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Inspired Correspondent
Read-n-Rider
Posts: 157
Registered: ‎01-29-2007

Re: Tonight We Improvise

I think Elena is a very interesting character.  Benji says she had been in charge for the last few summers (p. 235); that would have been when she was the age that Benji is in the story.  What parents in their right minds would have left a fifteen(or even 16 or 17)-year-old girl unsupervised--and in charge of her younger brothers for days, let alone weeks, at a time?  Especially one who, as Benji says, "slimmed down and hipped up when she hit high school, unveiling a cool downtown persona that made the most blase private school deb seem like a Kentucky rube."  Though she was responsible enough to have a job as camp counselor, she did "sneak out of the house" when the boys were in bed at night, seeking who knows what kind of fun on her own.

 

To me, Elena represents the typical rebellious teenager, albeit to an extreme degree.  Benji describes her manner during the summer after she graduates from high school as "too hip and strange and 'white-acting,'" and, once in college, she comes home only when absolutely necessary.  Benji comes upon her quite by accident in the summer of 1985; she obviously doesn't want her parents to know she is in Sag Harbor, and she is with a young man who is white.  I am wondering if the Coopers' home life was so bad that Elena was de-termined to distance herself from it as far as possible, even to the extent of trying to deny her black heritage.  She is concerned about Benji, advising him to work hard, get into a good school, and leave home also.  Meanwhile, we can only believe that her parents continue to support her while she is in college.  What a sad situation!

 

I wonder if Elena is meant to be a mirror for what Benji is to become in the next three years.

 

Joan

Inspired Contributor
mapleann
Posts: 44
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Tonight We Improvise

I get the real sense in this chapter that Benji's family was at one time healthy, but then come to the conclusion that it was wishful thinking. Benji had repressed the memories of his childhood, the good and the bad. His encounters with Melanie and Elena force Benji to revisit his past, to get sucked into the undertow, "stirred up all the silt at the bottom. Bringing me around" (p. 241).

 

It is a classic case of going backwards in order to facilitate moving forward. Benji is stuck in a ditch created by his parents and must rock back and forth in small increments to finally create enough leverage to propel himself forward and out. We know Benji is successful because this is his autobiography. We know that this is the pivotal moment because this is what remains profound to the adult Benji writing the story. He did release himself from the "deep...ancient grudges and unforgivable failures" (p. 235). This epiphany was what we were waiting for all the story, although it was not clearly evident that the almost sixteen-year-old boy had the realization at that particular moment as clearly as the adult did looking back in retrospect. At first he reminisces about the house being the ideal of life because it was "free from what happened and who I came to be" (p. 251). Then bam, "It wasn't the house I was in love with, either. It was what I put in it...as if I were peeking into the vanity to find the scene unfolding in infinite truth" (p. 251). He revisits the "day" before it went all wrong and the prefect family spending the afternoon on the back patio eating Dad's fantastic bbq. "That perfect day so long ago when were all together. The beautiful afternoon before it went wrong.___Of course it never happened" (p. 252). whoa!

 

So, What would have happened to him had he not had this realization? This is where I suddenly felt as if Reggie may have been left as a wounded soldier of family strife. The duality of Benji and Reggie, returning to the twin theme. If you turn right, welcome to your potential. If you turn left, bummer you're one of the dead ones I mentioned a few chapters back. If you never turn, then you are "Reggie [attempting] to salvage a clean chunk of cake from the ground. It was something he might do, gather what he could from the mess" (p. 243). There was the lack of hope for Reggie. Elena told Benji to get out. She never stated for him and Reggie to do it together or to support eachother. There is also when Melanie remembers saying "Benji, Benji" and her focus is solely on Benji. I know this story is a coming of age about Benji, but I get the feeling now that Reggie and Benji are not together as adults. I feel that Elena is successful in life. We know that Benji is. Silence for Reggie's future.