Swing for the Fences
Combat Snuggles Book Club - Volume 1, Number 4
The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires
Final Reading - Chapters 34-42
And this is how the vampire ends, not with a bang, but with the thwack of a bat swung by a suburban mom. The beginning of the end at least.
I am left with as many questions as I have answers at the end of this book, and I suppose that is how all good books end. Telling stories is as much about asking questions as it is about answering them. And ambiguity, uncertainty, and ambivalence are a big part of what it means to be human.
Or something beyond human.
I think the thing that I will carry forward most from this book are the ways that the human characters are almost as scary - scarier? - than the very literal monster. The avarice, callowness, and smallness of the men of Mt. Pleasant. The disturbing arc of young Blue, who seems poised for some real issues in his future, with problems that started well before James Harris arrived on the scene. The structural issues of race and gender that had such an impact on so many of the women in the story - issues that have a long way to go before anything that looks like resolution.
When we started this journey, I shared author Grady Hendrix’s vision that this story would “pit a man freed from all responsibilities but his appetites against women whose lives are shaped by their endless responsibilities.” In the end, the women with responsibilities won. That victory came with a cost.
We are left to ponder if that cost was worth it.
I leave you with these final questions (my answers in the comments):
1. Why didn’t anyone go to police after Slick was attacked? Do you think the women in this book were strong? Why or why not?
2. Who is the bad guy in the novel? Why?
3. Who is the heroine of this story? Why?
Our next book is an award winning work of speculative fiction that explores issues of time, memory, context and the nature of reality. There’s time travel, mystery, and exploration of purpose. It is Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.
Mandel has written two previous books - The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven - that were both exceptional. Station Eleven was adapted by HBO and the resulting miniseries was exceptional (although be forewarned that the novel and series are very different). The Glass Hotel and Sea of Tranquility are scheduled for adaptation as well.
Those of you who read the newsletter regularly know that I have been thinking a lot lately about the nature of time and memory, and how they work to define our reality. I am looking forward to thinking through some of these issues as we make our way through this book.
Our schedule will be as follows:
February 15 - Reading #1, chapters 1 - 3
February 22 - Reading #2, chapters 4 - 5
March 1 - Reading #3, Chapters 6 - 8
Happy reading, everyone. See you in a week!
Hendrix really nailed "southern hospitality". It was difficultfor me not to see James Harris as the personification of white supremacy, and the book club membership - and their spouses - response as common among Southern whites? Failing to see evil when it stares them in the face. In the end, children pay the ultimate price. Many similarities to the Southern system. Mrs Greene's consistent response to Patricia (et al) was one of doubt and suspicion. Brilliant! A complete lack of trust of the "Old Village". One of the better books I've read in a while.
1. Despite the affection and respect with which Hendrix approaches the women in the book, his portrayal also comes across as somewhat mocking at times. Patricia, while ostensibly the heroine, makes some truly baffling choices. The decision to not involve the police is just one.
2. I get that the easy answer is James Harris, but I think you could just as easily argue that it was the husbands, or even the whole patriarchal nature of “polite” Southern society.
3. Even though this story is centered on the women of the book club, I think that you can argue that they are insulated by privilege even in the horror that they faced. The women of Six Mile saw their children die, their homes destroyed, and their families scattered. This seems to me to be a pattern that has repeated in black communities in the south for the last 400 years - ironically (intentionally?) the same amount of time that James Harris has been alive. While Patricia gets the most “screen time,” I would argue that it is Mrs. Greene who is the true heroine of this story. It was she who trusted when she had no reason to. It was she who stood by for what was right consistently and unfailingly. It was she who cleaned up mess after mess - literally and figuratively - that she didn’t make.