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June 1, 2016 – Notes

 In attendance: Liz Clarke, Vivian Krone, Janice Loschiavo, Lois Pagnozzi, Meta Pitrelli, Sharon Rome, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali, Marilyn Sinisi, Joan Swensen

Absent: Cathy Quinn

Emeritus: Donna Sabetta, Jeri Stangl.

Book & Author: Miller’s Valley, by Anna Quindlen.

The meeting started with happy news that Cathy was feeling very well after her hip operation the day before. The group gathered round and wished her a speedy recovery on a video sent to her by Tina’s iPhone. We learned that Vivian has a trip to Greece this month, while Liz, Janice and Tina will be visiting Ireland. Before discussing Miller’s Valley, ideas on the 100th book were tossed around:

  • A novel by Joyce Carol Oates.
  • The Hayden Herrera biography of Frida Kahlo.
  • Tender Bar, a memoir by J. R. Moehringer.
  • Georgia, an historical romance about Georgia O’Keefe, by Dawn Tripp.
  • The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Love in the Time of Cholera, both by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Questions and notes regarding Miller’s Valley:

  • Barbara opened the discussion by asking: What constitutes a good family? Were the Millers a normal family? Would you have wanted to belong to this family?
  • The responses included: The Millers were like any other family. They had happy and sad times; they had good and bad elements. Belonging to this family could be heaven for some – what if you didn’t have anyone? Normalcy comes in many forms. This family was very much affected by their surroundings.
  • Some members were disappointed with the “lightness” of the book, having expected more from author Quindlen. To them, the book was a “breather” or like a Hallmark movie.
  • Lois read from the Times review: “…some of what’s unknown stays unknown, which burnishes her story with a kind of haunting grace and truthfulness. Here, in this novel, where so much is about what vanishes, there is also a deep beating heart, of what also stays.”
  • What is not certain is whose baby is found in the attic. It seems as if it is Ruth’s by Buddy, but this is not clarified. The relationship between the two is surmised because of Miriam’s coldness with her sister, and Buddy’s companionship with Ruth after his stroke.
  • Tommy was a lost kid. Kids can go wrong whether in the city or the country. Is he alive at the end? Either dead or in jail, was the consensus.
  • The mother was a great withholder of affection, except with Tommy. But she was a dedicated nurse, and kept the family organized and functioning. She also was adamant about her daughter getting an education and was completely supportive. She probably knew about her daughter’s abortion but said nothing.
  • Donald was a favorite character of Meta, but Barbara found him boring. The group agreed that it was a shame that Mimi wasn’t so into Donald sexually. Yet all agreed that Steve would have been a disaster as a mate, however good their sex life was. The fact that Donald loved Mimi her whole life was very seductive.
  • The flooding of the land was symbolic of starting over. Mimi realized that the powers that be had been flooding the land all along.
  • Mimi returns to her roots by marrying Donald and returning to the valley.
  • LaRhonda wasn’t a great friend and never changed. It was always about her. Some felt that she was a victim of her own family.
  • What do we all long for in a family? A family takes away the feeling of loneliness.

After reviewing the list of our books and their ratings, we realize that they seem arbitrary. (I believe we say this every month!) All we can do is go forward. There was some discussion of ratings having been altered post facto (St. Therese?) but no action was taken. This book earned a 2.75 rating while the food earned a 4.

Signals about who brings what may have gotten crossed since there were almost enough desserts for each person to have one to herself. There was also enough fruit to start a small roadside stand. Members are asked to pay strict attention to next month’s food assignments.

A belated happy birthday was sung to Lois. The group oohed and aahed about Joan’s glorious peonies and some of us were lucky enough to bring some fluffy white and pink flowers home with us.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, July 6, beginning at 5:00 p.m., at Joan’s house in Mahwah. Lois will bring the King’s salad; Sharon will bring a dessert; Marilyn will bring a green salad; Vivian will bring fruit; Tina will bring appetizers.

Next Book: selected by Meta, is Ian McEwan’s The Children Act. If you are ahead of us, the August 3 book chosen by Cathy is Dead Wake, by Eric Larsen.

Submitted by Tina Segali

June 5, 2016

NY Times Review of The Children Act

Many of Mr. McEwan’s earlier works, like “Black Dogs,” “Enduring Love” and “Saturday” (2005), have been concerned with rationalism and science, and the limits of reason when it comes to grappling with a frightening, chaotic world and the mysteries of the human spirit. Fiona is very much an avatar of that reasoned, logical approach to life. As a judge, she thinks, “she belonged to the law as some women had once been brides of Christ”; she believes in rules and reasonableness and exactitude.

Like one of those Hawthorne characters who is guilty of the sin of intellectual pride, Fiona prizes the mind over the heart. Jack, her husband of 35 years, has accused her of being cold and “no fun”: He abruptly announces that he intends to have an extramarital affair, because Fiona hasn’t had sex with him for “seven weeks and a day,” and he says he needs some passion back in his life. Fiona herself worries that she is “selfish, crabbed, dryly ambitious.”

Immediately after Jack’s alarming announcement and departure from their apartment, Fiona must start dealing with the Adam Henry transfusion case, a case she finds she cannot grapple with tidily through the careful weighing of evidence and precedent. In fact, the combination of her marital woes and her growing emotional involvement with Adam — who reminds her of her own childlessness — will derail the gleaming smooth trajectory of her life, which she has been on since girlhood.

This setup is all extremely schematic, and Mr. McEwan’s stilted description of the showdown between Fiona and Jack is almost as implausible and mannered as the ridiculous exchanges between the newlyweds in his artless 2007 novel, “On Chesil Beach.”

It’s hard to believe that Jack would suddenly blow up their marriage of more than three decades by abruptly declaring his determination to have an affair, or that Fiona would have so little knowledge of his discontent over the years. The confluence of her sudden domestic crisis with the upsetting Adam Henry case feels equally contrived, as though the author were perfunctorily plugging his characters into a freeze-dried story without bothering to try to make any of it feel real.

The narrative picks up when Mr. McEwan turns his attention to the developing relationship between Fiona and Adam. Mr. McEwan did an inspired job of depicting Briony, the teenage girl in “Atonement” whose impulsive lie results in the shattering of her family, and here he delineates Adam with acuity, capturing the boy’s intelligence, naïveté and instinct for self-dramatization.

Adam is, at once, eager to become a martyr — to fulfill what he thinks are his parents’ expectations, and in doing so, become a doomed Romantic hero — and also longing to be allowed to live and investigate the world beyond his parents’ circumscribed existence. Fiona sees him as the son she never had, while at the same time pouring much of her emotional upset about her collapsing marriage into Adam’s case.

Matters do not end with her court decision. Adam will try to insinuate himself into Fiona’s life, eliciting a reaction from her that will have fateful consequences for them both. The suspense in the last half of the book (unlike that in the novel’s opening chapters) is genuine, because it stems not from artificially concocted plot points, but because it goes to the question of who Fiona really is, and whether she has learned anything from earlier events about herself or the human yearning for connection.

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