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Rachel-K
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Tonight We Improvise

[ Edited ]

What is the secret longing that drives Benji to power up Sag Harbor 's light oldies station when he's alone? What's the shame of it?

 

Benji gets his braces off in this chapter, and he will later count this as one of his transformational summer accomplishments. Is Benji beginning to see himself in a new light?

 

Benji gets kissed! But he spends more mental energy on reliving some (possibly inaccurate) memories of the house where he spent childhood vacations, than he does on Melanie's lips!

How does this scene do for Benji's great romantic and heroic moment of the novel? (He does, after all, leap from a window, and catch her jumping from the same window!) 

 

After all those small scenes of childhood that Benji keeps mentally rewinding when he enters his childhood beach home, what sense do you some away with? Are the memories accurate? Do we have a fair idea of what Benji's childhood was really like? What does this house mean to him?

 

What do you make of Melanie's memories being so different from Benji's, especially her memories of him?  What are we to make of Melanie's behavior at the end of this chapter? What is her role in this group of Sag friends?

 

We get a real glimpse of Elena in this chapter! Is she what you expected? What do you think of her simple, quick bit of advice to Benji? What did you make of this scene?

Message Edited by rkubie on 03-09-2009 10:58 PM
Message Edited by rkubie on 03-09-2009 11:19 PM
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DSaff
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

[ Edited ]

What a chapter! It was nice to see some of the pieces come together at the end of the book. The song. Ben seems more nostalgic than I first thought. He keeps trying to recapture the moment he heard (or imagined he heard) the song. Evidently it brought back happier memories; memories of when his family vacationed together. Maybe, even times when his father wasn't an angry drinker. He spent so much time trying to figure out where he knew the song from, that he didn't figure out where he and Melanie were going. The memory gels when they "unknowingly" walk to the old house - his first kiss. (There is so much more to that house - I think it held much happier memories.) He truly loved the house.

"There she was, my Sweet Lollipop. Posing coyly behing the old hedges, just a wedge, a bit of thigh, visible behind the trees. When people were inside at night, the light from the windows splashed through the leaves and branches, diluting the darkness. It was always a comfort rounding the corner and seeing that after you'd been running around all day. Soon you'd be inside with everyone else." pg. 244 - 245

 

Melanie is looking for some "attention" from Ben and he doesn't seem to realize it until they break into the house and go upstairs. She knew what she was doing. While Ben thinks this kiss is based on getting his braces off, I think it was more of Melanie wanting to see how much attention she could garner while in Sag Harbor. She didn't seem to want to hurt anyone, but did want to experiment. I was happy when the car showed up because I don't think Melanie wanted more from Ben than just a short time of pleasure. The next day she accepts the icecream cone from Ben, but shows she is still with Nick as he puts his arm around her. At least Ben would remember this kiss! <grin>

 

 

Message Edited by DSaff on 03-10-2009 08:02 AM
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
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DSaff
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Elena

We finally get to meet Elena in this chapter and I found her to be a very compelling character. She had escaped, and while she loved her brothers, she couldn't save them too. All she could do was tell Ben to keep working hard, get into a good school, and get out of that house.

 

She stamped out her cigarette and said, "You know how it can be in that house."

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I'm talking about."

She looked through the window of the restaurant after Derek. "Just do me a favor, Benji, and get out when you can," she said. "Work hard and get into a good school. That way you're out of the house and that's it."

"I don't understand."

"Yes, you do."  pg. 237

 

That short scene told me that Melanie wasn't trying to avoid all of her family, just her parents. ("don't tell Mom and Dad that you saw me" pg. 237) She was making a new life for herself and wanted that for her brothers as well. I also found the statement that she was good at nonverbal directions to be telling. She must have had a lot of practice getting her brothers out of harm's way, probably learning the hard way. In this short scene, Elena seems to be trying to wake Ben up to reality. Getting out might mean that these kids wouldn't continue the cycle of abuse we have seen in the book. Here's hoping.

 

 

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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BDonnelly
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

Elena was not what I expected at all.  I thought of her as some college girl partying with her friends and too busy for her family.  It was suprising how clear she was to Benji about getting out and away from them.  It really made me look at his family in another light because prior I had looked at Benji's family through Benji's eyes which were still pretty innocent and accepting and not as critical and worldly as his sister's eyes.
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Shadowwolf36
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

I also think that the trip back to the old house is Benji's "AHA" moment. I think that the time spend in the old house, when they all spent time together, when perhaps there was less stress in their parent's lives was what he was trying to recapture by listening to the dreaded radio station. He was trying to grow up but he also wanted to go back to  a simpler time when they weren't left alone so much, where their parents (and perhaps grandparents) were there to take care of them. 
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dhaupt
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

This was a pivotal chapter for me as it further explains to me their family.

Meeting Elena was both happy and sad for me and I assume for Benji also, he was glad to see her and I don't think in his childs mind still understood what kept her away because I don't think he's mature enough in that aspect to really catch on to the dynamics happening in his family, maybe because it's all he's ever known I don't really know. I took away from the meeting that maybe Elena didn't want his parents to meet her "friend" knowing he would be disapproved of, but it gives us a glimpse that Elena is trying to prepare him for his future in the family by warning him just a little.

I don't know that it was a secret longing that drove him to listen to the oldies station just a sense of comfort, the shame however is if he's caught especially by his friends he would be ridiculed.

I think getting his braces off was even more a highlight for him than the kiss in a way because I think he does start seeing himself in a better way from then on.

 

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libralady
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

Elena is not at all what I expected.  I think because she was the oldest, she saw a more clear picture of what was really happening in the family.  In other words, she had more years to endure the family dysfunctions.  When she told Ben, "Just do me a favor, and get out when you can", I think it finally became clear why she was never around after she went off to college.  Ben appeared to be confused by this statement and told her he did not understand, but deep down I think he did.  The family situation was just something that was not talked about.  She chose to deal with it by staying away. 
"Sow today what you want to reap tomorrow"
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maude40
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

I loved Benji reminiscing, on pages 246-247, about the old house he stayed in as a younger boy. The house was really special to him, a place he remembers when times were happier before the family became so disfuntional.  Yvonne
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maude40
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

Benji is growing up. His first real kiss, but I couldn't believe his negative thoughts about girls being with him. He has no self-esteem at all. The paragraph at the bottom of page 250 and top of 251 says it all about what a loser he thought he was. "We are too stupid to live. It's amazing we made it this far." Yvonne
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fordmg
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Re: Tonight We Improvise


maude40 wrote:
I loved Benji reminiscing, on pages 246-247, about the old house he stayed in as a younger boy. The house was really special to him, a place he remembers when times were happier before the family became so disfuntional.  Yvonne

 

This chapter starts the ending of the book.   It ties many of Benji's i ssues together.  He remembers this house that now belongs to his aunt and he is not suppose to be there.  He is with Melonie, but he is really with his memories.  He doesn't remember everthing she does, but maybe he has blotted out some things because his family is not "banned" from the house, and this house is what her really loves about Sag Harbor.  When he has to run away, you get the feeling that this chapter of his life is finally over.  There is finality to change and sets the course for the end of the summer and going back to the city.  He has made decisions about how to change his life going forward.

MG

 

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Sassy398
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

 Going to the Sag Habor house was taking a trip down memory lane for Benji, it did not

 matter who was in his presence, including the girl who gave him his first real kiss.

 Elana, his sister was looking out for Benji's best interest by giving him the advice to move

 forward with his life. I feel Benji deep down knew he needed to break away from his family

 to better his life for the future.

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PinkBaby
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

yes we finally hear about his sister elena. i was beginning to wonder if we ever would.:smileyhappy: i know the book was mainly about reggie and benji but i kinda wanted insight on elena to.
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aprilh
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

I was glad we finally get to "see" Elena in this chapter, even though it was for just a minute. The fact that she came out to Sag Harbor and didn't tell anyone in her family speaks volumes about what it's really like to be in their family. When she hugs Benji and he thinks "I'd forgotten how good it felt" it made me sad to think it had been that long since the last time he'd seen her. Benji says to her, "You weren't even going to see us." Her reply is, "Of course I want to see you and Reggie." No mention of wanting to see either of her parents. And the advice she gives Benji, "Get out when you can. Work hard and get into a good school. That way you're out of the house and that's it." Elena's a smart girl to want to stay away from the abuse at home and is doing her best to cope with it herself (by staying away) and to also give advice to her younger brother (get out when you can).
April
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kiakar
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Re: Tonight We Improvise


libralady wrote:
Elena is not at all what I expected.  I think because she was the oldest, she saw a more clear picture of what was really happening in the family.  In other words, she had more years to endure the family dysfunctions.  When she told Ben, "Just do me a favor, and get out when you can", I think it finally became clear why she was never around after she went off to college.  Ben appeared to be confused by this statement and told her he did not understand, but deep down I think he did.  The family situation was just something that was not talked about.  She chose to deal with it by staying away. 

Yes, sometimes we want to make sure the person is agreeing with what we thought all along so we want them to spell it out.So Elena did spell it out to him. And maybe Ben had never heard it outloud. He had been witnessing it but never had the words blare back at him. Maybe he was even shocked when Elena spelled it all out to him.  I think you really did see the whole picture with Elena as a character in the story. I am glad she was brought in and had her say. Not that she put it all down as plain as day but enought that would send Ben the message.

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Rachel-K
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Re: Tonight We Improvise


aprilh wrote:
I was glad we finally get to "see" Elena in this chapter, even though it was for just a minute. The fact that she came out to Sag Harbor and didn't tell anyone in her family speaks volumes about what it's really like to be in their family. When she hugs Benji and he thinks "I'd forgotten how good it felt" it made me sad to think it had been that long since the last time he'd seen her. Benji says to her, "You weren't even going to see us." Her reply is, "Of course I want to see you and Reggie." No mention of wanting to see either of her parents. And the advice she gives Benji, "Get out when you can. Work hard and get into a good school. That way you're out of the house and that's it." Elena's a smart girl to want to stay away from the abuse at home and is doing her best to cope with it herself (by staying away) and to also give advice to her younger brother (get out when you can).

I also thought that "I'd forgotten how good it felt" line was very sad and sweet and childlike. It does make you realize how recently Ben was a child, that he's still on the cusp of being a kid who needs to get hugged. It also struck me that this was an accusation he never leveled at his parents, but felt free to say to Elena.

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PinkBaby
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

benji and reggie sister knew what  it was like in the house. benji thought she didnt want to see him. but i think she just didnt want her parents to know. like she told benji. dont tell mom and dad im here.she probably didnt want to deal with their father. and she told benji  besides you know what its like in the house.and he acted like he didnt know. and she said yes you do. im pretty sure she meant how terrible he could be. besides she wasnt really metioned until the endof the book.:smileyhappy:

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PinkBaby
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

yes your right deep down he understood what elena meant. he just didnt want to think about how terrible  their father was.
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detailmuse
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Re: Tonight We Improvise


aprilh wrote:
I was glad we finally get to "see" Elena in this chapter, even though it was for just a minute. The fact that she came out to Sag Harbor and didn't tell anyone in her family speaks volumes about what it's really like to be in their family. (snip) Benji says to her, "You weren't even going to see us." Her reply is, "Of course I want to see you and Reggie." No mention of wanting to see either of her parents.

I wasn't surprised to see Elena not wanting to see her abusive father, but this passage also speaks to Elena's relationship with her mother -- who we don't see as abusive but we also don't see protecting her kids. Maybe Elena initially tried to help her mother, but now I think she's given up and is angry with her. I wonder about Benji's feelings too; we don't see open sympathy from him to his mother.

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booksJT
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

I think the trip back to the old Sag Harbor house was Benji's way of remembering how it used to be. It was less stressful there and his family got along back then. I think Elena knew the hostile environment that existed between her parents. This is why Elena didn't want her parents to know that she had come to visit the old house.  Benji couldn't understand why Elena wanted him to keep her presence a secret. Elena wasn't what I expected. I thought she might be more caring. She was just glad to be away from her parents. I think Benji being heroic was his way of showing how he felt about Melanie. Her memories were different I think because she just thought of him as a good friend.
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canterbear
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Re: Tonight We Improvise

I actually liked this chapter and the last chapter of the book, more then I did some of the other ones.

 There was more depth of character in these last few chapters.

 More of a connection with Benji and how he really was, as opposed to just acting with his friends.

 It seems Benji has alot to learn about love and things.

 I understand him missing his house, where earlier memories were created. I think that was a happier time for him.

  This section was a good read.