cahn: (Default)
[personal profile] cahn
The more [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard and I are diving into these books, the more I am impressed by them. They work on so many levels — the immediate visceral level, the depth of character level, but also the amount of cross-referencing and deep theme repeating and reflecting among the books is frankly scary. Some of it I'd seen before, and some of it I never really registered because they're so good on the other levels. I don't know any other books quite like these (and if you do, I definitely want to know about it).

In this book, as I mentioned when talking about Dicey's Song, the Tolstoy quote "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is quoted and is a Thing. When Jeff's dad quotes it, he's mostly quoting it unironically (as referring to his failed marriage), but really, this entire cycle is basically Voigt's answer and rebuttal to that quote. This cycle is about family, (mostly) about families that are (or become) healthy and happy, and showing that they are all very different.

(Note also that — although I consider this actually pretty minor in terms of the ways they are different — Voigt has put the families she writes about here in different configurations. The Tillermans are a set of children first with their mother as a single parent, then with their grandmother, who adopts them (again as a single parent). Jeff has divorced parents (and most of the book is about a single-parenting situation — and I love that it's a father single-parenting, in contrast to Momma and Gram). Even the minor characters — Robin in Sons is in a blended family with a stepdad, Millie is a widow with no children, Eunice has never been married — have family variation. The typical two-parent-with-biological-children home is only present here (I think, even in a minor way) in the older Tillerman generation (which fails!) and the Smiths family, and I'm kind of awed by the choice she made (in the 80's!) to make the one actual functional-all-the-way-through "typical" family (I put it in quotes because, well, all families are different!) the black one, without making a big deal of it at all (to the point where I just figured that out).)

Each book of this cycle has its own explicit major themes that are distinct from those of the other books, although you see echoes and resonances in the other books. This book is about love. What is love, what does it mean to love, with very careful attention given to how we hurt people we love, sometimes without meaning to and sometimes absolutely meaning to. (The scene where Jeff carefully, intentionally hurts Melody is… stunning, and activates just about all the empathy ever for me, because I've been through that on a (very very much) smaller scale and know (on that scale) what it feels like, and yeah. She knows.) The Professor hurts Jeff a lot, with the best of intentions. Melody… hurts Jeff a lot, without the best of intentions, let us say, although it is up in the air as to whether she really loves Jeff or not (Jeff certainly doesn't think she does). And of course all the other books are about love, too — most pointedly Stranger. (There are a lot of parallels, thematically, between Solitary and Stranger.) But this one — well — the Professor says it:

It strikes me that love is just the beginning… I think we can't help loving, but what matters is what we do about it. What we do with love. Do for it. What love does with us.


Which is, on its own, its own thesis statement for the series. (Yeah. Every book might have one, at this rate. I know.) The Tillermans wouldn't have said it that way, of course; it isn't the way they think about things at all, but it still has a lot to do with how they live as a family, versus (for example) how the older generation of Tillermans lived.

And, you know, I'm starting to realize that another subsidiary theme that threads through these books is gifts. Early in this book, the Professor gives Jeff a guitar, and it's the kind of gift that enlarges both of them. Brother Thomas gives to them, in the kind of reaching out and holding on that Mr. Lingerle did in Song. Jeff gives back the gift (this is the part that Song didn't handle), using his talents to figure out what Brother Thomas needs (apparently, to go crabbing). Of course there are gifts in Runner, tied to this reaching out and holding on — the boat from Patrice, that Bullet gives to Ab. And Stranger's climactic scene is about a gift, but there are giving and gifts, reaching out and holding on, all the way through that book — I haven't gotten there yet, but I am wondering if the main theme of that Stranger is giving. But anyway.

And Solitary, like all the books, examines how complicated people are. Except for Mr. Chappelle (poor Mr. Chappelle, doomed to be a jerk in every book), everyone has unexpected depths — particularly the Professor, but everyone, even Dicey from Jeff's POV. Even Melody, who isn't much for unselfish love, but who at least loves Max.

Boats are complicated in this book. I'm going to have to revise my hypothesis on boats to boats being sort of emblematic of separation. Jeff's boat after Melody rejects him — well, that kind of goes without saying. But then Dicey and Jeff go on a boat, and it's a way of healing, it gives them that space and separation that Jeff needs to come to terms with Dicey being her own person. And crabbing, for Brother Thomas, now that I think of it: separation from his problems, from his doubts, and separation with Jeff and the Tillermans. Separation is definitely not always a bad thing.

It's interesting, rereading this again carefully, it's so clear why Jeff falls for Dicey, she's just so the complete opposite of Melody. ("She didn't ask or even want anything from him.") It's also so clear why Jeff reacts exactly the way he does in Seventeen.

There's this bit, which I feel like is actually a (extremely rare!) misstep and something that Voigt rectifies in Stranger:

"And they really feel like a family, all of them," he said.

"More than mine, and mine hasn't ever been disrupted," [Mina] said.


Or maybe it's not a misstep. Because Mina's family is so different that I could see her saying that; even though I firmly believe her family feels just as much like a family as the Tillermans, it does feel very different.

(One of the biggest reasons I wanted to have at least two kids (once we had one) was as insurance against my being a crappy parent. (This seems to horrify people who grew up in highly functional homes.) Because I can totally trace major ways in which my sister and I have bonded to parallel ways in which my parents are, let's say, imperfect. I do wonder sometimes whether families that are more functional don't need the siblings to bond quite as heavily — they can, but they don't need to, and so don't necessarily do so quite as often — D's parents, for example, are amazing, and their kids don't seem to be super close. But anyway, I get, a little, why the very disruption of their family bound them so tightly together.)

My big question regarding these books is, why can I read (and love) this one and not Homecoming? I didn't realize this until trying to explain to mildred why I couldn't finish Homecoming, and I figured it's because I this abandonment and (much greater) rejection squick, and it really bothers me that the children start off by being abandoned by their mother and then at the midpoint of the book are emotionally rejected by the parental figure they've journeyed to.

But that's exactly what happens in this book! The book starts with Jeff being abandoned by his mother, and the midpoint involves emotional rejection. I didn't pick up until now that Jeff's journey parallels Dicey's journey, partially because they react in such different ways — Homecoming externalizes Dicey's response and focuses it on her relationship with her siblings; Jeff's response is all interior (he has no siblings, and although the focus later becomes on his relationship with his father, that's a much later development and also a much different one). I think because of my particular situation I identify with Jeff and his interior responses so strongly that it overwhelms the squick, like, I have no trouble reading up to his mother's betrayal/emotional rejection at all because I empathize so much with him that my brain is focused on that? I'm still not quite sure if that's what's going on. Brains are weird. It's also true that my particular brain fleas don't fear the kind of damage Melody inflicts (like, that's diametrically opposed to any psychic damage that might or might not have been done to me) so there's some measure of protection there. [I wrote this before reading Homecoming, and now I have, and I have some additional/different ideas about this, but this is too long already. Another post about Homecoming should be coming soon :)] Anyway, the point of that long digression into my Issues is that it's really interesting to me how similar and how utterly, completely different their stories are.

Date: 2017-07-14 12:45 am (UTC)
rachelmanija: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rachelmanija
This is one of my favorite Voigt books. The section where Jeff has a breakdown and rides the roller coaster over and over especially - it has such a unique atmosphere. But the whole thing is just great - the characterization, the complexity, the running motif of the rings.

Date: 2017-07-14 04:27 am (UTC)
rachelmanija: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rachelmanija
Dicey's Song and Izzy, Willy-Nilly. Homecoming is a very good book but not a really lovable one, for me anyway.

I think I also didn't get Tree by Leaf when I read it. That's the one where the girl hears voices that might be God or her own imagination, right? I remember being very confused by it.

Date: 2017-07-30 12:03 am (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
I have to say, I haven't even been able to finish most of Voigt's other books that I've tried, and the ones that I did, I thought were mostly just okay, like Izzy. The exception is Jackaroo, which remains one of my all-time favorite books, and tied with Homecoming as my favorite Voigt.

Again, though, I have trouble reading anything set in the modern-day real world, which probably explains it. The Tillerman books are a standout exception. Jackaroo is obviously not set in the real world, and Gwyn and Dicey have a lot in common.

Huh. I just discovered that Jackaroo has been renamed to "Tale of Gwyn" on Amazon. Neither I nor the reviewers know why. The rest of the books seem to have been renamed as well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Date: 2017-07-14 01:32 pm (UTC)
wendelah1: Fox Mulder reading (reading is fundamental)
From: [personal profile] wendelah1
These sound good. Which book do you recommend that someone start with who is new to the series?

Date: 2017-07-15 08:48 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
My two cents: I agree with most of what [personal profile] cahn said, especially to start with Homecoming and see if you can take it; if not, try Dicey's Song or Solitary Blue. I'll add that Homecoming is my absolute favorite and one of my all-time favorite books, and I love it a lot. I also have no squicks or triggers around fictional abandonment of children. So it really just depends.

But I highly recommend you do give the series a try, one way or another! It's deceptively simple: an enjoyable light read on the surface, and with a whole lot going on when you look deeper.

Date: 2017-07-29 11:54 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
They work on so many levels — the immediate visceral level, the depth of character level, but also the amount of cross-referencing and deep theme repeating and reflecting among the books is frankly scary. Some of it I'd seen before, and some of it I never really registered because they're so good on the other levels. I don't know any other books quite like these (and if you do, I definitely want to know about it).

Code Name Verity came to mind, but looking through your tags, you've already read it (and enjoyed it!). It's one of the best books I've read.

The other books I can think of that do this level of cross-referencing are the A Song of Ice and Fire books, but I think they drag on too much, and they definitely have their squicky bits. Still, every so often I binge-read them as fast as I can, just to be able to keep track of who's who. And every so often I check to see when Winds of Winter is coming out (answer: not any time soon).

I'm kind of awed by the choice she made (in the 80's!) to make the one actual functional-all-the-way-through "typical" family (I put it in quotes because, well, all families are different!) the black one, without making a big deal of it at all (to the point where I just figured that out).)

You know, I hadn't noticed that either, but now that you point it out...wow.

The scene where Jeff carefully, intentionally hurts Melody is… stunning, and activates just about all the empathy ever for me, because I've been through that on a (very very much) smaller scale and know (on that scale) what it feels like, and yeah. She knows.

Ha, I have to admit, the part where he agonizes over it afterward is my least favorite part. Intellectually, I recognize that it's in character and how emotionally neglected children often behave, but it just feels so unnecessary that I just always skim. Lol at me going, "People have so many unnecessary emotions."

It's interesting, rereading this again carefully, it's so clear why Jeff falls for Dicey, she's just so the complete opposite of Melody. ("She didn't ask or even want anything from him.") It's also so clear why Jeff reacts exactly the way he does in Seventeen.

Yeah, I just got to the part in Seventeen where Dicey spells that out, where she realizes she's having the same effect on him that his mother did. Ouch.

(One of the biggest reasons I wanted to have at least two kids (once we had one) was as insurance against my being a crappy parent. (This seems to horrify people who grew up in highly functional homes.) Because I can totally trace major ways in which my sister and I have bonded to parallel ways in which my parents are, let's say, imperfect. I do wonder sometimes whether families that are more functional don't need the siblings to bond quite as heavily — they can, but they don't need to, and so don't necessarily do so quite as often — D's parents, for example, are amazing, and their kids don't seem to be super close. But anyway, I get, a little, why the very disruption of their family bound them so tightly together.)

This is interesting! I think it can go either way; I've read accounts where children failed to bond and attributed it to their abuse. Here's an example that came to mind: "My childhood and adolescence were constant warfare, which I normally lost, years of perpetual frustration, failure and powerlessness. My mother, a vague and ill-defined character, had no power (or desire?) to intervene, and indeed, though she lived well into the 1970s I barely remember her. I have one sister six years younger than me. As so often in dysfunctional families, we were never companions in adversity—our job was self-preservation. I last saw her for a couple of hours in 1977, after a 20 year hiatus, and we have not communicated since. I do not know if she is alive." http://www.cloudingcounties.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Brightness2.1.pdf

Other things can go either way too: “It's like when my doctor told me the story of these two brothers whose dad was a bad alcoholic. One brother grew up to be a successful carpenter and never drank. The other brother ended up being a drinker as bad as his dad was. When they asked the first brother why he didn't drink, he said that after he saw what it did to his father, he could never bring himself to even try it. When they asked the other brother, he said that he guessed he learned how to drink on his father's knee." https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/176398-it-s-like-when-my-doctor-told-me-the-story-of

From my childhood, I can say that my sociopathic sister, being younger, had limited power to harm me (mostly my belongings suffered), but my sister who was even younger than was more vulnerable to the bullying from her older sister. Or maybe me getting off scot-free was more to do with my sense of self being so impenetrable--now that I think of it, there was a lot of what would have been emotional abuse to anyone else that I could blow off because I had an infinitely higher opinion of myself than of her. But she said the sorts of things to me that other children constantly report being harmed by, so...who knows.

Your decision, though, does remind me of a fic I wrote several years ago. Faramir is talking to Éowyn and is concerned that their children aren't bonding very well and they just *horror of horrors* had a fight, and Éowyn thinks it seems perfectly normal. She loved her brother, but small children do squabble sometimes. And Faramir slowly comes to realize that if he and Boromir never ever ever let anyone see them disagree, it was because they were terrified of the consequences. And that maybe his children aren't presenting quite the same unshakably united front to the outside world, regardless of private differences, because they actually trust their parents. So your experience definitely doesn't surprise me!

But regardless, I was rereading Dicey's Song recently, and oh, wow, I *do not* like the way the older two children--who are still children!--are guilt-tripped into being responsible for the younger ones. Because if Maybeth has difficulty keeping up with schoolwork, it is totally not ten-year-old James's responsibility to make up for the shortcomings of the school system. He can if he wants, sure, but the way everyone is going "You can do better than that" and judging him for not dropping his own life to take care of her...not cool. Neither is Gram telling Dicey that she's gone several whole weeks (!) without solving her siblings' problems, like it's her obligation and she should be grateful that she even got a vacation. I mean, not that Ab was ever a model of great parenting, but unlike all the ways in which she improved between her children and her grandchildren and seems to have learned something, the narrative seems to agree with her here. Ick.

Boats are complicated in this book. I'm going to have to revise my hypothesis on boats to boats being sort of emblematic of separation. Jeff's boat after Melody rejects him — well, that kind of goes without saying. But then Dicey and Jeff go on a boat, and it's a way of healing, it gives them that space and separation that Jeff needs to come to terms with Dicey being her own person. And crabbing, for Brother Thomas, now that I think of it: separation from his problems, from his doubts, and separation with Jeff and the Tillermans. Separation is definitely not always a bad thing.

Huh, yeah. And in Sons, the boat becomes a place where Sammy has to learn to include Maybeth. So it's complicated.

[I wrote this before reading Homecoming, and now I have, and I have some additional/different ideas about this, but this is too long already. Another post about Homecoming should be coming soon :)]

Looking forward to it!

Random cross-referencing:

"The bay is a dying body of water, between pleasure boaters and those factories up north dumping who knows what into it, it can’t flush itself clean, you know that, Horace, in ten years...” Her voice trailed off on the threat. “John Smith wrote about the bay and how fertile it was. You could stick a sword into it and fish would jump onto the blade. It’s not like that anymore, is it?”

The Professor cleared his throat. “John Smith was a terrible liar.”


“I’ve been sort of thinking about it. For example, I sort of think I’d like to go into ecology.” The Professor’s face went expressionless. “No, not saving the world or getting back to the good old prehistoric days, not that. But responsible management of it, somehow. I’m thinking about marine biology — with some chemistry and some economies, because it’s never going to be a simple problem — and computers too, because that’s the only efficient way to collate material, so you have to know programming, I guess. Don’t you think?” The Professor nodded, watched, waited. “Nobody understands the bay, nobody really knows how it works. It’s an incredibly complex system, but . . . I want to preserve it, I’d like to do that for a job. Maybe even enrich it.”

And then in Sons: "Shirley’s report on how the Chesapeake Bay was getting polluted. What Shirley said made Sammy uneasy, uncomfortable: How could people be so dumb? The dumbest thing of all was to keep on doing it, even after they could see the bad effects it had, cutting down the trees, and using fertilizers that ran off into the bay. He was glad when Shirley finished and sat down, even though he gave her high marks on every category of the evaluation sheet. You’d think, Sammy thought, that somebody, the governor or the president or someone, would just stop the destruction. You’d think that somebody who had the power, and was in charge, would do something."

I think, in a book about how Sammy's not using his brain enough, it's a good way of showing, without saying so, that he dismisses it as a simple problem, whereas Jeff is the one who appreciates that it's a complex problem with a complex solution, though he agrees that it's worth doing. And Melody, of course, is Melody.

Profile

cahn: (Default)
cahn

August 2017

S M T W T F S
  12 345
678 9101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Aug. 18th, 2017 08:04 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios