January 4, 2017 – Notes

 In attendance:  Liz Clarke, Vivian Krone, Janice Loschiavo, Lois Pagnozzi, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali, Marilyn Sinisi

Absent: Meta Pitrelli, Cathy Quinn, Sharon Rome, Joan Swenson

Emeritus: Donna Sabetta, Jeri Stangl.

Book & Author: The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

Liz treated the group to a wonderful meal with the most delicious vegetables plus mashed potatoes. We suspected that these were actually made especially for Steve, who joined us at the table after some cajoling.

Notes and comments:

  • Liz gave a brief recap of the book; Barbara asked us which of the sisters we identified with; the book was well received by most of the group.
  • Was the intrusion of the present into the WWII narrative jarring? Did we guess who the older woman was? Did she know financial success? Was it typical for people who lived through the war or other tragic situations to not talk about what they experienced?
  • The relationship between Vianne and Beck was discussed at length. Although feelings between the two seemed to be growing, Beck was ultimately a soldier and had to do his duty. It was noted, however, that he did help when the child was sick.
  • Was the relationship between the sisters believable? Given the backstory provided by the author, it was.
  • Vianne’s love was mature; Isabelle’s was immature.
  • Was it a surprise that Vianne kept the baby that resulted from the rape by the Nazi officer? No, given that she had had many miscarriages.
  • What do you think of Vianne giving the list of Jews to the Nazis? Was it merely an act of cowardice or was there no other option?
  • Men go off to war and suffer; women stay home and suffer, but in a different way. Vianne had to figure out how to survive and made decisions every day that were difficult and at times heart wrenching.
  • Does every oppressor utilize cruelty among its arsenal of weapons? Is the US capable of the torture that others have inflicted? The consensus was yes and led to the conclusion that the inhumanity of man is amazing.
  • Barbara asked the group for their favorite WWII book or movie. Responses included Unbroken, Schindler’s List, and
  • Should Ari have been handed over to his Jewish relatives instead of being allowed to stay with Vianne? Would his new family have told him of Vianne? Did you find the ending (Ari in the audience) a little contrived?

The book received a 3.0 rating, after which the usual discussion of the relevance of the rating system occurred but in a roundabout way.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, February 8, beginning at 5:00 p.m., at Barbara’s house, 611 Beverly Road in Teaneck. Barbara promised to continue the tradition of Chinese food and Valentine’s Day chocolates. Please check in before the meeting to see who is bringing dessert, lottery tickets, refreshments.

Next Book: selected by Liz, is John Grisham’s The Whistler. Since Vivian won’t be here for the March meeting, she’ll hold off her selection until April. Janice’s selection for March is Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh.

Submitted by Tina Segali

January 8, 2017

Here is Janet Maslin’s review of The Whistler from the NY Times:

John Grisham has now written 29 legal thrillers and fought harder for truth, justice and the American way than anyone this side of Superman. His values don’t change, and neither do his tactics, but the Grisham formula hasn’t gotten old. Or older. When he’s on his game, as he is with his latest, “The Whistler,” it really works.

His novels for adults, as likely to appear in October as falling leaves, involve some form of injustice. They reveal things about the law that many readers probably don’t know. And they do not make it difficult to tell good from evil. Bad equals the death penalty. Good equals those of whom it can be said, “they were smart and unpretentious, didn’t make a lot of money but were dedicated to their work.”

“The Whistler” is a huge improvement on the book that preceded it, last October’s “Rogue Lawyer.” That one was so reminiscent of Michael Connelly’s “Lincoln Lawyer” that there was reason to fear that Mr. Grisham might be running out of inspiration. Maybe he just needed a break from his long string of male protagonists, because the main character in “The Whistler” is a seriously appealing woman: Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. Through a long string of amazing coincidences, this book winds up pitting Lacy against the Honorable Claudia McDover, “a Florida gal who just happens to be the most corrupt judge in the history of America.”

The issue of overseeing judicial ethics might be enough of a hook on its own. But Mr. Grisham involves all of this book’s characters with a tract of Native American land that has welcomed gambling and the way it exists outside Florida law. The small Tappacola tribe has welcomed a group of mobsters, known as the Coast Mafia, to indulge in unlimited development in tribal land (despoiling nature equals terrible) in exchange for a share of the casino’s profits. None of this would have been possible without the help of the aforementioned judge, who had been contentedly accepting monthly cash bribes at the start of Mr. Grisham’s story.

“The Whistler” refers to a whistle-blower who secretly calls attention to corruption. If the corruption involves the kinds of crimes being committed by the Coast Mafia (including skimming and laundering the casino’s cash and hiding money offshore), not to mention the judge’s transgressions, the whistle-blower may receive a cash reward. But we don’t know this person’s motives — throughout most of the book we don’t even know who he or she is. We just know that Lacy has been contacted by an intermediary: an ex-con who lives on a nice boat, uses a fake name, drinks beer to Jimmy Buffett music and turns up to play the informant now and then.

Mr. Grisham’s new novel is a departure from his long string of male protagonists.

The book starts innocently enough, with the formerly married Lacy living alone and enjoying it while Hugo Hatch, her fellow investigator, struggles to make ends meet with a wife and four children. Their home base is Tallahassee. The casino development is also in the Florida Panhandle, though closer to Pensacola. The book’s ubervillain, a mob kingpin calling himself Vonn Dubose, has named one of his many golf communities there “Rabbit Run.” If this is a reference to John Updike, it’s a strange one.

Lacy and Hugo are close enough for Hugo’s stressed-out wife, Verna, sometimes to enlist Lacy as a babysitter. But the mundane disappears after Lacy and Hugo get a mysterious summons from a source. He would like to meet them in a remote spot near the Tappacola reservation late at night. For safety reasons, they should never have agreed to this. For the book’s purposes, it’s a major shot of adrenaline.

The stakes suddenly become much higher, and the suspense tightens after a relatively slow start. Lacy soon realizes what a dangerous situation she has gotten into — and like any Grisham hero, she is anything but cowed. She is more determined than ever to get to the heart of this realm of corruption, and the rest of the book digs deeper and deeper into an elaborate crime scheme. It is much worse than anything Lacy has ever imagined, let alone encountered.

Events and revelations are what keep Mr. Grisham’s books moving. It’s unlikely that anyone looks to him for sheer style. Without exactly being repetitious, he makes this story longer than it has to be; he’s terrific with short fiction, as his collection, “Ford County,” made so clear. And the dialogue can be generic, to put it mildly. As in: “It’s a complicated story and it only gets better”; “You seem to know more than you’re willing to tell”; and the classic “That’s not enough time,” followed by, “That’s all we have.”

Despite the bits of leaden language, Lacy does manage to come to life on the page. “The Whistler” also has a strong and frightening sense of place, painting part of the Panhandle as a lawless region where terrible things might happen, and do. And Mr. Grisham deserves credit for dependability: He is at heart an optimist who believes that wrongs can be ferreted out and righted. We could use a little of that these days.