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KxBurns
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Chapters Six through Nine

In this group of chapters, the characters continue to struggle with difficult decisions, as well as their own desires and limitations. How do they fare?

 

What are the stumbling blocks that face Sadie, Beth, and Dave in these chapters? What does the addition of Dave's male perspective bring to the story?

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pandy914
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

First of all, let me just say that how proud I am of Beth, at how much she matures in a single chapter.  She transforms from a passive victim of her destiny to an active participant, and ends up all the happier for it.  When she recognizes that love is not a fairy tale, that she can love more than one person and must choose the man with whom she is best suited, she truly matures into a woman.  Even her mother sees it;  she goes from trying to "take care of" Beth to merely accepting her decision, and her certainty of it.

 

When introduced to Dave in the following chapter, we see that she has made the right choice.  Dave is obviously the product of a society that overly-validates a child's every accomplishment;  he is made to believe that he is something of a prodigy, so he feels a sense of entitlement and passively waits for the gifts he's been told will arrive.  While he's waiting, he lets his life pass him by.  Six years after graduation, he finds that he has more in common with people ten years younger than he;  he sullenly watches his friends move on without him, feeling a sense of abandonment, and yet remaining paralyzed when it comes to acting himself.  After reading about Dave, it is obvious to me that he has been holding Beth back from realizing her potential, and that she is SOOOO much better off without him.

"Do not pity the dead...Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love."
--J. K. Rowling, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"
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Guerneymember12
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

[ Edited ]

Out of all of the Oberlin group, Dave is the hardest to have any good feelings for.  he seems to only want to hurt Beth (or anyone else around).  when we hear his perspective, then we get to find out that he has deep feelings of loneliness that he's tring to fill.  He's jealous when he sees Beth with another man (happy).  He's upset that everyone is finding love but him.  I still don't completely like him, but we needed to understand more of him.  I hope we still learn more from him.  His past doesn't justify his actions for me. 

 

[edited by the moderator for spoiler information]

 

Message Edited by KxBurns on 01-13-2009 07:33 PM
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Chatterbox
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

I think the chapter focusing on Dave is one of the strongest yet, and it's the one that convinced me to keep reading the book until I finished it. Partly because he seems to be the angriest character, and anger is always a more compelling emotion than confusion or irritability or discomfort (I'm thinking of Sadie's response to Caitlin in the previous chapter). To me, Dave's ruminations and introspection absolutely nail the essence of being in your 20s and trying to carve out an independent identity: "...he'd come to the sad realization that he was not a genius or a prodigy, as he'd been told throughout his life..." The tension between him and Tal ties into that, seamlessly.

 

Increasingly, I'm getting the feeling that the author's strength shows when she focuses on the micro rather than the macro -- when she isn't thinking of the bigger picture, the dialogue or internal monologue really kicks in and the characters live. Parts of the dialogue are so true to life, some of the character sketches, ditto., also setting the scene at the BBQ through Dave's eyes, which helps impose some order on another large group scene. But then that breaks down, often when the author seems to be trying to make a bigger, broader point (as often occurs in the Sadie/Caitlin scenes), etc. I kept noting to myself that certain parts felt almost stagey. For instance, when Dave and Sadie talk: "...why don't you just quit and start your own band?" asked Sadie, in an overly patient way, as if to indicate that they had had this conversation before, hadn't they, which, of course, made him furious." (Italics mine) There's a lot of stuff like that, which ends up feeling like a heavy authorial hand, directing the reader how to respond, when in reality, the response might have come naturally. 

 

 I found the Sadie/Caitlin scenes odd, not because of the content, but the style, and specifically because of the way Sadie keeps commenting to herself on what Caitlin is telling her or doing. It's a technique that is jarring because I don't recall it happening throughout the book, or not to this degree (i.e. oh, she's losing weight because she's smoking, she likes the idea of an affair with Tuck, etc.). I also found the whole scene with the FBI agent a bit bizarre, because it's never completely developed; it just tails off into nowhere.

 

What is still irritating to me is the tendency to "over-tell"; again, I'm thinking of the mantra "show, don't tell", and the endless recitation of characteristics, etc. to make a broader point about a group of people and their zeitgeist, or whatever it is. I feel hammered over the head, and want to hide under a heavy item of furniture. We first saw this back on p.4, when the group is being defined by what they read, what they joke about, etc. Here, it's particularly noticeable on p. 122, in connection with Caitlin's friends: "they were timid or angry persons, all underweight or overweight, with out-of-date eyeglass frames and odd nicknames like Kitten or Poodle....and real names that seemed more suited to those in middle age like Judith or Peggy or Trish. If they took acting classes, they did scenes from the Glass Menagerie or Our Town. If they took creative writing classes..." etc. What would have been wrong with a single example? The laundry list is overwhelming. I see the same phenomenon again on p. 137 "Williamsburg always made Sadie feel conscious of being a type" -- and then we get waaay too much information on those types. The point is valid and intriguing, but it's not developed in a convincing way -- instead of all that energy going into describing the types, why not have Sadie muse about how feeling like a 'type' worries her? 

 

Re Kx's questions, Beth's stumbling block is that she is now seeing her life solely with respect to her personal life, and agonizing about the Dave vs. Will situation. (I have to admit that the person I'm finding myself with the most sympathy for at this point is Beth's mother, who is as much bemused by her daughter as vice versa -- which scares me as (a) I'm not a mother and (b) I'm closer in age & experience to these characters than their parents. Meanwhile, Sadie is struggling with her ability to commit to her job, which she seems to love (but she can't fight off the tendency to procrastinate, which I think foreshadows some of her later decisions). I think the twin scenes, with her mother and with Caitlin, are interesting, because she ends up judging Caitlin in much the same way as her mother, she believes, is judging her; has she in fact become her mother? But I am not finding the argument in the book's precis that Sadie is the lynchpin to be convincing; I'm not seeing the evidence in her relationships with the characters. (Assertions yes, comments yes; evidence, nope.)

 

Completely a propos of nothing, it would be very interesting to have a separate thread that discusses this book in the context of Mary McCarthy's The Group, its inspiration and model. I'm now going back to read that once more, to see how it informs my reading of this.

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biljounc63
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

I found that I could really relate to the way Sadie feels about Sunday mornings and afternoons and the feeling of dread that Monday is on the way. I am also like that as well and it goes way back. In fact, I am one of thos people who given the the chance like today that if I can I take Mondays off for a long weekend just for the simple fact that when Sunday afternoon hits I still have Monday to look forward to and works great to disspell those Sunday afternoon blues.

 

I was disappointed in Sadie when she appears to have done nothing in telling Lil about the affair that Tuck is having. She really does not like Tuck or Caitlin yet she does nothing to protect her friend Lil. It has been stated before at how close is this group of people really are. Overall they seem to be thinking mostly of themselves. 

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
~ Joseph Addison ~

"Reading lets you visit the world of another"
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nfam
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

This is a very ambitious book. I believe the author is trying to give us a rounded picture of her era. She does this by introducing a number of disparate characters that supposedly were frends at Oberlin. I applaud the author for taking on such a challenging assignment, but I'm finding it very hard to appreciate the book. We jump from character to character. Just when I get interested in Emily and her relationship to Dave and Curtis we're off to someone else. I can't even say that the reactions of the characters from one chapter to the next are particularly consistent. Sadie is a case in point. I understand her background and her relationship with her family. When she goes to meet Caitlin who she doesn't even like on a day when she's supposed to be meeting her parents, it doesn't ring.

 

Sorry, but this book doesn't hang together for me. There's too much backstory interspersed with the action. The general general advice given to writers today is, "Show don't Tell." For some reason, Ms. Smith Rakoff has decided to ignore the advice and write primarily in terms of what happened before. It doesn't make me want to read more. I keep putting the book down and wonder why I'm going ahead with it. 

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mapleann
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine


pandy914 wrote:

-snip-

When introduced to Dave in the following chapter, we see that she has made the right choice.  Dave is obviously the product of a society that overly-validates a child's every accomplishment;  he is made to believe that he is something of a prodigy, so he feels a sense of entitlement and passively waits for the gifts he's been told will arrive.  While he's waiting, he lets his life pass him by.  Six years after graduation, he finds that he has more in common with people ten years younger than he;  he sullenly watches his friends move on without him, feeling a sense of abandonment, and yet remaining paralyzed when it comes to acting himself.  After reading about Dave, it is obvious to me that he has been holding Beth back from realizing her potential, and that she is SOOOO much better off without him.


This generation is the first to be raised in an environment that proclaims that there are "no losers". For example, not keeping score in a basketball game, soccer game, and not acknowledging the achievers. What happens to the competitiveness when one cannot know where he/she is ranked? Then when the protection is removed when the individual strolls into adulthood, what happens then?

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bookclubclassics
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

After reading through today's responses, I believe others may agree that this novel might have been even more compelling if it focused on just one character's perspective?  Although I did not care for Dave -- at all -- I found his chapter to be one of the more fascinating.  I think I was able to really get to know him better than the others, somehow.

 

Also, Dave seems to feel entitled to a better life than he is living.  This sense of entitlement was alluded to in last week's discussion and may be a unique stumbling block of this particular generation, but is certainly a stumbling block of this group of friends. 

 

This is my first First Look book club experience.  Not knowing our discussion would be organized by groups of chapters, I read the entire novel in a few days over my holiday break, so I have been "lurking" more than participating (afraid I would accidentally include "spoilers") -- but I have to remark that reading others' perspectives and opinions has made me appreciate and enjoy the novel more than I did on my own.  So, thank you for all the insights!

kgalles
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thewanderingjew
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

[ Edited ]

Sadie, Dave and Beth seem to have a hard time making independent decisions and also decisions about their own independence. They seem to err on the side of immaturity and they choose immediate gratification over the longer choice of reward for effort expended.

As Beth presents her reasons for procrastinating about her marriage we see her beginning to understand that some choices in life are based on the practicalities of life as it is, rather than fairy tale ideas of what life should be. Is her choice of Will as a husband senisible? From what I know about him up until now, I can’t be sure. We have to get to know him better to find out if he has matured as well.

Dave is stuck in his childhood where all he ever heard were over glorified ideas about himself and his achievements. He has no realistic goals and appears to be on a downward spiral. I keep wondering if he can rescue himself. Sometimes, it is impossible to do it alone and everyone of his friends seems to be passing him by, albeit some faster than others.

So far, to me, Sadie whom I thought was at first more grounded, seems to be pretty flighty as she matures, floating in and out of relationships, choosing her partners based on spur of the moment feelings and not on their character.

(I am not sure if this is a spoiler because someone already mentioned it in a previous post on the page.):smileysurprised:

[edited by moderator]

twj 

Message Edited by KxBurns on 01-13-2009 07:33 PM
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aprilh
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

In Chapter 6, Caitlin admits her affair to Sadie. While describing to Sadie why she got married to Rob if she wasn't planning on being faithful, Caitlin says, "Marrying me would make Rob really happy. And it would make me really happy, too. And I knew that no man would ever make me completely happy, so why not choose one who would make me mostly happy." It seemed so sad to me that her answer had nothing to do with her love for Rob. She basically just decided to settle.
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bookworm_gp
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

 

Beth has grown and developed, something we love to see in a character. But I would also have loved to see some of that process. She jumped from point A to point B and we don't experience it with her.

 

 

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bookworm_gp
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

I was also disappointed that Sadie didn't tell Lil about the affair. These girls are supposed to be so close and yet Sadie kept the information to herself. And her conversation with Caitlin was bizarre. She sat through Caitlin's confession and didn't say anything to dissuade her.  Not that Caitlin would have listened but I found it odd that Sadie would not even tell her what a b---h she was. Why are these girls afraid to say anything to Caitlin?
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mapleann
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine


bookworm_gp wrote:
I was also disappointed that Sadie didn't tell Lil about the affair. These girls are supposed to be so close and yet Sadie kept the information to herself. And her conversation with Caitlin was bizarre. She sat through Caitlin's confession and didn't say anything to dissuade her.  Not that Caitlin would have listened but I found it odd that Sadie would not even tell her what a b---h she was. Why are these girls afraid to say anything to Caitlin?

This comment would be really great on the friendship thread. Are they friends or acquaintances? 

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Dances_through_Books
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

I enjoyed this block of chapters much more than the previous block.  We are finally getting into the "meat" of the book.  I also am dissapointed that Sadie did not tell Lil her husband was having an affair.  As these characters can go weeks without talking to each other, I believe Sadie should have risked Lil refusing to talk to her, only for her to forgive and thank Sadie for giving her the truth.  It would have helped Lil make an informed decision to end her marriage to Tuck, and would have opened her eyes to the fact that "everything" isn't her fault.  I think this information would have eventually empowered Lil to realize she deserves much more from a husband, more than to be blamed for every failure and dissapointment he had created for himself. Lil then would finally get to find herself, and figure out what she wants.  This probably would have "saved" her in the end...

 

I also thought this block of chapters brought forth Beth's ultimate "settling" decision when it comes to love, marriage, and family.  Beth is distraught over the death of her ideal "in a perfect world" fantasy image of how she and Dave could be. Beth has to grieve over this death, and come to realize that while she may still have feelings for Dave, it can never work out. This emotional breakdown, on top of the stress of planning the wedding and pleasing her mom is too much to take at once.  I'm happy that in the midst of all her emotions, she is able to distinguish her true anguish, and in the end make an educated decision about her life.

 

I thought the fashion protest at the hotel was clever and funny.

 

Chapter 7, the first time I read the book had me thoroughly confused when on page 157, "not until I know you're going to be in her life permanently."  Sam, Will's child. Up until I read the end of the book I thought his child was a girl, not a boy!

 

I also was interested in Dave and Emily at the Barbecue.  Dave had never thought of Emily that way, and in his panic of everyone moving on without him; he tries to create a relationship with Emily.  Kissing in the bathroom probably wasn't the most romantic approach.

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eileen100
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine


nfam wrote:

 

Sorry, but this book doesn't hang together for me. There's too much backstory interspersed with the action. The general general advice given to writers today is, "Show don't Tell." For some reason, Ms. Smith Rakoff has decided to ignore the advice and write primarily in terms of what happened before. It doesn't make me want to read more. I keep putting the book down and wonder why I'm going ahead with it. 


I'm with you on this one. For the first five chapters, I had previously commented on this board about the large gaps of action followed by a flurry of backstory in order to "catch up" between chapter breaks (and I like the phrase "show, don't tell" as an eloquent way to put it). Even the "tell" part is missing enough key elements so that what remains is a patchwork narration with mismatched pieces and bits of stuffing peeking out between the seams.

 

The surprising event that occurred between chapters nine and ten (which I won't mention here even though the cat seemingly is out of the bag), and its patchy backstory in chapter ten, have brought me to the breaking point. Perhaps this is a writing style that others appreciate, but I prefer a story that plays out at a fairly constant speed instead of in super-slow-mo and triple-speed parts. Although  I looked forward to reading and discussing this book, I find that my reactions have been reduced to the same observation over and over (and I've done it in such cliched metaphor, to boot. I apologize for that). For me, this seems to overshadow any other thoughts I have about the story. So it's time for me to move on to another book. So many books and so little time!

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jpock
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine


KxBurns wrote:
In this group of chapters, the characters continue to struggle with difficult decisions, as well as their own desires and limitations. How do they fare?

 

What are the stumbling blocks that face Sadie, Beth, and Dave in these chapters? What does the addition of Dave's male perspective bring to the story?


I feel like the characters in the book aren't so much struggling with difficult decisions as they are continually creating massive amounts of drama in their lives.  I agree that the chapter on Dave is the first where we actually have a fairly full character analysis, but he sure is a pitiful fellow.  I do not agree that this generation was raised to believe that they could never fail and that there was always a safety net.  This is NOT representative of a generation - far from it.  This is a group of coddled, whiny, children.

 

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Tarri
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

I was not surprised that Sadie did not tell Lil about the affair, it is very difficult to tell someone something that you know will probably destroy them. I think Sadie knew that Lil would not be able to handle the truth and would find a way to throw it back at Sadie by accusing Sadie of being jealous of what Lil had (or thought she had).  

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chris227
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

Okay chapters 6-9...I still think that there is way too much information about trivial things and too little information about important stuff and way too much skipping around. 

 

Why is it we have a whole chapter where we learn a little bit about Sadie and a whole lot about Caitlin Green?  Why are we learning little details like professors Mrs. Bernstein worked with when before chap 9 we know almost nothing about Emily and Tal and minimal about Dave and Lil?

 

When I opened up to chap 9 and read the first sentence stating it was a year later I couldn't believe it!  So many questions running through my head:  Did Beth marry Will (we find out yes by one simple act of Dave "shaking their husbands' hands).  Does Lil know about Tuck?  Beth and Will's wedding is skipped over like it's something insignificant but Dave's little get together is the topic of a whole chapter?

 

By the way does anyone know what DUMBO means?

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Chatterbox
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

Chris227, DUMBO is one of those NY acronyms, like SoHo (south of Houston) and Tribeca (TRIangle BElow CAnal). In this case, it's Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It's an area of Brooklyn that was dominated by warehouses and has been gentrified in the last decade or so, as the artists moved into Williamsburg and people got priced out of other previously-edge Brooklyn neighborhoods. Now it's DUMBO, Williamsburg, etc. that is getting too pricey...

 

And I am with everyone who is finding the choppy pace and lack of backstory frustrating. Given that Will's impotence is such a big factor in chapter two -- what happens? What is Beth's relationship with his child? It's as if the backstory is constantly being explained -- but only selectively -- leaving us to read between the lines an awful lot. So is the story really just about character rather than plot?

 

Oddly, the more I think about it, the more I am drawn to Dave's character. His struggle with compromise is right out there, in the open. Only Dave is arrogant enough to actually voice what I feel the others thinking -- that they are somehow privileged and entitled to the pole position in life's race. I don't think he's an anomaly in that exaggerated self-importance; rather that he is more up-front about it. And in the wake of the dialogue between Caitlin and Sadie, with so much apparent honesty and so much seething unspoken and unsaid, it was kind of refreshing to encounter someone like Dave. I think all of them feel dissed by the world they are now encountering and blaming their problems on something else (Beth with her lack of preparedness re college credits; Sadie with her inability to focus on Sundays and her issues with her boss and with Tuck, etc.) In some ways, Caitlin is honest, admitting that she settled.

 

Indeed, oddly, the characters that I might not find terribly congenial at this part in the narrative (and that Rakoff's group is having the most trouble with) are those that I feel are actually most convincing as characters -- Caitlin and Dave. I know people just like them. I don't know a Will or an Ed (although I should, given my background); I don't know a Sadie or a Beth. Beth is the least convincing character to me; she feels like a watercolor sketch vs. an oil painting. 

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booksJT
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Registered: ‎11-24-2008
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Re: Chapters Six through Nine

First of all I thought Sadie's scenes with Caitlin were odd. If she was Lil's friend she should have told her about the affair or completely avoided Caitlin. Instead she meets with this woman to discuss her friends realtionship with her husband.  At this point I don't consider her a friend of Lil's. It was as if Caitlin was trying to persuade her to become her friend instead of Lil's. Caitlin's  explanation as to why she was having this affair didn't make sense and Sadie should have seen through it. Even if she didn't want to say anything she should have avoided discussing Lil with Catilin. I am glad to see that Beth finally realized what type of person Dave really was. He was the one holding her back from finding happiness some where else. I found Dave's character to be a product of society that believes that they have certain entitlements.  His disppointments in  life led to a less meaningful realtionship with Meredith. This was the one person he thought he could have a life with him.