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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.)
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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)
3+/5. This book was really painful for me to read, because it was so emotionally accurate. It's about a family with a daughter Tilly on the autism spectrum, variant PDD-NOS, Asperger's-like. Tilly is, I think, in 7th grade? She is exceptionally intelligent and also has an exceptional amount of information about her chosen topics (statues). She also has severe meltdowns, often in public, some for which the cause isn't necessarily known. She appears to have some sensory processing issues. She has a lot of social difficulty, including sexually explicit speech and using extremely derogatory terms (e.g., bitch) to describe everyone around her. She is kicked out of several schools, the last being a special-ed school for children like her. At the time of the book, she is being homeschooled, but even that is fraught. Her parents uproot their family to be part of a camp for special-needs children like Tilly, led by a charismatic child-advice guru who might or might not be the answer to their hopes.

Most of the book is from the perspective of Iris (Tilly's younger neurotypical sister) and Alexandra (the mother). Iris loves her sister, even often likes her; is ashamed of her sometimes, struggles with the sacrifices her family has to make for her sister. Alexandra bears a crushing weight of… everything, of feeling like a failure for Tilly's failures, of anxiety about what her child will become and what her life is going to be like.

And it was like reading about a dark mirror of my own life. Cut. )

Anyway. The only thing about it was that the descriptions were really stunning, the characterization and writing were great, but I felt like the ending was a little… abrupt, and it didn't quite deliver on the answers to all the hard emotional questions it was asking.

(edited 5-21-17 for wrong author, oops)
cahn: (Default)
Okay, I should maybe say something about the Hugos. In the book category, I plan to read Necessity and All the Birds in the Sky before the nomination deadline, but haven’t gotten to either yet. Some I did at least start reading:

Company Town (Madeline Ashby) - 3+. This one started really strongly, with great writing, a great POV character, some really interesting things going on with the worldbuilding. If it had ended as strongly I would have given it a 4; sadly, I felt like the ending was rushed and uneven (and didn’t address a couple of pretty major plot threads) to the point where at one point I was like, “What’s going on?” And the love interest had pretty much zero character. But worth reading nevertheless.

The Obelisk Gate (N.K. Jemisin) - 3+. I liked it. It is a second book of a trilogy, so, you know. But... so, in the first book I was able to put aside Jemisin's somewhat stark viewpoints because the writing was so strong, and here it starts to poke at me. So: one of the major questions of this book is, “When are negative actions toward a child necessary in pursuit of a greater good?” The book seems to come down on “Never!” by using a lot of straw men like breaking a child’s hand. Which, okay, yeah, I agree is probably never necessary.

But if you’re ever in my house around toothbrushing time, the toddler feels that toothbrushing is a Very Negative Action, thank you very much, and is not afraid of disseminating this opinion at Great Volume. I mean, you guys! I feel really awful brushing his teeth! I feel like I’m torturing him! I constantly have to tell myself that it’s for the greater good of him not getting cavities, which would definitely be worse. I think I'm right, darn it.

And then there’s E’s music practice, which is complicated by my never knowing whether it’s going to end in total disaster or a happy sunny child. We’ve definitely had practices where both of us are in total despair afterwards — because kiddo Hates Mistakes and they are liable to send her into a spiral of meltdown — but, I mean, she’s got to learn how to make them! (And we are talking a LOT about how it's okay to make mistakes, that I would rather her deal well with mistakes than play it perfectly, that the Right Answer isn't as important as trying, etc. ad infinitum.) So I do have meta-reasons for doing this. And sometimes she really likes it! And she likes performing! So I don’t even know.

Anyway, that is all to say that I felt some sympathy for Essun teaching her daughter in maybe not the most considerate and sweet way because it was the way she thought would save the kid’s life? And, I mean, she might even have been right considering what happened to her other children? I don't think I was supposed to feel sympathy for Essun; the book pretty clearly comes down on the side of the daughter, here. And I think the question is more nuanced and interesting than Jemisin is willing to admit, and the book suffers for it.

Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, I think this is actually a novella) - 3. I actually love McGuire’s style here — it’s sort of this half-fairy-tale-ish-but-still-in-this-world quality, with some nice set pieces. And I admit I came in with low expectations which the book exceeded. All the negative things people have said about it are true (see e.g. [personal profile] rachelmanija’s review (no explicit spoilers) and [personal profile] ase’s spoilery review) but I didn’t really think about them too hard while I was reading. The funny thing is, the part that threw me out of the book was the part where people talk about the “directions” of fairy lands being, instead of north/south and east/west, wicked/virtue and logic/nonsense, with some “minor directions” in there. Those are not directions! You are not navigating by them! Those are descriptive/categorization axes.

There were two big issues I had, which are somewhat related to each other.First, most of the worlds where the girls went (and specifically Nancy’s) set off all my power-dynamic relationship squicks — I mean, older powerful dude going after young naive teenage girl who feels like she doesn’t belong, telling her that she’s wonderful and fits in and things are different with him and oh by the way he controls literally everything, and hey wouldn’t you like to leave your family and friends forever and be with me? Yeah. Do Not Like. Partially because of this, I disliked the ending intensely. Slightly spoilery. )

Too Like the Lightning (Ada Palmer) - DNF. On paper this book looks like it should be everything that delights me (rich complex future history, world-breaking sorts of events, lots of allusion, lots of historical resonance, lots of implicit statements) - I feel like… I was expecting Hild or John M. Ford and got something sort of weirdly not either? Also I suspect if I knew way more about the French Enlightenment I would appreciate this more. Also I felt decidedly as if she was trying too hard with the gender stuff, like, Mycroft keeps saying how they live in a gender-neutral society and then he is constantly bringing up gender, gender roles, gender stereotypes... Which I guess is kind of the point, but I felt like Palmer was telling me rather than showing (compare for instance Leckie’s Ancillary books, which make a much stronger point to me by being very quiet and matter-of-fact about its pronouns and describing how other people react to it).

Ninefox Gambit (Yoon Ha Lee) - DNF. Again I feel like maybe I’m not the right audience for this book, because I know a bunch of people really liked it, and on paper it seems really great (militaristic science fantasy with math words being used instead of “magic” words, with honor and belonging/place being a huge part of the culture) but 20% in I didn’t care about any of the characters at all or understand why they cared about their really pretty awful society, so I bailed.

Iron Cast (Destiny Soria) - DNF. Again on paper this seems great - Prohibition era AU with blood magic, manifested through music — this sounds awesome! I got bored and bailed after about three chapters. I dunno, maybe it was me.

Other stuff: I have to get some Related Work stuff in. Planning to look at Geek Feminist Revolution and there might be an Octavia Butler bio out there? Anything else I should be looking at?

Short fic post sometime this weekend, I hope.


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