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Moderator
Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Family

This is the first time we see Benji's family together at Sag Harbor. Were you surprised by the picture we get of them?

 

If Benji's position in his family is troubled, then Reggie is even more so. How do the boys cope with what goes on in the household?

 

How does their mother cope?

 

Were you surprised, in her bulleted list, that she doesn't mention his treatment of the children in any of her complaints? How does Benji's mother balance and cope with (or not) her roles of mother and wife?

Distinguished Scribe
blkeyesuzi
Posts: 730
Registered: ‎01-26-2008

Re: Family

I WAS surprised by the fact the mother didn't mention how the father treated the boys; however, I can't help but think this list may have been written immediately after what had become yet another private altercation between husband and wife. So, the boys weren't in her IMMEDIATE thoughts.  I would think a woman in that situation feels powerless to make any difference.   I really didn't look at this list as an afront to the boys or her ignoring what was going on with them.  My immediate thought was that she was making the list to strengthen her case to leave him...to give herself the strength to make a move by reminding herself of her own self-worth.

 

I can only imagine what life must have been like at home.  If Dad was so volatile while on vacation...imagine how bad it must be during the week while he is dealing with the stresses of work.  And Mom was alone with him. She was his only target.

 

The mom and the boys cope with the situation pretty similarly.  They are grateful when they aren't the target. When someone else is "getting it" they have a pass for the moment.  It's safer for all concerned if doors just get closed and they let the storm pass.  They've learned from past that getting involved only makes it worse.  In addition, the family has been conditioned not to air their business to anyone, so the problem has to stay within their walls.  They're all in survival mode where the dad is concerned.  They love each other and just want to survive the storm.

 

I think the boys would appreciate it if Mom would protect them from their dad, but they also know their mom is (or feels) powerless and they want to protect her, too.

rkubie wrote:

 

Were you surprised, in her bulleted list, that she doesn't mention his treatment of the children in any of her complaints? How does Benji's mother balance and cope with (or not) her roles of mother and wife?


 

Suzi

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
Scribe
DSaff
Posts: 2,048
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Family

I can't say I was surprised at the lack of communication and respect I saw between family members. There was plenty of foreshadowing about the family's problems. I was, however, surprised by Ben's acute hearing. This family had to have been having problems for a long time, as evidenced by the sounds - "Poomp meant it had started" (pg. 167) and the "Tock, thunk, rasp, poomp" (pg. 175) that continued throughout the day, and the fact that Ben knew exactly where they would lead. He knew he had to lay low, after all, his brother had already planned his escape by working weekends, so Ben would be a likely target. Ben had to stay out of the way until Bobby got there and took him away. Then, Bobby got there with NP and the girls, and Ben was stuck at home. His planning hadn't worked, and I think he was worried about what would happen next. He had to witness another tirade from his father over the paper plates. There was no way to close the windows and stop the neighbors from hearing - nothing he could do. But then he noticed that no one paid any attention to the argument. They just kept out of it. Family privacy, I guess, or maybe they were each recognizing scenes from their own homes.

 

Ben's mother handles things both rebelliously and quietly. She takes time to go to the beach to see her friends, getting her out to harm's way for a short time, but she also bought the paper plates she knew he would be angry about. If you know something is going to cause problems, why do it? This was intentional defiance on her part, a little spunkiness. Her lack of putting the boys on her list combined with this part of the book makes me think she is concerned about herself, but not so much for her sons anymore. They are almost grown up, and I wonder if she is just biding her time. She has been a buffer for them for a while, taking some of the abuse, but I think she is almost ready to break free.

 

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
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booksJT
Posts: 108
Registered: ‎11-24-2008
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Re: Family

I was not surprised by the picture I got about the family in Sag Harbor. Clearly this was a family with little or no communication at all. The parents themselves never communicated with each other or the kids. If they did communicate the father was always angry with one of them. I think   this is  why the kids was always alone at Sag Harbor. The mother was coping with enough stress from her husband she didn't need the extra from the kids. Benji and Reggie tried to avoid their father's wrath at all times. They seemed to walk on pins and needles when he was home so as not to disturb him. When the parents would argue they would be glad they were not his target at the time. The boys mother would cope by ignoring him or by appeasing him so there would be not argument. I think the one incident in the story when she bought the wrong plates was her way of showing she didn't care.

 

She was tired of his nagging about the silly paper plates.  As a wife and a mother she was just biding her time before she would be able to leave him. I think the bulleted list was a way of relieving daily frustration with her husband's  actions.

Moderator
dhaupt
Posts: 11,865
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Family

I was surprised at first by the family, but the more I thought about it I was torn. It reminds me of a family who is not as educated as these people are, and by that I mean the mom was a lawyer and she never seemed to stick up for herself or the kids to her husband. The dad was a tyrant and more of a picture I would expect to see in a mom stays at home and dad is a doctor or other professional and earns the living kind of family setting. I wanted to see the mom at least stand up for the kids if not herself. And I also wondered what kind of attorney she could be if she didn't think on her own at home.

 

While Benji's coping mechanism seems to be ignore and go with the flow, Reggie stays gone more when his parents are at Sag Harbor. I now see why we don't see the sister in the picture more.

 

The mother copes by being the carpet and letting herself get walked on. 

Inspired Correspondent
nfam
Posts: 231
Registered: ‎01-08-2007
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Re: Family

I wasn't surprised by the picture of Benji's family. The author dropped hints throughout the book about the problems at home. The whole family was under a lot of stress. Probably being in an affluent white neighborhood didn't help. The father was angry with the world. From the mother's list of complaints, she felt he was taking it out on her. The kids, particularly Reggie suffered from the father's alcoholic induced rage.

 

The mother coped with the problem by ignoring it. I found the scene where she sat by and allowed the father to insist that Benji hit the child at school appaling. I wondered why she didn't leave him. Obviously the children weren't her first concern. 

 

Very disturbing picture of a dysfunctional family. 

Contributor
JulieC82
Posts: 19
Registered: ‎01-09-2008
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Re: Family

I can't say that I'm surprised that we see the family unit disolve as the book goes on. We see shades of it early in the book, with it cumulating during the BBQ scene. We never get into it but I was wondering if there was physcial abuse as well as the emotional/verbal. I saw this because his parents would often go a couple weekends without coming out and I immediately thought there might be some pushing/shoving/hitting going on that their mom didn't want the boys to observe.

 

The boys don't truly cope with it do they? They run. Reggie makes sure he's working all weekend, even pulling double shifts to stay out of the house and Benji makes sure he's never around by either being with his friends or working.  I don't think this is too uncommon for boys.

 

I agree with some of the other comments where they state that the mom is just bidding her time until she leaves the dad. I think this was pretty common back in the 80s. "Let's wait until the kids are gone." I also think that the mom thought the boys could take care of themselves now. I'm sure she was more prone to protect them when they were younger.

Frequent Contributor
reader76
Posts: 29
Registered: ‎02-05-2009
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Re: Family

     I wasn't very suprised with Benji's family dynamic.  The first clues were when his parents would leave Benji and Reggie by themselves in Sag Harbor for weeks without seeing them.  His parents seem detached from one another and from their children.  Benji's sister only sees him once during the summer but only by accident when she was visiting her boyfriend.  The family is not interactive with one another and as the reader reads the book, you don't see a closeness or cohesiveness in the family. 

     The father seems bit brutal and is a definite patriach of the family and whatever he says go.  I think one incident in the book is when he slaps Benji around because one of his schoolmate refer to him with the "N" word connotation.  Did he punish Benji because he was not a strong black male enough to stand up for himself?  I know Benji went to school and did punch his schoolmate after the session he had with his father. 

     I think it was sad that boys were working alternative work schedules and hanging out with their friends to avoid being in the house with their father.  It seems oppressive and the father portrayed as a drunk when he could get mean according to how many he's had. 

     The list that the boys found when they were cleaning written by their mother indicates that she is repressed in her marriage where she is bullied and demeaned by her husband.  I think the list she made only focused on her self and how she felt about her husband.  She seems selfish because she does not seems to be aware of the feelings the boys have for their father. 

 

 

Correspondent
detailmuse
Posts: 180
Registered: ‎01-24-2008
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Re: Family

[ Edited ]

I was surprised, too ... and yikes, saddened that I also didn't notice it right away.

 

It makes me think that she's accumulating a list that will encourage her husband to change his behavior -- not a list to encourage herself to leave the marriage. Which makes me wonder if she left the boys off the list because once she acknowledged they were being harmed, it was no longer just her private (individual) problem. And she wouldn't be able to look away any longer. She'd have to take drastic action.

 


blkeyesuzi wrote:

I WAS surprised by the fact the mother didn't mention how the father treated the boys; however, I can't help but think this list may have been written immediately after what had become yet another private altercation between husband and wife. So, the boys weren't in her IMMEDIATE thoughts.  (snip) My immediate thought was that she was making the list to strengthen her case to leave him...to give herself the strength to make a move by reminding herself of her own self-worth.


rkubie wrote:

Were you surprised, in her bulleted list, that she doesn't mention his treatment of the children in any of her complaints? How does Benji's mother balance and cope with (or not) her roles of mother and wife?


 

Message Edited by detailmuse on 03-03-2009 10:07 AM
Correspondent
detailmuse
Posts: 180
Registered: ‎01-24-2008

Re: Family


dhaupt wrote:

I was surprised at first by the family, but the more I thought about it I was torn. It reminds me of a family who is not as educated as these people are, and by that I mean the mom was a lawyer and she never seemed to stick up for herself or the kids to her husband. The dad was a tyrant and more of a picture I would expect to see in a mom stays at home and dad is a doctor or other professional and earns the living kind of family setting. I wanted to see the mom at least stand up for the kids if not herself. And I also wondered what kind of attorney she could be if she didn't think on her own at home. 


She has good means to independence -- career, money, friends -- but abuse is so complex. Even Benji muses about whatever must have happened in her past to make her put up with it. When I envision abuse victims as mousey, Tina Turner comes to mind to shatter the image. I can't think of a more fearsome woman, yet Ike abused her for years before she fled. I wanted to feel some of the complicated emotions -- see some of the good aspects of Dad.

Correspondent
detailmuse
Posts: 180
Registered: ‎01-24-2008

Re: Family


DSaff wrote:

Ben's mother handles things both rebelliously and quietly. She takes time to go to the beach to see her friends, getting her out to harm's way for a short time, but she also bought the paper plates she knew he would be angry about. If you know something is going to cause problems, why do it? This was intentional defiance on her part, a little spunkiness.


So passive-aggressive! Just like Benji, who repeatedly switches the TV channel from CNN to his movie -- The Road Warrior (what a metaphor for inviting violence into the house).

 

I second your question, What's that about -- the baiting of an abuser? Is it anger seeping out? A momentary feeling of control?

Inspired Contributor
canterbear
Posts: 73
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Family

I liked the insight we gain from seeing more of the family interact.

For many generations what goes on in the family stays in the family. It was never shared with outsiders.

 Familes never discussed what was happening with in their own homes either.

 The big denial was in effect in the 70's.

 I grew up in a very closed family, where you never asked for help and seeing a therapist was never thought of.

 I can really identify with their situation.

 A place to hide and ways to cope were all a kid had in that kind of family.

 

Scribe
DSaff
Posts: 2,048
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Family

exactly!  :smileyhappy:


detailmuse wrote:

DSaff wrote:

Ben's mother handles things both rebelliously and quietly. She takes time to go to the beach to see her friends, getting her out to harm's way for a short time, but she also bought the paper plates she knew he would be angry about. If you know something is going to cause problems, why do it? This was intentional defiance on her part, a little spunkiness.


So passive-aggressive! Just like Benji, who repeatedly switches the TV channel from CNN to his movie -- The Road Warrior (what a metaphor for inviting violence into the house).

 

I second your question, What's that about -- the baiting of an abuser? Is it anger seeping out? A momentary feeling of control?


 

 

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
Inspired Correspondent
libralady
Posts: 159
Registered: ‎09-23-2008
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Re: Family

I was not surprised by the picture we see of the family when they are all together.  There were several times earlier in the book that gave some indication that there were internal problems with the family.  I dont think this family is all that different from other families that have to deal with internal issues.  They look, on the surface, like a well adjusted happy family.  They tend to keep things inside the family.  As is evidenced by Ben going around the house and closing all the windows to prevent the neighbors and friends from hearing his father's flare ups.  I think each family member has chosen to deal with the problems in their own way and on their own.  There seems to be a sense that if they ignore the problems and dont talk about them, they dont exist. 
"Sow today what you want to reap tomorrow"
Distinguished Correspondent
biljounc63
Posts: 189
Registered: ‎11-02-2008
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Re: Family


libralady wrote:
As is evidenced by Ben going around the house and closing all the windows to prevent the neighbors and friends from hearing his father's flare ups.

I remember doing the opposite of going around openinhg the window so the neighbors can hear out family squabbles. Needless to day it did not go over very well :smileysurprised: 

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

"Reading lets you visit the world of another"
Distinguished Scribe
blkeyesuzi
Posts: 730
Registered: ‎01-26-2008
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Re: Family


detailmuse wrote:

DSaff wrote:

Ben's mother handles things both rebelliously and quietly. She takes time to go to the beach to see her friends, getting her out to harm's way for a short time, but she also bought the paper plates she knew he would be angry about. If you know something is going to cause problems, why do it? This was intentional defiance on her part, a little spunkiness.


So passive-aggressive! Just like Benji, who repeatedly switches the TV channel from CNN to his movie -- The Road Warrior (what a metaphor for inviting violence into the house).

 

I second your question, What's that about -- the baiting of an abuser? Is it anger seeping out? A momentary feeling of control?


I love how complex these characters are!  While we have seen a demonstration of physical abuse to Ben on occasion, I believe that most of the abuse is emotional.  Perhaps in the father's mind he thinks he's holding back and not harming his family because he's not creating physical scars.  

 

Victims of emotional abuse tend to numb themselves to avoid dealing with the situation they are in, so it certainly makes sense that the family apears detached.  

 

Personally, I wouldn't call the television incident "baiting", but I do agree that it could have been a passive aggressive response to the situation.  Another theory, though, might be that he just wanted to detonate the bomb...get it over with, so to speak. He knew the blow-up was going to happen eventually, so at least this way he would have control over WHEN it would happen and over what circumstance.  Perhaps, too, it was his way of protecting his mother...kind of like the BB gun incident...he was putting himself in harms way to protect the one he cares about.

Suzi

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
Distinguished Scribe
blkeyesuzi
Posts: 730
Registered: ‎01-26-2008
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Re: Family


biljounc63 wrote:

libralady wrote:
As is evidenced by Ben going around the house and closing all the windows to prevent the neighbors and friends from hearing his father's flare ups.

I remember doing the opposite of going around openinhg the window so the neighbors can hear out family squabbles. Needless to day it did not go over very well :smileysurprised: 


That's ONE way to get the word out! LOL

Suzi

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
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Sassy398
Posts: 56
Registered: ‎11-03-2008
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Re: Family

It's true, back in that era, family did not discuss family problems to no outsiders.

Any problems were kept within the four walls of your home. Though kids really hated

yelling and screaming, they endured it all.

Distinguished Correspondent
lmpmn
Posts: 177
Registered: ‎11-08-2006
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Re: Family

[ Edited ]

detailmuse wrote:

DSaff wrote:

Ben's mother handles things both rebelliously and quietly. She takes time to go to the beach to see her friends, getting her out to harm's way for a short time, but she also bought the paper plates she knew he would be angry about. If you know something is going to cause problems, why do it? This was intentional defiance on her part, a little spunkiness.


So passive-aggressive! Just like Benji, who repeatedly switches the TV channel from CNN to his movie -- The Road Warrior (what a metaphor for inviting violence into the house).

 

I second your question, What's that about -- the baiting of an abuser? Is it anger seeping out? A momentary feeling of control?


 

I almost described Benji as passive-aggressive when he pulled that devious trick with the ice cream freezers, but I didn't.  He really is though, isn't he?  I think I'm able to see this easier in other people because I'm the same way!

 

When I read the part where Benji's dad beats him for letting that kid call him the "n" word and not beating him--it made me so sad for Benji.  My whole body and mind just got sad.

Message Edited by lmpmn on 03-03-2009 06:25 PM
Happiness is a warm blanket!
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Deltadawn
Posts: 311
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Family


rkubie wrote:

This is the first time we see Benji's family together at Sag Harbor. Were you surprised by the picture we get of them?

 

I was a little surprised that the situation with his father was as volatile as it was.

 

If Benji's position in his family is troubled, then Reggie is even more so. How do the boys cope with what goes on in the household?

 

The boys cope by trying to stay under the radar as much as possible.

They try to stay away from the house as much as they can. Reggie takes weekend shifts so that he can avoid his father all weekend.  Between work and attempting to make plans with his friends, Benji tries to escape, as well.

 

How does their mother cope?

 

Their mother, also victimized by their father, tries to stay under the radar, as well.

 

Were you surprised, in her bulleted list, that she doesn't mention his treatment of the children in any of her complaints? How does Benji's mother balance and cope with (or not) her roles of mother and wife?

 

I was so suprised and disappointed that she did not mention her husband's treatment of her sons in her complaints.  I think she has a very difficult time coping with her roles of mother and wife.