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ande
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The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

[ Edited ]

Hi, Book Explorers:

I was happy to see your great comments and insights over the last week on Part 1 of The Spirit of the Place. Samuel Shem certainly set a lot pots on the stove in Part 1, didn't he? And now they're all boiling away. The story has settled in nicely and I hope you have, too.

A few thoughts/questions to get the conversation rolling:

What do you think of the author's device of using Selma and her letters. I have to confess that early on I wasn't so sure about it, but the letters grew on me and so did the Selma. What about you?

How about Miranda agreeing to help Selma out with her letters? Did you sense this would be an ill-fated decision?

Let's discuss the mother-son relationships in Spirit -- between Selma and Orville and how that compares with Miranda and Cray's?

Also, let's look at Orville's relationships with Amy and Cray. Both kids stir something very deep in him, don't you think?

Orville falls in love with two different women—Celestina and Miranda—each of whom he feels is “the real thing.” What does each relationship tell you about Orville?

Bill Starbuck and Orville are doctors from two different eras. How has doctoring—and medicine--changed from that time until now?

There is a great deal in the novel about secrets, and public presentation of self, which probably feels familiar to all of us. Let's discuss how Selma, Celestina, Miranda, Schooner—even Cray and Amy—deal with the issue of how you “are” in private and in public.

I think Shem is very skillful at weaving in the back story of Selma's illness and his marriage to Lily (what a great appearance she makes!). Do you think he succeeds?

Finally, I love all the history facts and eccentricities in Spirit. This is a true story: when I first started reading the manuscript of this book I was in New York. On my way to an appointment, right across the street from the Flatiron Building I passed a fancy monument on a traffic island. It looked very out of place I remember thinking at the time. Of course we learn from Miranda in Chapter 9 that  it's the very same obelisk where William Jenkins Worth is buried.

Can't wait to hear what you think of Part 2.

Ande

 



Message Edited by ande on 06-08-2008 11:25 PM
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IBIS
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

[ Edited ]

ande wrote:

What do you think of the author's device of using Selma and her letters. I have to confess that early on I wasn't so sure about it, but the letters grew on me and so did the Selma. What about you?


How about Miranda agreeing to help Selma out with her letters? Did you sense this would be an ill-fated decision?



Ande, very thoughtful questions... they'll spur lots of insightful posts...

Selma's letters were kinda spooky... and not in a nice way. Although I enjoyed reading them, I know that I would not want to be the recipient of them... they were kinda nasty... accusatory and finger-pointing... not pleasant for Orville.

What was interesting is that they did not reflect what Selma had told Miranda about Orville... She led Miranda to believe that Orville was a kind, responsible son who took care of her during her convalescence from the stroke... but in reality, he did nothing of the sort. No wonder poor Miranda kept a look-out for this kind, caring, responsible son. And wondered why he never showed up.

I had serious misgivings when I learned that Miranda was the one mailing Selma's letters .. I dreaded his reaction when he finds out... I felt anger with Selma for putting Miranda in such an awkward position... I could only see negative repercussions when the truth is revealed.

I wondered about Selma's plotting... did she want to bring Miranda and Orville together romantically? Knowing what we do of Selma's mothering style, I wouldn't put it beyond her...

I am fascinated by the history of small forgotten towns like Columbia... Miranda as the town historian does a fine job of giving enough history without overwhelming us... I had lived in NYC for many years, and I knew exactly which obelisk she was talking about across from the Flatiron Building...

It's dejavu all over again when I recognize landmarks in the novels I read.

I'm having a wonderful time reading SPIRIT....

IBIS

Message Edited by IBIS on 06-09-2008 12:21 AM
IBIS

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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion



ande wrote:

What do you think of the author's device of using Selma and her letters. I have to confess that early on I wasn't so sure about it, but the letters grew on me and so did the Selma. What about you?


They had the opposite effect on me. Selma, in her own treatment of her son, is a snake: petty, nasty, manipulative, and cold. She's a monumental coward for saying these things to Orville in such a way that he will never have the chance to defend himself from her accusations. Furthermore, it's a parent's job to give her child the tools he needs to become independent and follow his own path. Selma's complete inability to cut the umbilical cord, her post mortem blackmailing of her own son to make him stay in a place he hates, is reprehensible.

I do hope we're shown that this nastiness went both ways, otherwise Selma is a lost character for me.

That said,
Let's discuss the mother-son relationships in Spirit -- between Selma and Orville and how that compares with Miranda and Cray's?


I think Cray's fear of, and then deep attachment to, Orville was quite well done. The kid is obviously hungry for a father, but it's equally obvious that it won't be easy for him to accept one, especially since he was too young ever to remember his biological father.

Also, let's look at Orville's relationships with Amy and Cray. Both kids stir something very deep in him, don't you think?


Yup, and I can't say I'm terribly surprised at the intimations that Orville's sterility was psychological and not physiological. I kept wondering, as he got closer to Miranda when Shem was going to play the "my god, am I pregnant!?" card. I imagine Miranda probably is, and that she and Cray will return in the next section to drop that bomb on Orville, perhaps after Celestina returns, thus creating more narrative tension.

There is a great deal in the novel about secrets, and public presentation of self, which probably feels familiar to all of us. Let's discuss how Selma, Celestina, Miranda, Schooner—even Cray and Amy—deal with the issue of how you “are” in private and in public.


Now this is what I really want to talk about! I'm guessing there's going to be a big reveal where we find out that there's a lot of physical abuse going on in the Schooner family--we know Schooner was a bully, we've seen him with a black eye, his kids are "accident prone...always seem to have bruises or cuts," and from what we've seen of Maxie, he's physically and verbally abusive in a way no normal six-year-old boy should be. I imagine Orville is going to be confronted with this directly in his role as doctor before very long, and that he's going to have to make some difficult decisions about whether he wants to go public with it and ruin Schooner's campaign.


As far as Columbia's history is concerned, it's been my favorite aspect of the book thus far. The one thing I do enjoy about small towns is all the weird local history that stays so present in their environs.
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion



GMorrison wrote:


Now this is what I really want to talk about! I'm guessing there's going to be a big reveal where we find out that there's a lot of physical abuse going on in the Schooner family--we know Schooner was a bully, we've seen him with a black eye, his kids are "accident prone...always seem to have bruises or cuts," and from what we've seen of Maxie, he's physically and verbally abusive in a way no normal six-year-old boy should be. I imagine Orville is going to be confronted with this directly in his role as doctor before very long, and that he's going to have to make some difficult decisions about whether he wants to go public with it and ruin Schooner's campaign.







I agree that the theme of secret lives will bring about a big revelation... we all have our suspicions about Henry Schooner and his "picture-perfect" family life... I fully expect for Orville, as the town's physician, to be the catalyst who will expose Henry's hidden life.

The layers of town life is getting exciting...

IBIS
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

I was intrigued by content of the letters, painting a completely different portrait of the relationship between Orville and Selma than the tales that Selma shared with Miranda. 
 
For a while I thought Orville might be imagining the negative content of the letters, and that, in fact, they *were* love letters from a mother to her son.  After all, Orville sees Selma flying around town and conversing with him, what would it take for him to imagine Selma's tirades in print?
 
I've since abandoned this line of thinking, but it did cross my mind more than once!
 
Interesting that we saw less of Selma's mid-air visits when Orville was happy with Miranda and Cray.
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

All shall be revealed -- in full complexity. So glad you're into the book. I really loved it and the characters are still with me. The reviews are beginning to come in and so far they are all very positive!
 
Ande
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion


DawnR wrote: For a while I thought Orville might be imagining the negative content of the letters, and that, in fact, they *were* love letters from a mother to her son.  After all, Orville sees Selma flying around town and conversing with him, what would it take for him to imagine Selma's tirades in print?
 
I've since abandoned this line of thinking, but it did cross my mind more than once!
 
Interesting that we saw less of Selma's mid-air visits when Orville was happy with Miranda and Cray.





Ooh! These are all excellent observations. It didn't even occur to me that Orville might have been imagining the whole thing (even though we now know he wasn't).

Given that we now know that Selma's apperances and the letters both are occurring in reality (as it were), I don't think it's any surprise that Selma appears less when Orville is happily involved with Miranda and Cray. After all, her main obsession does seem to be with making Orville settle down in Columbia, and that's far more likely to happen in the event that he has intimate emotional ties with other people in the town.
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

What do you think of the author's device of using Selma and her letters. I have to confess that early on I wasn't so sure about it, but the letters grew on me and so did the Selma. What about you?
 
I think that without the letters we wouldn't have gotten much of the insight to Selma and Orvilles relationship. I agree as well the first few letters didn't sit well with I felt the bantering she was giving to Orville and couldn't see much of the reasoning behind it but the more that he got I feel the more it opened up the problems that he had growing up and were being to see some healing from them.
 
How about Miranda agreeing to help Selma out with her letters? Did you sense this would be an ill-fated decision?
 
I think originally when Miranda agreed to help Selma out she didn't see what the future may hold especially not one having a relationship with Orville. I think her mind it was ok because this was something she could do from afar and not cause the turmoil up close. I do believe the closer she got with Orvile the more it started to make her more and more uncomfortable with the situation.
 
Let's discuss the mother-son relationships in Spirit -- between Selma and Orville and how that compares with Miranda and Cray's?
 
Selma and Orville I think were to much a like the constant thought of both of them was that the didn't want to be in Columbia but in both there cases it's were the ended up.  There also the turmoil in there relationship that is/was always set on high it didn't matter if it was the feeling of abandonment from the mother or son they both in since had the same feeling. As for Miranda and Cray it has it's moments were it seems very shaky for the both of them. Cray's feeling of loose steaming from loosing his dad I think has a lot of the emotional trauma in his relationships with outside influences even with his mother as if he gets to close he may end up loosing them.
 
Also, let's look at Orville's relationships with Amy and Cray. Both kids stir something very deep in him, don't you think?
 
I think this stems from the fact that Orville had in fact at point in his life wanted to be a father and this is were he found to be one of his biggest failures for he wasn't able to have children so I think in a way he tries to attach himself to these children for a part of him yearns to have one in his life.
 
There is a great deal in the novel about secrets, and public presentation of self, which probably feels familiar to all of us. Let's discuss how Selma, Celestina, Miranda, Schooner—even Cray and Amy—deal with the issue of how you “are” in private and in public.
 
I think every character in this book as a private face and social face. The biggest one that we all see is Schooner you can see the underlying issues forming around and knowing his past through Orville there's just something that doesn't sit right with you throughout the book it doesn't matter what kind of show he puts on in front of his friends and the public you know that something much darker is lurking beneath the surface. Selma is another she is explained by everyone that knew her to be such a different person than Orville knew you can tell just by the letters that she writes to Orville there was a difference in her home life than her public life. He even says it in the book that the Selma everyone knew wasn't what he had at home.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

>  What do you think of the author's device of using Selma and her letters. I have to confess that early on I wasn't so sure about it, but the letters grew on me and so did the Selma. What about you?  <

 

Another thought on Selma's letters ... Shem uses the characters' own written word to great effect:  Selma's letters provide insight to her relationship with Orville, as well as her relationship with Columbians and the town itself; the postcards that Bill Starbuck sends Orville are a hoot - the dry witty descriptions of his trip combined with a health update and the signature "heh heh".  Cray's drawings and stories are used to show his growing affection for Orville.

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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

I really enjoyed the development of the relationships between all of our main characters in this section. I also enjoyed the background history on Columbia and some of the anecdotes Orville shared about their destructive tendencies. I'm looking forward to the resolution in the next section.
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

[ Edited ]
I am eager to see how everyone feels about the various resolutions. The Part 3 discussion awaits you!
 
Ande


Message Edited by ande on 06-17-2008 02:45 PM
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Re: The Spirit of the Place Discussion: Week 2 (June 9) discussion

Late as usual....

Selma and the Letters:  I don't really feel I can trust everything Selma says about Orville or all he remembers about his relationship with his mom. Very confusing. I'm anxious to see what the rest of the letters have to say.

Miranda and the Letters:  Miranda accepted Selma's task before there was any thought of a relationship with Orvy. I wish she had told the truth in the beginning about knowing Selma and working on committees with her. She's already keeping secrets, and the letters could have been just another one. The letters are between Orville and Selma, and Miranda didn't need to feel bad about just putting them in the mailbox.  I think she could have pulled it off.  Or after she met Orville, she could have just given him the whole box.

Moms and Sons: Maybe Selma's and Miranda's relationship with their sons isn't all that different.  You are always trying to protect your child. When they are young, the threats to their physical and emotional well-being come from outside sources, and you do what you can as a parent to fight them off. When they are adults, however, the danger is from themselves and all you can do is nag, lecture, worry and maybe, once in a while, kick their butt.

Orville and the Kids: I do like the scenes with Orville and the kids, and the kids together.  It's a lot easier for him to open up in a loving way to the younger set. But then, after a few heartbreaks, I think that is true for all of us.

All the references to Miranda's secrets. She really hides her heart, but what else is she hiding?  And where did she and Cray go?

Loved Cray's note to his mom, "Plez see my hart".

The Schooner family just looks too perfect on the surface. I, too, noticed the bruises, cuts, and broken bones in the Schooner family. And then, Maxie showing the porn to Cray. More secrets. This is a troubled family.

Love all of Miranda's little history lessons. Very glad that Selma led the campaign for the Columbia library.  And then this comment, maybe the crux of the whole story, "It's a big question - maybe the question - of history:  "Are we who we once seemed to be?"  (page110)

Mr. Shem has done a great job in pulling me into his story. I really care about these characters, even to the point of wanting to climb into the book and knock a few heads together.

Now to finish up this great read.

Nancy

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