On this very snowy Sunday morning, the first of the new year, I have a steaming cup of masala chai tea by my side as I think about the past week’s reading experiences.
I had a book club meeting on Friday morning, where we discussed Peace Like A River by Leif Enger, published in 2001. This novel tells the story of a motherless family in the American Mid-west in 1962. Jeremiah Land is the father of 16-year old Davy, 11-year old Reuben, who is asthmatic, and 9-year old Swede, their sister. When two boys from school, Isreal and Tommy, try to attack Davy’s girlfriend in the locker room after school, Jeremiah, who is the janitor, breaks it up. These boys threaten the Land family, going so far as to abduct Swede and take her for a ride in their car one night. When they come into the Land family home some nights later carrying baseball bats, Davy is ready with a gun and shoots them both dead. Davy is charged with their murder, and, on the night before the trial ends, escapes prison and becomes a fugitive. His father and siblings eventually go off to find him, with Mr. Andreeson, the federal agent, hot on their trail. The rest of the novel follows this search, and the characters they meet during that time. I was so pleased to discover that, when we went around the table at the beginning of the meeting to get each person’s first response to the novel, everyone LOVED it! (I can’t remember the last time that happened). They all wondered if he has written anything else (he has - So Brave, Young and Handsome in 2008). What did they love about this book? They loved the characters: Swede, the writer of western poetry, Reuben, the narrator, both children mature beyond their years, Jeremiah, their spiritual father who has tremendous faith, but seems just a bit out of touch with his children and with the world around him, and the other cast of characters who come into the story along the way, but who I will not mention here for fear of giving something of the story away. The loved the humour in the story. I was worried that this might be too bleak for us to read over the holidays, but I had forgotten how much subtle humour the writer infused while telling the rather dark story of a fugitive murderer on the run and his family’s search. They loved the symbolism that is used throughout the novel, and the role of faith and religion which is significant to the story but is used in such a way that it is not overwhelming for the reader. Several of my ladies felt that this novel reminded them of To Kill A Mockingbird in a number of different ways. Both families are motherless, so the daughters, Scout and Swede, became tomboyish and wise beyond their years. They are set in small American towns, and deal with loss of innocence. Bob Ewell, father of Mayella in Mockingbird, is like Israel Finch’s grandfather, found wandering in a drunken stupor through the town. As I was reading it, I was reminded again and again of John Irving’s novel A Prayer For Owen Meany. The narrators in both are slightly whiny and jealous of those around them. Both novels are written in a similar style, in that the narrator speaks directly to the reader, asking questions and challenging the reader to believe what the narrator is telling them. Both take place in the US in the 1960s, and deal with themes of fate, destiny, predetermination, and faith. And they all use subtle humour to relate a difficult story. I hope our next book club selection is as unanimously enjoyed!
Speaking of our next selection, which is D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I am planning to go to the library today to pick up a copy of The First Lady Chatterley, which is the first draft of the novel that Lawrence published in 1928. Some of my ladies have read James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, and plan to bring it along to the meeting in February. I considered reading Bared To You by Sylvia Day (I have a discarded copy in my collection), or even going back to that classic from 1978, 9 ½ Weeks by Elizabeth McNeill (also in my collection - how naughty!!), but then I stopped myself. It somehow felt wrong to be reading other erotica fiction to prepare for a discussion of Lawrence’s novel, because his novel is NOT erotica. From what I remember from past readings, it is primarily an exploration of relationships between individuals, the relationships of individuals with nature, and the class system in the UK at the time. Since The First Lady Chatterley was the text that was originally published in Italy, I felt that it would be better for me to prepare for this meeting by reading the original draft and comparing it with the more famous final draft, published (posthumously?) by Lawrence’s wife. I look forward to starting that novel today and then reading the final draft for the meeting.
This reminds me of that fabulous film “The Chatterley Affair” which I borrowed from the library quite some time ago, a film about the trial of Lawrence’s book which took place in the UK in the 1960s. Perhaps once I read the novels, I will watch it again. Speaking of films and novels, I went to see the film “Hitchcock” recently, which in turn inspired me to rent “Psycho”, which led me to begin rereading the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch - I’m slowly plugging away at that book while I’m between novels. And we watched “Dune” last night on DVD - my husband had never seen it. Remember that movie, based on the classic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert? Well, I haven’t read that novel in probably 20 years or more, but now I’m considering rereading it, too. Books and films - they really do often go hand-in-hand.
Thanks to those who have sent book recommendations to me. I appreciate it, and look forward to checking those novels out soon. If you have any other suggestions, please pass them along!
Bye for now!