cahn: (Default)
Oh man, this is a dense book. So many things going on in this one.

One thing I admire so much about all the Tillerman books is the way that the characters are so complex and rfull that they all stand alone. You could read this book without knowing one other bit about the Tillerman family, and it would still be a great book. But it's also in some ways the central book of this series — it shows you where everything else came from.

Theme and motif: several things going on here, at the same time. [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard pointed out the breaking and building motif. Bullet is a breaker; he doesn't build; Patrice also tells him he's not a builder. His brother John is a builder, John says. And Bullet shoots OD, and isn't able to rescue his mother… It's a hard book. But… Bullet, of all three of the Tillerman children of that generation, comes to a point where he accepts his life, which it's not clear the other two have done (they certainly had not come to that point when they left the Tillerman family).

There's also a pronounced racism arc, which interestingly carries over in a big way into Stranger, although it's a completely different thing in Stranger, of course.

There's also a boat again, in a confluence of boat and gift — Patrice makes Bullet a boat, as a gift (Bullet pays him for it, but it really is a gift), and Bullet gives it to Abigail — and that boat gives her a way to separate from her husband (I mean, not literally, more's the pity, but at least to manage that relationship with slightly more grace).

There's no music in this book, except square dancing from the jukebox (which is a very temporary and superficial form of connection, though connection nevertheless), and Bullet's and Abigail's memories of Liza singing, which connect them to her memory and really nothing else (well, maybe Bullet and Abigail to a certain extent). His father has squelched all the music — that which, in this cycle, makes family and found family.

I guess, maybe, the theme is growing up? Identity? This is the only book so far where I feel like it's hard for me to get a handle on it, because it's a book that I think generally sort of defies description. Like Bullet himself. He's described as being alone and separate, a man of bronze, a hero who just happens to be underage at the time. But he's also written as having a really finely-tuned sense of other people in a lot of ways, although completely oblivious and/or flat-out offensive in a lot of other ways. Of course, most people are a combination of those two things (especially in adolescence), but not to the extremes that Bullet's written — quite frankly most of the scenes with Bullet and Abigail in them just completely baffle me, because they understand each other's laconic words and I have no idea what they're talking about. (Please enlighten me! What does Abigail mean when she says Bullet used to have a good sense of humor? What does Bullet mean when Tommy says he thought better of Bullet, and Bullet says, "No, you didn't"? I think the former is just that Bullet hasn't yet had the idea of cooking breakfast for Abigail — and I think the latter is Tommy thinking everyone is just like him, and therefore he didn't think better of Bullet — but I don't know.)

Bullet thinks a lot about boxes, the way we box ourselves in, and his epiphany at the end is that we all are going to have boxes, we just get to choose whether we have boxes that we're comfortable with or not. I think maybe the book really is about the way we choose what limitations we work with, and what we do within those limitations.

But really I don't really know what the book is about. It's about the Vietnam War and the way the fear of the draft permeates everything; it's about race relations (or the lack thereof); it's about running cross-country; it's about how authority perpetuates itself; it's about a kid from an emotionally abusive family who is himself kind of violent; it's about all those things but it's not really about any of them.

Also, wikipedia tells me that in Homecoming James (who Liza was pregnant with, last Frank had heard — about a year ago) is 10 and Maybeth is 9. So you know what happened is that as a result of seeing Bullet in this book ("Frank's mouth drooped down a little at the ends. 'If I had the fare, I'd go up there right now, tonight; I could use a dose of Liza.'" And on the next page: "'I wonder if… do you think Honey'd give me the money to get to Boston?'"), Francis went away and went to visit Liza, who had just had James a couple of months previously, and Maybeth was the result. I… did not realize it was possible to hate him more than I already did, but IN FACT IT IS. Although violence is not my thing I… am kind of cheering Bullet on when he wrecks Honey's car (although to be fair it isn't at all Honey's fault. But still). (ETA 8-12: Um. Yeah. That really sounds like I think violence against innocent people is totally okay... which no. I should have said that I feel a lot of empathy for Bullet, and I do, but "cheering" is a bit much, yeah. Thanks mildred.)
cahn: (Default)
3+/5. So I read Homecoming! FINALLY. It only took, like, seven tries??

I had thought that it set off my abandonment and rejection squicks, and I think it does, some, although the rejection squick is actually pretty mild here, as it's Dicey that rejects Eunice more than the other way around. No, it's something else, as I realized around chapter 2 (this is the first time I've read it carefully paying attention to my own emotional reactions). It's this paralyzing fear I have of not being good enough for my family, the fear of failing them, that through my not being good enough horrible things will happen and it will be all my fault — and — I mean, this is definitely a child fear. I don't feel like that as an adult much — I mean, don't get me wrong, I expect I have my fair share of mommy guilt, but by and large I am really pretty OK with the imperfect balance I'm making of things. (When I am in emotional or physical crisis or panic mode, which thankfully has been a very rare and as-these-things-go-mild occurrence, these issues do come out more.) But man does this book bring everything out. Momma leaves their family, I am convinced, for exactly that reason. Dicey is less prone than just about anyone else in the world to that sort of fear, but it's a natural consequence of the situation she's in. I mean, she's facing these impossible odds and if she does fail, the brunt of the failure comes down on her siblings. AGH. (It was hard for me even to type that.) Interestingly, "disaster" books that are similar in that the protagonist strikes out against terrible odds, but the potential consequences fall on the protagonist alone (I'm looking at you, Hatchet) don't bother me at all, it's specifically the letting down family part that gets to me.

(I had to read the end first, to make sure they made it okay — obviously they did, but I had to remind myself viscerally. After about a chapter, I also then had to read the middle with Eunice, to steel myself for it — and like I said, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought I remembered. Then I was mostly all right — I think also that reading Solitary right before this steeled me a little, because I'm able to maintain some distance from what Melody does, and I was able to kind of carry that over into this book.)

Anyway, so I read it and it was (of course) amazing and there are things that are really cool re-echoed throughout the series. I will say that it does have a bit of first-book-in-a-series feel to me; reading it after all the other books, instead of before, I feel that she had only 80% worked out what was going to be in the other books (occasionally there was something I blinked at, like Millie saying they don't bother Abigail — I suspect Voigt would have written that slightly differently if she'd written it after Dicey's Song) instead of, like, 99%, but even that — well, you see that by working from the other books I'm working from an impossibly high standard.

This one's theme is really easy. Home. It's even in the title. What is it, who is it, how do you get there, how do you find it, how do you make it. Home not only for the Tillerman children, but for Gram. For Gram, there are two different homes, of course: the home she made for herself, all by herself, after her husband died.(*) And there's the home that she didn't want, or at least told herself she didn't want, but got anyway, the home with four children in it, the home that is also (and finally, at long last) a family.

In this book, there's a red sweater, which [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard had previously pointed out to me (in Runner) as Bullet's. (I don't think it's the identical sweater in Runner, since Liza was long gone by that time, but we know Bullet's favorite color is red, and he probably had several red sweaters.) It's a man's sweater with holes in it, it's what Momma was wearing when she left them (as described by Dicey later). I… don't know how it makes me feel if I think that Liza was thinking about Bullet when she left her family.

Mildred also pointed out to me that the second half of the book mirrors the first, and it's the sort of thing I probably wouldn't have noticed if it hadn't been pointed out to me, but it really does. It's interesting to me not only how Eunice and Gram are mirrored, but also how Will and Claire are mirrored by Windy and Stewart; both sets of people rescue them and are helpful in getting them to their destination, but the latter… don't care about them, really, and one might expect that once you helped a set of four kids you might come back later and see if they were actually doing OK. As Will and Claire do.

Okay, I'm sure there's lots of other stuff I was going to talk about, but I can't find my copy right now, so it will have to wait.

(*) also, by the way, the chronology is finally falling into place for me! In Runner, James has probably just been born or is about to be born (Frank says that in the last letter he got, Liza said she thought she was pregnant again, and I totally could see at least half a year going by since then). In Homecoming, he's 10 — so Homecoming takes place ten, at most eleven years after Runner. (Also, I always thought of Gram as being really old — I think because of the name Gram — but she must not be any older than 60 in Dicey's Song, and very likely in her 50's.) Grandfather Tillerman died 4 years before Homecoming, so — oh geez — that means six years, at least, of the two of them alone. Without any children. Without even a phone. And maybe on the whole it's a relief to Abigail, because no children means no hostages, but… still. STILL.

…gosh, can you imagine Homecoming if the grandfather were still alive. Actually, let's not.
cahn: (Default)
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).

Cut for length. )
cahn: (Default)
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.
cahn: (Default)
...why yes, I'm still working on posting stuff I started back in August. So. The rest of the Tillerman Cycle (I'm not reading Homecoming), and these form a set for vaguely-spoilery reasons (see Seventeen Against the Dealer).

The Runner (4/5): The book about the "older generation" (mostly the Tillermans' dead uncle, Bullet, as a high school kid). Here we actually get to meet Francis/Frankie Verricker, the Tillermans' father, who's pretty much absent in the rest of the cycle. In terms of the overarching family theme of the cycle, this is the book where we see a family that fails (but because Voigt is so good at drawing characters and families as realistically complicated, this family also succeeds in some small and surprising ways), as opposed to all the other books, where we see families that are struggling to make things work in different kinds of ways, and by-and-large succeeding. It's also clearly the big setup for Come a Stranger, and the big emotional payoff of that one.

Sons From Afar (4/5): I really like this one. James and Sammy decide they need to find out about their dad. And they find — and I love this — that there are no easy answers and no good answers, in the end, there's just you and the people you love and what you choose to make of that. I think I like it because I like James, a lot; I love how he's smart and conflicted and tries to fit in and sacrifices his integrity for that and then finds that there's an integrity of the mind that he can't sacrifice. I love how he's cowardly and courageous at the same time. I'd love to find out what happened to him as a grownup.

I like the idea of Sammy and James both as different sides of Grandfather Tillerman — that between them they have all the sides that caused him to fail, and to fail his family, and to be unhappy, but because their family works, those same traits help them instead of hurting them.

Seventeen Against the Dealer (3+/5): Ummmmm. Yeah. It's a depressing book (though ultimately uplifting) and the one where Dicey loses her way before finding it again. The interesting thing about this one is Cisco Kidd.

I'm afraid I'm a very unironic reader of books that I love (though hand me some obnoxious YA dystopia, and we'll talk), and Cut. )
cahn: (Default)
These, with Come a Stranger, make up my favorite Tillerman books:

Dicey's Song (4/5): A young person of my acquaintance pointed out to me a while back that if something won the Newberry medal, it was likely because something horribly tragic happened near the end. So, y'know. This one won the Newberry.

I wasn't expecting to like this one on reread as much as I did, or be as emotionally engaged, but the end breaks me down every time. It isn't the main tragedy (or at least not just that): it's the part where Dicey and Gram go into the wood store afterwards. Because — and I'm quite fortunate, I know, to have only the most shallow of understandings of this -- sometimes it's not the thing that happens that breaks you, it's when someone gives you kindness you weren't expecting, or an acquaintance or stranger you wouldn't give two thoughts to otherwise, or vice versa, gives you a deep understanding you hadn't thought anyone could.

It's about reaching out, and letting go.

(Also, wow, after reading Come a Stranger, yeah, Dicey's interactions with Mina, like the bit where Dicey totally shuts Mina down when she wants to visit, totally could be interpreted by an observer as extremely racist if you weren't privy to Dicey's internal monologue or didn't know about her Issues.)

A Solitary Blue (5/5): I was afraid I wouldn't love this book as much as I did when I first read it, but no worries. I cannot explain why I adore this book so much. I don't see why it speaks to me in a way that none of the other Tillerman books quite do, but it does. I think it's because the way Jeff thinks internally is sort of kind of like the way I think internally, even though his experiences are nothing like mine, and he has some qualities I do not have. (And it's kind of amazing that she wrote almost every book with a different protagonist, and they all have different modes of internal thought.)

Also, man, totally setting up Jeff's particular Issues for Seventeen Against the Dealer.
cahn: (Default)
4/5. I seem to have fallen into a Tillerman series reread, in the sense that I picked up this book from the shelf a month ago while E was sick, was (as usual) stunned by how much I still loved it, and now I’m reading all the rest of them too, completely out of order (except possibly for Homecoming, which I find too painful to read and have never actually finished).

I like A Solitary Blue better than Come a Stranger, but let’s face it, I am hopelessly in love with the Tillerman series in general, and you’re just going to have to deal with my squeeing about all of them. So, you know, I have this huge bias going in. These books are the last set of books I’ve actually fallen in love with as an adult. (Bujold was the penultimate set. Sutcliff I know I would have fallen in love with had I read it as a kid, but now it’s just a strong like.)

Come a Stranger was the hardest one for me to find when I first read all of these around five (?) years ago (all the other ones were available from the library, and this one I had to request specially, although it has a respectable number of reviews on amazon, and has since been rereleased and my library now owns it, and I own it too). It is the one about a black girl, Mina Smiths, Dicey’s friend.

It is a wonderful book, like all the Tillerman books. Mina finds out that sometimes people are prejudiced against black people more than she thinks they are, but the book isn’t about that. She makes friends with Dicey, and in the process finds out that people aren’t always as prejudiced as she thinks they are, but the book isn’t about that. We see some of the events of Dicey’s Song from Mina’s point of view, but the book isn’t about that. Mina has a quasi-romantic entanglement (slightly more about that later) but the book is most emphatically not about that.

It’s about — it’s about life, and the relationships we make, and love, and growing up, and living in the world. It’s about being human and what makes us human.

One of the things it’s about, without making a big deal out of it, is — Mina’s family. It’s very background, no attention is paid to it at all. There’s no huge drama or conflict; the interfamily conflicts that do exist are the kinds of short-term ones that every family has, and in fact the biggest family drama in the book has nothing to do with Mina herself. And yet on this reread I found myself noticing very strongly how Mina’s family plays into who Mina herself is, and how that compares and contrasts with how Dicey’s family plays into who Dicey is, and Jeff’s family, and Dicey’s mother’s family, and how their strengths and weaknesses are supported or exacerbated by family… I think this whole series is a seven-book rumination on family. And I love that. And I love that it manages to do so in such a quiet way that I never really explicitly noticed until now. (Of course it’s hard not to realize it for the Tillermans themselves! But the themes are deeper than I realized. I even think that each book taken by itself is not necessarily about family, but the cycle as a whole is clearly about family.)

So one thing that is more in the foreground is that Mina falls in love with — well, someone where a working romantic relationship is not at all possible. And there are so many ways this could have gone terribly wrong, and in another author's hands it would have, and it — doesn’t. It’s exactly right, in my estimation.

(I probably won’t natter on quite so much about all the other books, but this one is special to me, if only because it was so hard for me to find.)
cahn: (Default)
In case anyone else is interested. (This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are the things I think would be most fun to read in the company of others.)

In the next week: John M. Ford’s Klingon novel, The Final Reflection (reread), in the hopes [personal profile] sineala will also reread. If anyone else does read this, and even if you don’t, I shall ask all the dumb questions I still don’t understand about this book. (I seem to remember some confusion about Maxwell Grandisson III and Van Diemen and who was responsible for whose fate. We shall see!)

In the next month or so: Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman cycle (reread), completely out of order, and probably not including Homecoming, which I find so painful I’ve never actually gotten all the way through it. I’ve got a post on Come a Stranger queued, and probably will read The Runner, Sons from Afar, and Seventeen Against the Dealer in that order. Then probably I’ll give Homecoming a stab, and then Dicey’s Song and A Solitary Blue. (I, um, don't recommend this order if you're reading it for the first time. Start with Dicey's Song or Solitary Blue and work more-or-less in order of publication.)

In the next three months: Moby-Dick. I say three months because what with various Summer Plans I suspect it will take me that long to get through it, although of course I hope it doesn’t take that long!

In the fall: Cordwainer Smith’s short stories with [personal profile] duckwhatduck! And possibly some Baudelaire. I've never read any Baudelaire, but apparently "Drunkboat" would make a lot more sense if I had.

(Fall reading will, of course, be ramping up to Yuletide, so if there's anything else I should read for Yuletide then feel free to lecture me about it ;) I think maybe I should read Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London novels? What else?)

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