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[personal profile] cahn
Nth reread. I have posts on Thick as Thieves, All the Birds in the Sky, and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch in the queue, but then [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard found several interesting cross-references between The Runner and Seventeen Against the Dealer (thank you for telling me about these!) and one thing led to another and now I'm in the throes of a massive Tillerman reread. Maybe I'll even get through Homecoming this time, although so far it's not looking promising… I have a plan, though!

In my reading Dicey's Song this time around, the theme of holding on and letting go is even more explicitly prominent than I remembered — but, you know, now that I think about it, this theme echoes and re-echoes throughout the cycle. In Runner, in Come a Stranger, in Sons from Afar… all of the books, I think, really, are about letting go of the things you have to, and holding on to the things you love, and how those things are tangled up together and sometimes are the same thing.

And I noticed on my last reread that the cycle's overarching theme (or one of them) is family, and this book is about the family that figures itself out, how it figures itself out, and is the one most explicitly about what it means to be a family.

I think this book is in many ways the thesis statement for the entire cycle.

And oh my goodness the resonances… I think Voigt must have had all these characters fully realized in her head from the very beginning. Jeff cites his father quoting Tolstoy about how unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way… setting up that exploration of family. And the Chesapeake Bay, which is its own character who really comes into its own in Solitary Blue. And the farm, which emerges as a character (as [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard noted).

And boats and music, both as motifs and representative of… what is the boat representative of? Freedom? Independence? Connection? I think all those things at one time or another. Boats are… a really big deal in this cycle. I think every book has a boat playing a somewhat central role. Oh no, wait, not Come a Stranger, I think? Which may mean something as well... Anyway. This book begins with Dicey sinking a boat (…Bullet's old boat, right? So it's its own character too?), then the rest of the book involves her working on it, and what it means that she's able to or not able to work on it. Interestingly, where Dicey is concerned it seems to be the process that symbolizes to us what's going on, not the result (as it might be in the hands of another writer). Dicey doesn't finish the boat, and that means something because the reason she doesn't finish it is because she' busy holding on. (HM. Bullet finished his boat. He was letting go, and not holding on to anything. HMM. Runner is probably the key to this whole cycle.) And then there's the failure in Seventeen… I think it will be much more interesting to look at that, this time out.

I don't know what music means exactly in these books, except that it's a way throughout the cycle that people are drawn together, that people in these books strengthen families and create found families. Interestingly… I think (?) the only book devoid of music entirely is The Runner, and even that one has poetry as a way to (sort of) connect.

And other things… Gram gets a phone. The same phone she threw at the phone company in Runner, when she became for all intents and purposes alone, and liked it that way (well, I guess, at least after her husband died; I don't imagine it was very comfortable until then, but from what she says in this book, she might have found her own meaning in that as well). She gets it explicitly because she has children in the house. So the phone, itself a means of communication, becomes representative of Gram's willingness to communicate, her connection, her reaching out.

(Geez, I want more fic about Gram. She learned all these lessons, slowly and painfully, that she's telling to Dicey in this book. What was it like for her?)

And the scene in the wood shop never fails to break me down. I'm just always a crying mess after reading that one.

Date: 2017-07-03 12:51 am (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
Placeholder comment to say that I LOVE this post and will be replying as soon as I have time to compile my extensive notes into a wall of text. Ditto for the discussion we're having in the other thread.

Omg, a Tillerman fan! You have no idea how much I'm enjoying this.

Date: 2017-07-04 12:48 am (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
Okay, here we go. So many thoughts!

And oh my goodness the resonances… I think Voigt must have had all these characters fully realized in her head from the very beginning.

Omg, yes, this! I've been thinking this since we started having our Tillerman discussions. The only way I can achieve anything like any kind of interweaving is to go back and forth through the different parts and insert and delete references and smooth them out. I can't just start at part one and work my through a series and have echoes and foreshadowing and different perspectives.

She must have had a *lot* of this worked out, in her head if not on paper, before publication.

This book begins with Dicey sinking a boat (…Bullet's old boat, right? So it's its own character too?)...Bullet finished his boat. He was letting go, and not holding on to anything.

Johnny's boat, actually. So there are two boats (it took me rereading Runner to get this straight:

A sailboat that Johnny built, that Gram uses to sail into town, and it's slow, and not going to hold out much longer. Huh, I think it may be a counterpart of the farm.

And a motor boat, which Patrice is salvaging throughout the course of Runner, and which he paints red because he knows Bullet is going to want it, and Bullet likes fire engine red (see also: his sweater, which Dicey inherits). Bullet uses the money he's been earning to buy the motor boat for his mother, so she can be more independent and not have to rely on a slow sailboat that won't last forever.

Bullet's motor boat is the one we see getting active use when the grandkids show up; Johnny's sailboat is the one Dicey and Sammy rebuild.

Johnny's the one Bullet remembers as always working off his anger in wood. He's also the one who built the tree house for Liza, as Bullet remembers after Johnny leaves, and Gram remembers at Liza's death bed.

Runner has a theme of builders and breakers, and Johnny is a builder in this classification scheme. Bullet and his mother are breakers. (Sammy the younger as builder, hmm.)

I totally agree about Bullet letting go. I feel like Runner is a story of him learning to reach out, and it's Patrice who leads him to the epiphany.

There's some ring composition around Bullet letting go of the farm:

From a few pages in:

He knew he could allow no weakness in himself if he was going to win free. He could feel the danger of his father’s will closing in around him, and he could feel his own strength too. It would cost him, but what didn’t cost something? Nothing, that was what. It would cost him this farm that ran acres wide under his feet, that ran acres deep and fertile underneath him.

And then the last paragraph where he's still alive, which I've quoted to you before:

The fields stretched away on either side of him, and he stopped at the end of the driveway to look back at them. He’d new-harrowed the fields, and they were ready now to take the crops he wouldn’t harvest from them. Tough luck, and he had known what it would cost. But he let his eyes run over them, over the lumpy surface of them. He wanted to keep connected to himself as much as he could; he wanted to be sure he could take with him whatever memory could carry.

Oh, that's interesting. Because the lines immediately preceding the first quote are:

Bullet shook his head to clear the image out of it. He’d learned not to make dreams up for himself, that was part of growing up. Growing up meant you knew what you wanted and you worked for it, and you didn’t let yourself get in your own way. Not dreams, not memories—he knew he could allow no weakness in himself if he was going to win free.

So now he's learned to value memory, to hold on. Just like he reached out by ploughing before he left, preparing for a harvest he knew he'd never get to see.

OH. Wow, and *that* reminds me of near the end of Homecoming, when the kids are giving Gram one suggestion after another for making the farm financially solvent:

James said, “With inflation, and if you’re on fixed income— you could lose the farm if you can’t pay taxes.”

“Could you?” Dicey asked. “Could that happen?”

“What’s that to you?” her grandmother demanded.

“I guess nothing. But if we can’t be there I want you to be. So it matters something. And you can’t change that.”


Wow, I don't think anyone had to teach Dicey to reach out.

This book begins with Dicey sinking a boat

Oh, right, and Jeff of course has his iconic moment of sinking the boat. Dicey is sinking to rebuild, though. And now I remember Gram at the beginning of Dicey's Song:

“Let the wood soak up water, to swell up again. I knew that once, but I forgot."

She did know that, because it's in Runner!

Johnny’s boat was still there, still afloat. He wondered how many years it would be before the wood gave out to the weather and the thing just sank. His mother was the only one who ever took it out, and she bailed it too and scraped as much of the bottom as she could get to standing beside it in the shallow water. But she couldn’t get it out of the water for the winter, didn’t have time to caulk and paint the hull, never had any money, so she couldn’t have it hauled at one of the boatyards. Too bad. Too bad the old man wouldn’t let her get a driver’s license either, because that meant the only way she could get around on her own was this sailboat. Which would, someday, sooner or later, just rot away.

Which is why he gives her the motor boat (instead of buying himself a gun like he originally planned).

I don't know what music means exactly in these books, except that it's a way throughout the cycle that people are drawn together, that people in these books strengthen families and create found families.

Yes! The passages that come to mind are:

“So bravery is one of the things you choose by?” Mina asked.

“Sure,” Dicey said.

“And music.”

“Music’s not a quality,” Mina protested.

Dicey noticed that Mina had them talking about Dicey again. She made a mental note to ask Mina what she chose by, but was too interested in her own ideas to do that right then. “It is too,” Dicey insisted.

“You can’t be music,” Mina argued.

“But you have it, don’t you?” Dicey asked. “Don’t you?”


And Jeff with Dicey:

He had seen the way the music coiled around her and drew her to him, in her eyes, seen something helpless in her against music and melody...He played a couple of chords so the thread of music wouldn’t be broken between them.

And with Maybeth:

At first she was shy and silent but, like Dicey, she could be looped in with music. He watched the way the songs and the singing won her over slowly.

Interestingly… I think (?) the only book devoid of music entirely is The Runner, and even that one has poetry as a way to (sort of) connect.

Even that has Bullet remembering Liza singing, constantly. Neither he nor his mother can produce music, but they both seem emotionally connected to it. And there is the scene where Bullet enjoys square dancing. So it's there a little bit.

I do think you're right about there not being a boat in Come a Stranger. I'll have to think about that.

She gets it explicitly because she has children in the house. So the phone, itself a means of communication, becomes representative of Gram's willingness to communicate, her connection, her reaching out.

YES. This.

Incidentally, I notice that her husband can hold on, but nothing else:

His old man was a nothing, nothing but right answers and holding on to his precious farm.

You can see Gram's lesson on how all three are important--holding on, letting go, and reaching out--are important.

(Geez, I want more fic about Gram. She learned all these lessons, slowly and painfully, that she's telling to Dicey in this book. What was it like for her?)

I know, I was thinking of that when reading Runner--you get a glimpse of what she was going through (and that's abuse), but we rarely get her POV.

Date: 2017-07-04 04:22 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
A couple of things I forgot to include because I was trying not to stay up too late:

OMG, the wood shop scene, YES, and the Christmas shopping. I think they're why for the longest time I thought I liked Dicey's Song better than Homecoming (in addition to the former being the only one available on Kindle--I assume because it was the Newbery winner--and thus the only one I reread frequently).

The wood shop scene is so good I always find myself wishing the book had ended there. I know there's some closure in seeing how the kids deal with it at the end, and the importance of Gram opening up the attic, but I often read up to the wood shop scene and stop. I'm not much of a crier, but that scene always leaves me deeply moved.

One thing I do like about the ending is Gram telling them about the birthday Bullet got out of. It neatly complements the scene in Runner where she talks to him about it--and now that I think of it, both come at the very end of their respective books

“Are they going to a party?” Maybeth asked. “Momma looks like she’s going to a party.”

“Yes, they were,” Gram said. “Bullet — he didn’t want to go. He wanted to do some fishing or crabbing or anything that would prevent him from spending the afternoon indoors being polite. Now I notice, John doesn’t seem too happy about it either, does he? Did I ever tell you how Bullet didn’t go to that party?” she asked.

Well, of course she hadn’t, and she knew that as well as they did. So Gram began the story.


And there Dicey's Song ends. We don't get the story until Runner, right before Bullet goes off to war:

“You remember that birthday party?”

“Eleanor Brown’s? I remember. I remember you not wanting to go. I remember driving all the way back along the highway, to pick up the clothes you took off.” A reluctant smile moved across her face. “How you got them out of the back of the truck without us noticing, I never knew.”

“One at a time,” he told her. “I leaned way over, so they wouldn’t blow up into view in the mirror.”

“And I remember how you looked when we came around to get you out and you were just . . .”

Bullet waited.

“. . . bare naked, and laughing . . .” She laughed then, and he joined in.

“Anyway,” he said, “I owe you an apology. And Liza, too, because she was looking forward to that party, but she’s not around to hear it. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Oh, I dunno,” his mother said. “It always seemed to me there wasn’t anything else you could have done. Being you.”


Speaking of the end of Runner (you did say to keep the links coming!), this jumped out at me, reading it shortly after Come a Stranger. Bullet talking to Tamer:

“If you’ll give me your word to stay out of Vietnam. Don’t tell me”— He cut off Tamer’s protests—“ because you can, you know it. Have another kid. Stay in school. Be a teacher. Get religion, whatever it takes. That one’s not your war.”

"Get religion." And then the next time we see Tamer, he's Reverend Shipp. Foreshadowing, at the very least, if not Bullet outright influencing the course of Tamer's life.

Date: 2017-07-05 11:23 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
Yes, they are all on Kindle now, which is why I have been rereading Homecoming more often and discovered that it is my favorite, and why I have been able to copy/paste all these passages for our discussions! (I would not have typed all those out--I'm not that dedicated.) I also <3 the search function that is really helping all my cross-referencing.

But it was not always the case that they were all available; I was constantly checking as they became available one by one, and I would like to take some credit for clicking "I would like to read this book on Kindle" a million times on the unavailable ones. ;) (I'm not sure Amazon processes more than one click per user, but I just like to register that I STILL want this book from time to time.)

I am not a print person, not even a little bit, as you can probably tell. :)

Date: 2017-07-06 12:28 am (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
This is so great. I LOVE talking Tillermans with you. SO MUCH.

I know, right? Where have you been my whole life?!

I am with you, that is the only way I can do it as well. I think the longest I've ever managed is 10k or so :P

I'm kind of finishing up a 450,000-word fanfic series that's not nearly as good as Voigt's, and the only way I've been able to do it at all has been by doing the whole thing all at once. However she did it, she's amazing.

I knew it was confusing me, but not quite why :)

It confused me for the longest time. Only rereading Runner this last time cleared it up, and only because we were having this conversation and I was paying close attention.

And it's sort of ironic, too: Johnny is a builder who breaks all his family ties.

Oh, yeah, I thought about saying something about how I think it's more of a self-perception thing, an identity, than anything else. Also, obviously, being good with your hands does not equate to interpersonal ties! Bullet even says Johnny's a carbon copy of the old man. It's complex; there's no builder/breaker binary, in my mind. But it's a theme that I think is worth paying attention to, along with the letting go/holding on/reaching out.

(Also, stepping for a moment out of thematic concerns and into real-world healthy behaviors, HELL YES leave that abusive family behind, Johnny! Don't look back!)

I have a whole theory about why there's no boat in Stranger! My theory involves the boats being a locus for cutting ties with others.

Huuuhh. That's interesting. I like it! Fits very well with Johnny. And omggg, you're so right about Francis!

Also interesting how the motor boat is a parting gift from Bullet: reaching out and cutting ties at the same time. It also gives her a way to be less dependent on her abusive husband.

Is Sammy a builder?

Yes! I was going to mention this as I got a little further in Seventeen. Check this passage out:

“It’s a good thing Sammy took wood shop, or I don’t know what I’d have gotten for Christmas.”

“He’s got clever hands,” Jeff said.

“And he likes making things,” she added. Sammy had even roped James into making a half-court, a backboard to play tennis alone on, one summer; at the garage where he’d been hired to pump gas, he now spent most of his time working on engines. It was Sammy who kept their old pickup going for them. It was even Sammy who’d found it, and talked them into it, telling them it could be got running, he could do it easily, and at the price, which was only $485, he said— ignoring Gram’s raised eyebrows at the sum— they’d never find anything cheaper. “Who needs a wheeled vehicle?” Gram had demanded. “We do,” Sammy had told her. “You do, and you need a license, too. Maybe we can’t afford it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. And we can afford it.” Sammy had set his mind to it. Like anything else Sammy set his mind to, it got done. They insured it in Gram’s name, because she was the cheapest; Sammy was the only one of them who didn’t have a license at that point, and he’d turn sixteen in less than a year.


And note Gram getting the car because of the children, just like the phone! Oh, and I just remembered, she gets the boat from Bullet because her husband won't let her get a driver's license. The later books seem to put right a lot of things that are wrong in earlier books.

I don't have the book right with me (I'm out of town) but in Dicey's essay, doesn't she talk about how Liza doesn't have any songs any more at the end?

I'm not seeing it, but here's the whole essay, if you want to read and see what you were thinking of:

Mrs. Liza lived away up north, away out on Cape Cod, away in a town right at the end of the Cape. Her cabin was outside of town, right at the edge of the ocean. The ocean rolled up toward her rickety cabin, like it wanted to swallow it up; but it never did. Maybe it didn’t even want to. The wind was always blowing around the cabin, like it too wanted to have that little building gone.

Mrs. Liza had children, but she never had been married, and the man who was her children’s father had long ago gone and left her. She worked nights when the children were little, waiting tables in a restaurant, serving drinks in a bar, night-clerking in a motel. She always worked hard and was always willing to take days nobody else wanted, Christmas and Fourth of July, Easter. When the children got older, she switched to a daytime job, checkout in a supermarket. She hadn’t had any training for the kind of job that paid well, so she was always thinking about money, hoping she would have enough. Every sweater she owned had holes in it.

She had reasons to turn into a mean woman, but Mrs. Liza just couldn’t. She had a face made to smile, and her eyes always smiled with her mouth. She had long hair, the color of warm honey in the winter, the color of evening sunlight in the summer. She walked easy, high narrow shoulders, but loose, as if the joints of her body never got quite put together. She walked like a song sung without accompaniment.

Then slowly, so slowly she never really could find out the place where it began, life turned sour on Mrs. Liza. People said things. While she never heard them herself, her children heard them and got older and understood what people meant. Mrs. Liza loved her children, so that worried her. Money worried at her the way waves worry at the shoreline, always nibbling away at the soft sand. Her money seemed to run out earlier each week.

Mrs. Liza stood at the door of her cabin and looked out at the ocean. The ocean looked back at Mrs. Liza and rolled on toward her. She could see no end to the ocean. The wind that pulled at her hair was always blowing. She looked out at her children playing on the beach and reminded herself to get some tunafish for supper; but she forgot.

Her eyes stopped smiling first, and then her mouth. The holes in her sweaters got bigger. Meanwhile, people talked and she didn’t know what to say so they could understand. Meanwhile, quarters and dimes got lighter, smaller. Meanwhile, her children were growing bigger and they needed more food, more clothes. Meanwhile, nothing she did seemed to make any difference.

So Mrs. Liza did about the only thing left to her to do. She went away into the farthest place she could find. They cut her hair short. She didn’t notice that, lying there, nor when they fed her or changed the sheets. Her eyes never moved, as if what she was looking at was so far away small that if she looked off for a second, it would be gone.


I'm still planning a wall of text to our other thread, but my 450,000-word series calls. ;)

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