Sunday 5 March 2017

First post for March... or maybe I should say "Marche"!

It’s a bright, crisp, chilly morning as I sip my steaming cup of chai tea and nibble on a delicious Date Bar, reflecting on my book club discussion yesterday.

We read Stephen Marche’s novel, Hunger of the Wolf, which I had read before when considering it for the Evergreen award (it was nominated but did not win).  I blogged about it the first time I read it, so I went looking for my original post and discovered that I read it almost exactly two years ago, in March 2015.  Here’s what I had to say about it last time:
The Hunger of the Wolf by Stephen Marche opens with “Hunters found his body naked in the snow…”  The body in question belongs to Ben Wylie, heir to one of the wealthiest families in the world.  His body was found in the snow near the cabin this American family kept in northern Alberta, a kind of getaway from the pressures of the business world in which they were so embroiled.  The narrator, struggling journalist Jamie Cabot, a man so determined to make it in New York that he is willing to lose his wife in order to stay, decides that he will uncover the truth about the unusual circumstances surrounding Ben’s death.  And Jamie has an in – his family have been caretakers for the cabin in Alberta ever since Jamie can remember, and as a boy, he used to trim the hedges and mow the lawn regularly, even if no member of the Wylie family put in an appearance for months or even years.  What he discovers as he pieces together information gleaned from the fragments of papers, letters and diaries hidden everywhere in the cabin is the secret the family has hidden as they have moved from humble beginnings to the international wealth and fame they have acquired at present – for three days every month, at the time of the full moon, all of the males in the Wylie family turn into wolves.  The Wylies’ rise to wealth and status over several generations is documented in enough detail as to make the reader feel informed, but the author does not overwhelm the story with unnecessary detail.  As for the part about the males becoming wolves, and how they and the other family members deal with this transformation, it is presented in such a way that, while it is important to the story, it is not as unbelievable as it may at first sound, nor is it a detail that consumes the reader’s attention while the rest of the story is being told.  I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but I wanted to make that part clear – when I was reading the novel, unless I was at a part where they were turning into wolves or recounting their wolfish experiences, I didn’t think, “Oh ya, well Carl is a wolf as well as a father and businessman”.  If this was intended to illustrate how well the men in the family hid their secret and never talked about it, even amongst themselves, then Marche did an excellent job of it.  This literary page-turner was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  I was particularly impressed with the way in which Marche managed to convey the rise in wealth and status of so many generations in such a short novel – this book was less than 300 pages – yet I never felt that he was skimping on necessary detail or information.  It was all there, clearly and concisely.  He has an amazing skill with language…”
I included it on my book club selection list because it was something different from our usual selections, and I remembered being so impressed with it on my first reading… and of course it was an easy choice for the March meeting (March/Marche… after ten years of book club selections, I look for help anywhere I can find it!!).  On this second reading, I was somewhat less impressed with the book, wondering what it was really about:  wealth?  business? the search for meaning and purpose in life?  I was hoping my ladies would enjoy it, but I had my doubts.  From our discussion, I got the sense that “enjoyed” is not a word I could honestly use, but it was certainly an interesting meeting.  One member said that, had she not been obligated to read it, she probably wouldn’t have finished it, and she felt she had to come to the meeting to hear what others said about the book so she could figure out what the book was about.  We all agreed that it was odd and different, and that the style of writing was interesting and lyrical.  Someone suggested that it was philosophical as well as poetic, but we agreed that it was almost too lyrical and literary, all the way through the book, making it difficult to read and understand:  you couldn’t just skim any sections and get the gist - you really had to pay attention to every word.  We thought it was a social commentary, an exploration into the solitary lives of successful businessmen, their separation from the rest of society, and the ruthlessness of the “hunt”.  We felt that the transformation into wolves was metaphorical, that it was a coping mechanism and represented their release from the anxiety and stress of their regular lives.  One member said that, for all the love of New York that Jamie had, the author didn’t paint a very flattering picture of the city, since all the people Jamie interacted with seemed vapid.  We wondered where the wolfish transformations started - since the story only goes back as far as the family’s poor beginnings in Scotland, perhaps that’s when the “hunger not to be poor” began.  There were clearly mixed feelings about the book, but I think it was a successful discussion nonetheless.  As a book club facilitator, I always have a certain anxiety each month if we are reading a book that I selected (most of them are my selections).  I know that it’s nearly impossible to find books that everyone will enjoy, but I hope that at least a few members will enjoy the book each month, and that no one feels stuck reading books they don’t like month after month.  I hope they will enjoy A Passage to India, which is next month’s book - one member just got back from a month in India visiting her sister, so I’m especially curious to hear what she will say about it.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sunshine!

Bye for now…

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