do you think this element works in The Age of Miracles?

I think we are drawn to stories about the end of the world because it would cause such an intense reaction. An intense feeling of emotions, of evaluation, of hope and despair, and decision making. It is fascinating to see how people would respond if the end was near.

Plus, there is is no other experience like it. We have things like doctors responding to high stress situations, and while very compelling, does not come close to the magnitude of the end of the world.

Even from an emotional standpoint, there is no experience like it. Even in our own deaths, many people find solace knowing that they will live on in their children. But how does one cope with the fact that not only will you die, but the whole human race?

Fascinating. 

2. How much do you think the slowing alters Julia’s experience of adolescence? If the slowing had never happened, in what ways would her childhood have been different? In what ways would it have been the same?

The book focuses on the fact that Julia is more effected by her coming of age experiences than The Slowing. This is only natural. Teenagers have a very hard time realizing their own mortality. This is no different. The big difference for her is that everyone around her is feeling an upheaval, not just her. What is interesting about this is that a lot of times in life, grownups are going through their own changes. We seem to think that adults always have their lives in order when that is simply not the case. The Slowing only highlights the adults’ weaknesses.

3. Julia’s father tells several crucial lies. Discuss these lies and consider which ones, if any, are justified and which ones are not. Is lying ever the right thing to do? If so, when?

The world is not black and white. Lying is not always a matter of simply being right or wrong. What is to be gained by telling Julia’s mother the truth about the man she hit? It wasn’t her fault, she passed out. Besides, the man threw himself in front of her car. What Julia’s father did was merciful.

It’s part of Julia’s coming of age. Kids are taught lying is wrong, because they are unable to differentiate the subtle difference of when it is right. The truth of the matter is, most of the time, lying IS wrong. It’s the rare occasion that lying is better for a person. Most often times, lying is only okay when it helps the other person, not yourself. Since those situations when lying is the right thing to do is so very infrequent, it is easier to say all lying is wrong. It is a very fine line between when it is truly better for the other person, and not the one who is lying. 

4. How would the book change if it were narrated by Julia’s mother? What if it were narrated by Julia’s father? Or her grandfather?

Julia’s mother would be focused on sustaining her family and trying to control as many factors as possible. As a mother and a nurturer, she would want to be keenly aware of all the threats to her nuclear family.

Julia’s father seemed to be most focused on a midlife crisis, questioning the choices he had made and romanticizing all the freedoms he lost with his family. He loves his family, he just acutely feels all the possibilities lost with the end of the world — a super-nova midlife crisis, if you will. I think we would see a lot of id from him.

Julia’s grandfather seemed to be channeling the pragmatic response to The Slowing.

5. Did you identify more with the clock-timers or with the real-timers? Which would you be and why?

I identify more with clock-timers. I could foresee almost instantly the need for that. Plus, I have been a night-shift worker before. Your body can adjust.

6. The slowing affects the whole planet, but the book is set in southern California. How does the setting affect the book? How important is it that the story takes place in California?

I think it is important the novel was set there. The author touches on it in the book. The Slowing would effect different areas of the world much differently. People in California have the money to build radiation shelters, people in 3rd world countries do not. Access to water, sunscreen, electricity, food — it would all differ based on where you lived. The author notes briefly an episode of violence – a gun going off. That would be much more common in nondemocratic countries and countries where resources dwindled even faster.

7. How do you feel about the way the book ends? What do you think lies ahead for Julia, for her parents and for the world?

Who knows? The book made it sound like things were progressing very rapidly. At the end of the book, Julia states she is in her 20’s, I think. I didn’t think they would make it that long.

8. The slowing throws the natural world into disarray. Plants and animals die and there are changes in the weather. Did this book make you think about the threats that face our own natural world? Do you think the book has something to say about climate change?

It made me think how fast our diet would change to eating bugs for protein if all the fish died from an increase in the water temperature, all the birds died, and of course, I’m assuming mammals would go next.

Production of the audiobook:

Sound — it was good.

Narration — I thought the narration was top notch. I thought the narrator fit the story well and enhanced my experience. Great job.

Until next time.

****

Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook at madelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

 

Take Me With You By Catherine Ryan Hyde: My Review Plus Answers To Book Club Discussion Questions

This is my review and thoughts on Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Rating system:

God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3

Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

Take Me With You = 0.5

Here are my answers to book club questions (questions provided by the publisher).

1. A journey in literature is a classic metaphor for an inward journey (think The Odyssey). In what way is August’s trip in Take Me With You an emotional or psychological one? Describe August Schroeder’s state of mind at the beginning of the novel and how he changes by the end of the trip.

August actually got super annoying by the end of the book and I did not enjoy his character. I get that the author was trying to show that it was because August cared about Seth that he was so stressed about the climbing. I get that Seth may not have appreciated that, or been used to it, because his own father was not supposedly as good as August. I did not like the route that the book took. So I did not enjoy the journey that August took.

2. What kind of father is Wes and what is his relationship with his sons?

Apparently, not that hands-on. He cares, but has his issues with alcohol. Apparently, as was beaten over our head, he was jealous of August. Other than those few tidbits, we know nothing of Wes.

3. Why does August initially decline to take Seth and Henry with him to Yellowstone? What causes him to change his mind? Is it simply a matter of money?

Um, duh. He declines to take the boys because it is so completely unrealistic to take two boys on vacation with you when you just met them. What causes him to change his mind are the boys and their earnest hopes to go with him.

No, it’s not money.

4. How would you describe the two boys, Seth and Henry, and their relationship as brothers. Why doesn’t Henry talk?

They are close. They love each other. Henry doesn’t talk because it is the way he deals with the world.

The book failed in flushing out these characters. There wasn’t much there past the surface of these characters. We didn’t get to see any real relationship between the boys. We were told, not shown. A lot of times, they didn’t even really inhabit the same scene. When Seth was in the meetings with August, Henry was in the RV (plus, who leaves a kid in the R.V. by themselves. For all the judgements that August was this fantastic father figure, he just left this nonspeaking kid in the car.) Later in the book, Seth is climbing and Henry is with August. The rest of the time, Seth and Henry are in the same scene, but they are just interacting with August, not really with each other. 

Ultimately, they talk about each other to August, but truly, they don’t have all that many interactions with each other. 

A gripe I have was August’s affinity for Seth. August gravitated toward Seth the entire book. Sure, August invites Henry to come stay with him so he can go to school, but his primary focus was on Seth. It really irritated me. 

5. How does the trip eight years later repeat similar themes of the first trip? What has changed—or who has changed—and in what ways?

The author was after the concept that it was now the boys who were taking care of August. While I appreciated the sentiment, I didn’t feel that it carried the latter half of the book. The concept that August was fearful for Seth’s safety did not come across as caring, but that August was a doddering old fool — which was a big change considering it was only 8 years later. Yes, he had Distal Muscular Dystrophy, but that doesn’t turn someone into bumbling.

6. The book asks an important question about what constitutes family. Is family what you are born into, or can you create your own? 

Family is whatever you make it. Family does not have to be born into. This was the basic premise of the book. The concept was a good one, but I felt the book did not accomplish any nuance with it. 

7. Were you satisfied with the novel’s conclusion?

No. I thought the book lost its way at the end. The main character August became a caricature of himself. He didn’t seem to act in any reasonable manner — hyperventilating over seeing Seth’s helmet camera, being oblivious to what mist was, as well as not realizing that the boys were going to take him every summer. The last point was the worst. You can not explain away his idiocracy just by saying “it goes without saying”.

Also, who doesn’t call Wes? That was completely unreasonable. Henry is his son. He has every right to know where he is and who he is with. You don’t get to make that judgement call. This is not to condone Wes’ behavior — but two wrongs do not make a right.

Unreal.

Production of the audiobook:

Sound — it was good.

Narration — I do wonder if perhaps the narrator added to my dislike of August. I can’t help but think maybe my eye-rolling would have been decreased if the character hadn’t been portrayed as so doe-eyed in the later stages of the book.

Until next time.

****

Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook at madelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

 

Defending Jacob By William Landay: My Review Plus Answers To Book Club Discussion Questions

Defending Jacob

This is my review and thoughts on Defending Jacob by William Landay.

Rating system:

God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3

Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

Defending Jacob = 3

This is the kind of book that is great for 95% of the novel and then the ending goes awry. It doesn’t go completely, wildly off the rails, but the ending was out of sync with the rest of the book. It seemed sensationalized. I would have given the book a 4 if it weren’t for the last 30 minutes of the audiobook.

The Amazon review states the author pulled off a clever plot device — no, no it didn’t.

I liked the style of the storytelling, switching between Andy narrating and the trial. I thought the topic was very interesting. I also thought the part the author did really well was the fact I didn’t know if Jacob had done it or not.

I did not like the character of Laurie. I could not identify with a character who behaved in the way that she did. I also felt she was not given enough time in the book to fully develop. Maybe if we had spent more time with Laurie, I would have understood her character more.

Here are my answers to book club questions (questions provided by the publisher).

1. How would you have handled this situation if you were Andy? Would you make the same choices he made? Where would you differ the most?

Emotionally, I would probably do much the same. I would try and support my kid and get the best possible outcome for him or her.  

The situation I would most differ with Andy on is I would not discard the knife.

2. Before and during the trial, how would you have handled the situation if you were Laurie? Do you feel she made strong choices as a mother and a wife?

There is no way I would be speaking ill of Jacob anywhere, not even in the psychiatrist’s office. In my mind, there is still a chance that stuff I said would get out. I would also be worried anything I said would be misconstrued. Plus, I think what Laurie said in the psychiatrist’s office was irrelevant. At 4 years old, the stuff that Jacob was doing didn’t seem strong enough to warrant that level of concern. Perhaps it was a ploy by the author, to put just enough doubt in your head, but not convince you that Jacob was born a murderer. 

I think Laurie spent way too much time not realizing the scope of the situation. She made a lot of what was going on about her. Her loss of friends, her loss of esteem in people’s eyes. The situation was about Jacob and how best to protect him, not about her.

She was absolutely ridiculous thinking she could go up to the parent’s of the deceased boy. She was definitely not dealing with the reality of the situation. 

3. Is Andy a good father? Why or why not?

I believe so. He loves his kid. He wants to protect him. He tries to shield him from the media. He joins the defense team. He does everything he knows how to do in order to make the situation better for Jacob.

I don’t think there was enough evidence to think that Jacob was for sure guilty, so I think he did everything right in assuming his kid was innocent. I don’t think it is a sin to believe your kid isn’t guilty. I thought the book pushed too hard the agenda that Andy was oblivious. 

4. Do you believe Jacob is guilty?

To me, there was no way to tell for sure, given the facts in the book. Just because Jacob is withdrawn and subdued, doesn’t make him the killer. Yeah, he should have called someone when he found the body, if he didn’t do it, however, this alone doesn’t make him guilty. Bringing a knife to school makes him an idiot, it doesn’t mean he did it. Writing the story doesn’t make him guilty, it makes him unaware of the way it will be seen by others. He’s a teenager at the center of a murder trial. He’s just a stupid kid who was writing about a situation he found himself in. 

Once the second girl wound up dead, yeah. I think he is guilty. However, this seemed really convenient for the book. I didn’t buy that if he was the killer of his classmate, he would do this. To randomly kill a girl from vacation does not fit the setup of the book. He would have shown way more inclinations toward violence and indifference to people prior to the first and second killing. I think the ending did a disservice to the entire book. 

Do I think Laurie should have killed her son? No. That also seemed sensationalized for a book ending. There was not nearly enough foreshadowing. It’s a big leap from questioning whether or not your son is guilty/mentioning a few details from childhood, to killing him in an auto accident. 

5. Is Jacob a product of his upbringing? Do you think he is he a violent person because his environment makes him violent, or do you think he has violent inclinations since birth?

No, Jacob is not a product of his upbringing in this case. 

6. Bullying is such a hot topic in today’s media. Do you think its role had anything to do with Jacob’s disposition?

His disposition? No, I don’t think bullying caused him to be disengaged and unsympathetic. He lacked empathy. Jacob did not like getting bullied. It is his disengagement from humanity that allowed him to, in his mind, simply remove the bullying completely from the equation.

7. Do you think Neal Logiudice acts ethically in this novel? What about Andy? What about Laurie?

I don’t think Logiudice acts ethically. I think he takes advantage of the situation based on his own ambition.  He spends a great deal of time trying to discredit Andy. I’m not convinced he needed to take it as far as he did. It becomes even more apparent when Andy is on the witness stand in defense of his wife. 

8. What was the most damning piece of evidence against Jacob? 

The most damning piece of evidence was his failure to call the police after the body was discovered — even if it still didn’t make him guilty. There were many opportunities for him to call and he didn’t. The most damning evidence overall was the many circumstantial situations he found himself in. One alone doesn’t make him guilty, but piled up, it didn’t look good. Still, if I was the jury, I don’t think I could have convicted him. 

9. If Jacob hadn’t been accused, how do you think his life would have turned out? What kind of a man do you think he would grow up to be?

This is a moot question because the book eludes to the fact he immediately committed another murder — one not assigned to bullying.

Overall, I felt this book fell victim to its own ambitions. It was trying to make too many points and failed at fully flushing out each concept it wanted to address. Ultimately, what was most sacrificed was proper foreshadowing.

Since it was an audiobook, I must comment on the production quality. I found the production excellent. The narrator was very professional and gave a good performance. I thought the quality of the background noise was excellent too — I didn’t hear anything but the narrator.

Until next time.

****

Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook at madelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

 

 

A Man Called Ove By Fredrik Backman: My Review Plus Answers To Book Club Discussion Questions

A Man Called OveThis is my review and thoughts on A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Rating system:

God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3

Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

A Man Called Ove = 5

I know, I know! I haven’t given a 5 in a really long time! I honestly adored this book and seriously never wanted it to end. I wish I could get up at the crack of dawn and go on Ove’s morning checks with him every single day for the rest of my life.

Here are my answers to book club questions (questions provided by the publisher).

We all know our own grumpy old men. How do Ove’s core values lead him to appear as such a cranky old coot, when he is in fact nothing of the sort? Which of these values do you agree or disagree with?

I disagree with this question, he is a cranky old man, however, that’s not the only thing he is. People want to restrict individuals into one type of person, and that does everyone a disservice. Ove likes things the way he likes them, his wife knew that. Yet, he also believes in honor, loyalty, hard work, devotion, and doing the right thing. His wife loved him for those qualities as well. People are more than just one thing. 

Parveneh’s perspective on life, as radically different from Ove’s as it is, eventually succeeds in breaking Ove out of his shell, even if she can’t change his feelings about Saabs. How does her brash, extroverted attitude manage to somehow be both rude and helpful?

Her perspective is not much different that Ove’s, it is just the way she goes about it that is different. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Ove recognizes this in Parveneh. Ove appreciates her honesty, her straightforwardness, her high regard for people. Just because he is not extroverted, does not mean he can’t appreciate another persons good qualities. For instance, Sonja is an extrovert and Ove adores her. Sonja is extremely similar to Parveneh and that is also a quality that Ove identifies with. Sonja helped people and saw the best in them, so does Parveneh. 

The truism “it takes a village to raise a child” has some resonance with A Man Called Ove. How does the eclectic cast of posers, suits, deadbeats, and teens each help Ove in their own way?

Each individual helps Ove see the world around him. They give him a chance to be the very best of himself. Adrian allows him to remain connected to Sonja, but also to connect with that part of him that knew the value of hard work. They bond over Adrian’s two jobs, pride in his desire to be his own man represented by owning a car. Ove doesn’t judge Adrian solely on his teenage exterior. He cuts down on the bullshit and finds what is wonderful about Adrian. Parveneh’s children allow Ove to take a more relaxed view on the world, to simply enjoy life for what it is, and also to be seen for more than a grumpy old man. The three year old is the one who most easily sees through Ove’s gruff exterior. Jimmy is a sign of loyalty to Ove. Ove once helped Jimmy’s family out, and Jimmy will never forget it. Jimmy saw that Ove was a stand up guy, what it meant to hold principles, especially in the face of his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Jimmy keeps a respectful distance, honoring Ove’s tendency to want to be a loner, but at each opportunity to help Ove, he does. These are just three examples.   

What did you make of Ove’s ongoing battle with the bureaucracies that persist in getting in his way? Is Ove’s true fight with the various ruling bodies, or are they stand-ins, scapegoats, for something else?

I think it is both. Of course he is going to fight with the bureaucracies – Ove believes in being the type of man who does what they say they will. The government is supposed to protect and take care of the people, but in Ove’s experiences, they don’t. They don’t follow through on taking care of people when they need it most. Even the simplest thing, like putting up a ramp for the love of his life, an easy decision, isn’t done. He has every right to be mad. Then, of course, it takes on more meaning for Ove. Ove is mad about what happened to his wife. This woman, who never did anything wrong, has something bad happen to her, and someone needs to pay. The situation evolves to mean both situations to Ove. 

After a younger Ove punches Tom, the author reflects: “A time like that comes for all men, when they choose what sort of men they want to be.” Do you agree with this sentiment, especially in this context? How does the book deal with varying ideas of masculinity.

One way the book deals with the concept is the specific incident regarding Tom. The concept is whether one will stick up for oneself. Most people have to decide at one point or another if they are going to be the type of person who lets life, and others, push them around or not. Ove says no. 

Another way the book deals with this theme is in regards to Mirsad. Ove is about as masculine as they come, by outdated standards, however, he never judges Mirsad’s manhood for being gay, despite Ove’s inability to use politically correct terms. Being a man, to Ove, is more than just your sexuality. It’s doing the right thing. It’s minding your own business — in Ove’s opinion, it’s none of his business who Mirsad loves. All that matters to Ove is if a person does the right thing, treats people well, handles their own business. So, from the outside, one might expect based on those outdates standards that Ove would not support Mirsad. Yet, Ove is a real man, and accepts Mirsad for who he is. 

The larger theme though doesn’t apply to just men, I think it applies to all humans. We are confronted daily — on the grand scale and small, about what type of people we want to be. Do we want to be the type of person who accepts people or not? Do we want to be the type of person who inserts themselves into other people’s business or not (this is one of the reasons Ove does not like the lady with the dog)? The book states it’s deciding what kind of man one wants to be, but, really, it’s what kind of person.

The author muses that when people don’t share sorrow, it can drive them apart. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

I do agree with this. Only sharing in the good times doesn’t make a person. A person’s true identity can come out when the chips are down. If people don’t step up, resentments can form, and then lead to people being driven apart. The real measure of a good human being is not how they act when things are going well, but when they are going badly. 

What do you think of Ove’s relationship with the mangy cat he adopts? What does the cat allow him to express that he couldn’t otherwise say?

I think he likes the fact that the cat is ornery — that it seems mangy and rugged from simply living life. He likes the fact that the cat is a bit challenging. I don’t think Ove would love a dog as much. I think he likes talking to the cat because the cat doesn’t talk back — it communicates with as little nonverbal communication as possible. It allows Ove to work through his emotions without the complication of dealing with someone else’s emotions at the same time. To do that, that would be overwhelming to Ove. Plus, who doesn’t like an underdog. 

On Ove and Sonja’s trip to Spain, Ove spends his time helping the locals and fixing things. How does Ove the “hero” compare and contrast to his behavior in the rest of the book? Is that Ove’s true personality?

Again, I think that people have many sides to their personalities. Ove was younger and a lot more open with his free time and responsibilities. Before Sonja was injured, he could afford the time to work on other people’s problems. Once injured, he focused even more of his attention on her. Just because he didn’t always display his goodwill, didn’t mean that it wasn’t there. Once Sonja died, he had more time to devote to other people.

Ove and Sonja’s love story is one of the most affecting, tender parts of the book. What is the key to their romance? Why do they fit so well together?

The key is loving each other unconditionally. They stand by each other’s sides. They accept each other for who they are — Ove more quiet, Sonja more outgoing. 

That concludes my answers to the discussion questions, however, I’d like to comment more on what I thought was one of the most beautiful plot threads of the book — Ove’s acceptance of Mirsad. I thought this was the most standout, signature moment in the book that really tied together all of who Ove was in his heart and soul, encompassing all of the life lessons that he learned.

Mirsad was a reflection of his own lost child. Ove wouldn’t have cared if his own son was gay, what type of job he had, or anything else … he just wanted a child to love. It tied together Ove’s determination that one did not interfere in other people’s business. If a man was gay, that was his business. Ove didn’t need to turn LGBTQ people away, inact laws, or anything like that because it was that person’s business.

Mirsad represented Ove’s generosity. The boy needed a place to stay, so Ove gave him one. Simple as that. Ove knew he would not be the type of man that left a teenage boy without a place to live.

Mirsad’s situation also represented his continued love for Sonja. Even though Ove took the boy in for his own reasons, he also did it because it would have been what Sonja would have wanted. He was loyal and faithful to her even though she wasn’t physically there. Ove’s love for Sonja transcended death.

The whole situation surrounding Mirsad was Ove at his best. I thought it was the culmination of the book.

Since it was an audiobook, I must comment on the production quality and state it was fabulous. In fact, I recommend that you listen to the audiobook instead of simply reading the book if you have an option. The narrator increased my enjoyment of the book and I thank him for that. Too often an audiobook can be hampered by a poor narrator. I honestly wonder if I would have liked California better (no, I wouldn’t) if the narrator had been different.

Until next time.

****

Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook at madelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California By Edan Lepucki: My Review Plus Answers To Book Club Discussions Questions

California by LepuckiThis is my review and thoughts on California By Edan Lepucki.

Rating system:

God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3

Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

California = 0.5

Overall, this is one of the worst books I have ever read in my life. California is downright horrible — from the characters, to the uneven plot, terrible characterizations, and ultimately, a completely unsatisfying ending.

I recommend that you do not read this book.

I could barely pick discussion questions because there really isn’t much to say — the book left that bitter a taste in my mouth. Also, I do have a strong desire not to disparage the author so I will keep it short and simple.

Here are my answers to book club questions (questions provided by the publisher).

What meaning do Frida’s artifacts hold for her? How do they serve as a connection to her former life? If you had to abandon your life, what sentimental items might you keep?

I have no idea what the artifacts were supposed to mean. I truly believe the author missed the mark on this. Perhaps the author had some thoughts about what she wanted the artifacts to represent, but it was most certainly not conveyed. A turkey baster? Why? It makes no sense. Was it some convoluted way to discuss procreation? A throwback to a bygone era of second-hand, manual fertilization?

What is so seductive about communities, be it superficial ones, like The Land, or natural ones, like family? What does community mean for each of the characters in California?

I think safety is a bonus of the town/communities, however, no one can be absolutely safe, as evidenced by Micah. For Frieda, I don’t know. She was all over the place. One moment she wants in, the next out, then back in … then, oh I don’t know. At the end Frieda wasn’t happy in the town/community or with Cal.

I do think the author was trying to make an overall point about the communities and where our country is at right now. Currently, America is struggling with race, wealth distribution, and healthcare. There is an attempt to fix these problems in our society, but the effort seems very small in comparison to how big the issue is. There is also a large portion of America, as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump, who are now outwardly showing their racism and hatred. Perhaps the author is saying that this is what the country could move toward without stronger policies in place. In California, the communities make no attempt to disguise that only wealthy people can be a part of the community. There is no help for anyone who does not have money. Is this the central question posed by the book — what would happen if all illusions fell in America? Would this be our future? 

How does the author depict gender roles in the novel? Do you think these roles make sense given the nature of the society? Why or why not?

The book seemed to regress to “traditional” roles. However, this is completely unnecessary in the book and in society, so, no — this doesn’t make sense. 

What do you make of Frida and Cal’s marriage at the end of the novel? How do you think it’s changed over the course of the book?

The relationship did not survive. Too many lies and too much mistrust. Cal did not have the relationship with Frieda that he thought he did. Frieda didn’t seem to appreciate her husband or what she had with him. 

Do you think Frida and Cal’s child will live a happy life?

I couldn’t say. 

That finishes my discussion on the book — as much as there was one. There really isn’t much to say about it. It really was a terrible book and a poor choice for a book club. I mean, the only thing to talk about is the inconsitencies and the lack of cohesion.

Until next time.

****

Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook at madelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien: My Review Plus Answers To Bookclub Discussion Questions

The Things They CarriedThis is my review and thoughts on The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien.

Rating system:
God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3

Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5

The Things They Carried = 2.5

Here are my answers to book club questions provided by Lit Lovers who, in turn, state they got the questions from the publisher. Thanks guys for facilitating a closer look at the book!

1. Why is the first story, “The Things They Carried, ” written in third person? How does this serve to introduce the rest of the novel? What effect did it have on your experience of the novel when O’Brien switched to first person, and you realized the narrator was one of the soldiers?

I think switching it personalized the stories for me. Authors have a tendency to embellish for effect. However, Mr. O’Brien raises the question that most people who tell any kind of story embellish. It just depends on what the goal is for the author — what emotion does the narrator want to evoke.

2. In the list of all the things the soldiers carried, what item was most surprising? Which item did you find most evocative of the war? Which items stay with you?

Most surprising: The stockings.

Most evocative: Pictures of soldier’s sweethearts.

Stayed with me: Despite not being religious, the bible. It was a gift from his father, a connection to his family, to his religion, to his previous self.

3. In “On The Rainy River, ” we learn the 21-year-old O’Brien’s theory of courage: “Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down. It was a comforting theory.” What might the 43-year-old O’Brien’s theory of courage be? Were you surprised when he described his entry into the Vietnam War as an act of cowardice? Do you agree that a person could enter a war as an act of cowardice?

Courage relates to fear. Fear can be overcome through experience. This is shown in the example of the field medic. He seemed like a coward, but he was afraid because he didn’t have experience. The more experience he garnered, the more courageous he seemed because he was no longer afraid. This is the same whether or not there is a war.

So, no. I don’t think you can save up your courage. You never know what circumstances you might find yourself in. You can prepare, and that will help, but life is full of surprises.

I think people can do a lot of things because they are afraid.

4. What is the role of shame in the lives of these soldiers? Does it drive them to acts of heroism, or stupidity? Or both? What is the relationship between shame and courage, according to O’Brien?

He states that shame is what keeps the men in line and what brought him into the war. The men that went to Vietnam were so young. It makes me think that an older Tim O’Brien might not be so easily convinced to go to war out of shame. As we get older, we realize that what other people think of us is irrelevant. I would like to know what an older O”Brien would have done on that lake between the United States and Canada.

5. In “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, ” what transforms Mary Anne into a predatory killer? Does it matter that Mary Anne is a woman? How so? What does the story tell us about the nature of the Vietnam War?

This was one of his complex stories that was an example of “a real war story”.

The story speaks to men, women, and their roles before and after the war. When these men went to war, they clung to their ideals of what a woman was — sweet, innocent, agreeable, a housewife is what they held onto. That is what they wanted to come home to. They didn’t want things to change. They wanted things to stay the same as before the war.

Women, on the other hand, were in fact changing. In the 60’s and 70’s, women wanted a stronger voice. The war, equal rights, workplace opportunities — these things were important to the women of that time. They didn’t want to be only a housewife anymore. So everything changed after the war, men, women, and expectations. Things just weren’t the same.

This is what Mary Anne represents. She doesn’t want to be just a stereotypical girl anymore. She wants to be in the thick of it, in the action, to be a part of the story, and not just as a soldier’s woman. Mary Anne in the story says as much. She said she’s never felt so alive. She participates with the soldiers, not just watching them. Like in civilian life, she didn’t want to be on the sidelines anymore.

Her boyfriend couldn’t handle it. He was happy when she played the role of beautiful, supportive girlfriend. He became displeased when she exited that limited view of a woman.

They try to make it work, but something is lost. He’s lost his ideal girl and his anchor to a life before the war. She tries to be the dutiful girlfriend, but she has tasted freedom from archaic expectations and she simply can’t go back.

To reiterate, they also didn’t want their women to change so that things could remain “the same”. The men knew they were changed from the war and they wanted something to stay the same.

6. The story Rat tells in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” is highly fantastical. Does its lack of believability make it any less compelling? Do you believe it? Does it fit O’Brien’s criteria for a true war story?

The fact that it seems highly unbelievable does make it less compelling. For me, I feel like there are enough real life events in war to discuss without fantasy. In and of itself, yes, the story is compelling — filled with great metaphor and present day application. It can certainly be argued that by enhancing the story it gives traction to what the men were thinking and feeling with an outward display of those emotions. However, for me, I don’t need the added enhancement.

Yes, it fits O’Brien’s criteria for a true war story. It applies itself to what was going on with the soldiers and what the war did to and for men and women’s expectations.

7. In “Good Form” O’Brien casts doubt on the veracity of the entire novel. Why does he do so? Does it increase or decrease your understanding? What is the difference between “happening-truth” and “story-truth?”

He casts doubt on the whole novel to let you know that no real life story is always all true. We rewrite our own stories and experiences in many small ways. It depends on how we feel about an incident, perhaps how we came across, how we want to come across, and what we felt at the root of the experience. Therefore, that is the difference between story truth and happening truth.

Overall, I thought the book was thought provoking and a story that needed to be told. I thought his emphasis on what is a real war story was a unique take on the entire war experience, and for that matter, events that unfold in civilian life as well. Overall though, I felt like that point was driven home too much at the expense of the larger narrative. Metaphors can be used and story-truth can be used but the constant hitting over the head of the fact he was doing it became tiresome. I felt like the book was a bit disjointed as well. Despite my low rating, I would still definitely recommend it for a book club as I think it makes for a good discussion. I’m glad I read it, but ultimately it was not a favorite book of mine.

Since it was an audiobook, I must comment on the production quality and state it was top notch. The narration by the always impressive Bryan Cranston did not disappoint here. He was superb and a joy to listen to. This was an audiobook that was extremely well done on all accounts.

Until next time.

****

Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook atmadelinefresco.com. Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com