I attended my first book club last month, and was a bit embarrassed to discover that I was the only person who had flagged pages and jotted down notes. I devoted 18 months of my graduate school completing my thesis on literature circles. For my first adult book club, I followed everything I had taught my students to do. Apparently, most adult book clubs are more laid back than the book clubs that took place in my classroom.
Nonetheless, I returned to my beloved post-it flags for the novel this month.
I enjoyed reading this novel so much that I completed all 400 pages in three days. It reminded me of Love Actually because it had several story lines that overlapped. The characters' connections to one another were slowly revealed and there were multiple flashbacks, which kept things interesting.
I also appreciated the epilogue. I require proper closure with books/movies. Whether I agree with the resolution is irrelevant; it's the fact that there is a decisive ending.
While reading the novel, there were so many passages where I thought "That's exactly how I feel" or "Hmm, I wonder if that's true". Here are some examples:
Describing Cecelia, the overachieving main character (p.12)
"...it seemed to perpetuate itself, so that her life was extraordinarily well organized, as if motherhood were a sport and she were a top athlete. It was like she was thinking, How far can I go with this? How much more can I fit in my life without losing control?"
- I loved this analogy. It's almost as if I take pleasure in pushing the boundaries on being a stable mom. Where else can I take them? What other craft or recipe can we make together? Can we do one more thing before somebody has a meltdown? How much more can I squeeze into the day without feeling like I've been hit by a truck?
Describing how Will could have kept a secret from his wife, Tess (p. 55)
"Family life, even with one little boy, had its own familiar rhythms, and it was perfectly possible to keep right on dancing like you always have, even where your mind is somewhere else."
- There is such monotony in married life with children. I hope I would notice if something/someone else was the center of Jesse's focus, but maybe not. Were Tess and Will completely out of sync with one another, or were they both so good at going through the motions that they fooled one another?
Describing Rachel's intense grief and anxiety over her deceased daughter (p.60)
"A steel vise wrapped around her chest and squeezed so she felt like she was suffocating and she gasped for air, but beneath her panic she could hear the weary, calm voice of experience: You've been here before. It won't kill you. It feels like you can't breathe, but you actually are breathing, It feels like you'll never stop crying, but you actually will."
- As someone who has suffered from panic attacks for over a decade, this passage describes my personal experiences with a startling accuracy. It's truly as if I'm suffocating but there's a slight voice of reason that assures me I'm okay. That voice of reason is harder to hear as the panic attacks escalate in intensity.
Cecilia read her husband's letter which revealed his secret. The following day, a very distraught Cecelia makes small talk with her mother-in-law, who says (p. 214):
"I don't need to tell you this, do I? You're a mother. You'd do anything for your children, just like I'd do anything for mine."
- Without spoiling major elements of the novel, the fact that the mother said this is very disturbing. It seems like an innocent enough statement that every mother would agree with. But, I'd like to think that the way she protected her child is something I would never do. Does this notion that you would do anything for your child have restrictions? Or is it completely black and white? What would I have done if I was the man's mother and knew of his secret?
Tess' thoughts as flirtations escalated with another man (p. 223)
"She had forgotten this: the way your senses exploded and your pulse raced, as if you were properly awake after a long sleep. She had forgotten the thrill, the desire, the melting sensation. It just wasn't possible after ten years of marriage. Everyone knew that. It was part of the deal. She'd accepted the deal. It had never been a problem. She hadn't even known she missed it. If she ever thought about it, it felt childish, silly--"sparks flying"--whatever, who cares, she had a child to care for, a business to run. But, my God, she's forgotten the power of it. How nothing else felt important. [...] Tess was busy with mundane married life."
- I have vivid memories of flying to Italy and being so completely consumed with desire for Jesse. I walked the streets of Rome, sipped wine in Tuscany, ate pizza in Naples. But most of my memories of that trip were thoughts of Jesse, who had just lost his grandfather and was thousands of miles away. Our relationship was new and exciting, past the awkward first dates, but still fresh where saying "I love you" sent chills down my spine. I had just decided that he was the man I wanted to spend my life with. That was nearly ten years ago, and while I have even greater love for him as the father of my children, that excitement will never be recreated.
Rachel was thinking about her relationship with her daughter-in-law, Lauren. (p. 311)
"She always pretended to herself that she didn't let Lauren help because she was trying to be the perfect mother-in-law, but really, when you didn't let a woman help, it was a way of keeping her at a distance, of letting her know that she wasn't family, of saying, I don't like you enough to let you into my kitchen."
- The only kitchens I walk around freely in are my sisters. And when I have a get-together at my house, it is expected that my sisters and mother-in-law will help. Am I subconsciously keeping other people at a distance by not letting them help? Or even worse, am I doing so consciously?
Tess' thoughts after talking to her husband about his feelings for Felicity (p. 361)
"When you were young, you talked about falling in love with such amusing gravity, as if it were an actual, recordable event, when what was it really? Chemicals. Hormones. A trick of the mind. She could have fallen in love with Connor. Easily. Falling in love was easy. Anyone could fall. It was holding on that was tricky."
- I have never thought about this before. I used to think you only had one soul mate in your life. But if that were true, how could widows happily remarry? The more I think about it, the more I wonder about the ease of falling in love. Falling in love with Jesse was easy, natural, and impossible to stop. Maintaining a happy marriage is much more challenging, even to the point of exhaustion at times.
There were many more passages I flagged, but they would have revealed integral parts of the plot. If you haven't read it, it was a very easy, interesting read with plenty of talking points. Bring it on, book club!