cahn: (Default)
[personal profile] cahn
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.)

Date: 2017-08-10 11:42 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
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 have to admit, when I first read this as a kid, my reaction to the guy who doesn't like authority and flouts arbitrary rules and wants to join the military was severe cognitive dissonance. It was almost difficult for me to concentrate on enjoying the book because I was so busy making speeches at him.

Like, dude. I'm from a military family. The military is the most micromanaging environment you can imagine. Your father wanting control for the sake of control has nothing on the military. Their goal is to break down your sense of individuality and make you into a mindless automaton so they can overcome your natural instincts and send you into combat to die. Here you are, refusing to run track because you don't want to stay in the lines, and you think the military will be a more congenial environment? You have no idea what you're getting yourself into.

My takeaway was "kid flees abusive family, ends up in environment exactly reproducing his upbringing. Typical."

Nowadays, with more historical context on the draft, etc., and his epiphany, I'm willing to accept that maybe it was the best of a bad set of options. I still get some cognitive dissonance, though.

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.

Okay, so it's not just me! It's incomprehensible, right? I always read the laconic Gram passages with an urge to shake her and/or Voigt by the shoulders and shout, "What? WHAT? Tell me!!"

“I don’t want you making the mistake of thinking life isn’t going to be hard,” she said again.

“I know that,” Dicey said.

“I guess you do. I’m a natural fool,” Gram said, “I keep trying to count on things. And Sammy’s too young for that long bike ride. Maybe,” Gram said.

Dicey knew what the woman was thinking, how the connections were made behind her eyes. But she was glad nobody was there to hear how Gram’s mind jumped around.


That passage always made me feel a little better, because I'm not Dicey but at least there's some acknowledgement that that non sequitur wouldn't make sense to anyone else in the world either.

I finally, on my last reading, figured out this one:

“She didn’t. Came right in the back door. Like certain other people,” Gram said, looking at Dicey who had done just that, that first day they came. “Not what you’re thinking,” Gram said quickly to Mina.

“I didn’t think it was,” Mina answered just as quickly.


It drove me crazy for years, because I felt like we, the readers, were actually supposed to know what Gram didn't mean this time, and I couldn't. It was a huge *aha* moment when I finally figured out that she meant black people going through separate entrances, which is a piece of historical context I probably didn't have when I first read this book.

Although looking for that passage, I ran across this one in Stranger,

“She came to the back door,” Mrs. Tillerman announced. Then the woman’s face turned back to Mina. “Not what you think,” she said. Mina could have laughed aloud.

“I know,” she said. Mrs. Tillerman’s mind just jumped around, and Mina guessed she could understand how she got her reputation.


I find that interesting in 2 ways. One is the acknowledgement that, yeah, it really is confusing, and the other is that the dialogue is subtly different. Same meaning, different phrasing. Whereas, at least for the Chappelle passage in Song and Solitary, the dialogue is verbatim identical:

“Hey, Dicey. I hear you put Chappelle into his place.”

“That wasn’t me, that was Mina. Do you know Mina?”

“Everybody knows Mina."

“Yeah. Everybody knows you, too, friend.”

“That’s what they think. So, was this essay as good as everybody says?”

“No, of course not. But it was pretty good.”



“Hey, Dicey. I hear you put Chappelle into his place.”

“That wasn’t me, that was Mina. Do you know Mina?”

“Everybody knows Mina.”

“Yeah. Everybody knows you too, friend.”

“That’s what they think. So, was this essay as good as everybody says?”

“No, of course not. But it was pretty good.”


How's that for cross-referencing? ;) And according to Kindle, I have now officially opened and searched all 7 of the Tillerman books in the last hour. <3 e-books.

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.

Yeah, there is a *lot* going on in this book. It's thematically very dense for such a short, easy-to-read book. All of them are, but as you note, maybe especially this one.

Wow, I have not been cross-referencing the chronology this closely, so thank you for the Maybeth insight.

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).

When I read that one recently, my reaction was a big WTF. What did she ever do? She's most likely another victim of Frankie's lies, as the Tompkins line shows. I'm sorry, but destroying somebody's car because they're hanging out with a deadbeat dad is not only not proportionate, it's not even aimed at the right person. (I have a similar "whoa there" reaction to the song "Before He Cheats", but at least there it's the guy's car, even though the singer is trash-talking the girlfriend while she's at it.)

But yeah, believe it or not based on my comments here, this was always one of my favorite Tillerman books, possibly just behind Homecoming, or tied with Song. Patrice is one of my favorite characters, to the point where I borrowed his "I will cunningly talk under torture and escape and warn everyone before the enemy can use the info" plan for a character in my current WIP. I want Patrice fic. (Which reminds me, I think I have a vague memory of the same John fic you have a vague memory of, I should reread too.)

Date: 2017-08-26 03:26 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
Now I want the fic where Tamer's poking him to realize that he can run relays after all has decided consequences in the military, where beginning-of-book!Bullet would have discharged out hard but end-of-book!Bullet becomes a hero instead…

Ooh, I love this idea! Even better if it includes Bullet's "get religion" to Tamer.

OH GOOD I'm not the only one who thinks these laconic passages are impossible to understand, although I was kind of hoping I was in the sense that then someone would be able to explain all these passages to me!

I know, me too! Why can't you explain them to me? :P

Yeesh, I went back and read what I wrote and it totally sounds like I approve of him bashing in the car of a perfectly innocent person. Which, um, no! Eek. Not okay at all! Just wanted to make that clear :)

Oh, no, I figured you didn't mean that in real life you would condone this behavior! I often distinguish between what I'm cheering characters on to do in fiction and what behavior I would want to see in real life (probably another reason I mostly read only very escapist works). I just meant that in this particular case, again probably because it's set in the modern-day real world, I'm so focused on the disconnect between his action (hurt Honey) and his motivation (hurt Frank) that I don't get the psychological satisfaction from his car-bashing. I totally understand that you do, though! I certainly get a lot of vicarious satisfaction from the unacceptable violence of other characters. *cough* Achilles *cough*

I don't remember Bullet ever thinking about the car again either, which is interesting. Now I'm curious how that played out!

Date: 2017-09-11 02:07 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
Oooh, good question. ALL THE CHARACTERS, yes. But Gram especially, maybe.

Date: 2017-09-12 02:15 pm (UTC)
mildred_of_midgard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mildred_of_midgard
Ha!

Btw, I'm too short on time to reply to your thought experiments, but it occurred to me that there's a passage in Solitary Blue that exactly encapsulates everyone's experiences trying to teach me the simplest things at the piano. Down to the part where this is a normally highly intelligent person failing utterly.

Jeff tried to teach the Professor how to catch crabs, but his father’s hands were clumsy. Somehow, his crabs always swam off from the bait before the Professor could net them. “I don’t know how you do it,” the Professor said to Jeff.

“I don’t know how you can’t,” Jeff answered.

“High natural ineptitude,” the Professor said. “I’d rather read anyway.”


HIGH NATURAL INEPTITUDE, that's me. Also, I would rather read!

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