Monthly Archives: February 2008

February’s Cafe Parlez: The Giant’s House

Tonight we’re discussing Elizabeth McCracken’s “The Giant’s House: A Romance”.  Chocolate features heavily in the refreshments tonight.  We have lovely chocolate cake from Lois, our monthly baker, brownies from Jen, and fruit, just to balance things out.  The cake is fantastic!!

Elizabeth McCracken subtitles this book “a romance”.  Was it?  Well, not in the traditional sense.  30-year-old professional women don’t go around falling in love with giant teenage boys.  People like the writing style, and agree that Peggy is insane, but funny.  MS thinks it was “deliciously wierd”.   She’s saying that Peggy was given a gift, the gift of being in love.  She has the ability to focus on “the other”.  Did she see him as an oddity, like herself.  She didn’t experience much love as a child.   She is always viewing her own life as a spectator.  ED thinks that’s an excuse. 

James, the giant boy, was kind of an innocent.  She didn’t act on her feelings in an inapropriate way.  She may have been as innocent as he was.  Why did she love James so much?  Maybe because she was an outcast, like he was.  Maybe there was some sort of mother feelings for her, as she had been distant from her mother, and James’ mother was crippled. 

Are we defining “love” too narrowly?  MTR thinks that what he could provide for her was what she was in love with him.  She provided nothing for him, but took from him.  Her love was all self-centered; she didn’t care to know him very well. 

People like Astoria, the library assistant.  Is Peggy a librarian because she’s a control freak?   Does Peggy use James as a control thing?  Or was it an obsession?  LS feels like Peggy was a voyeur, she was trying to live her life through James.  She felt very uncomfortable.  The book describes tourists looking through the window, and feels that Peggy is looking through a window. 

The ending was so “out there”.  Some feel that the author was trying to end the story somehow and suddenly brings in James’ father to have an affair with Peggy.  Why does she say it’s James’ baby???  Would it have been a bigger scandal if she said who’s baby it really was?  MS says the group created a family of sorts.  It was inevitable that she would sleep with James’ father.  She was so focused on James that she wasn’t able to focus on the child she had.  Self-perpetuating.  She wanted James out of this, and, when she didn’t get him, she distanced herself from her child.

James’ mother is fragile, which  makes James more mature than most children his age.  People who have been around children who have depilitating diseases have found that they have  something, maybe it’s wisdom, something special.  They live in the moment, which is something we need to learn to do.  We all live in fast forward, thinking about what we need to do instead of living in the “now”.

Does being in love give you permission to love yourself?  The other person is not supposed to be making you happy; you are responsible to make yourself happy. 

How do strangers and friends react to James?  Stella doesn’t concentrate on his height, just sees the real person within.  She’s the opposite of Peggy.  Then there was Patty Flood, the Christian.  MS would’ve been glad not to have been with her.  But James liked her and missed her, because she didn’t talk about him. 

Why did “Rocket Bride” resemble James’ mother?  Possibly Oscar feels sorry for her so gave her a new life that she couldn’t have.   People like James’ aunt Carolyn.  She’s a good person.  James’ mother saw Peggy as competition.   She was paralyzed and couldn’t see beyond his problems.

Did everyone see James as a person?  The other kids seemed to when they were hanging out with him after school.  He had a lot of friends. 

What is it about us that fascinates us about the unusual people?  We don’t know.  It’s a sad comment on human beings.  Maybe it’s because we’re glad it’s not us.  Or maybe envious.   We make judgements so quickly. 

Time to go.  Next month’s book is “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez.  See you March 27!

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New Museum Passes

We have added two new museum passes: The New Bedford Whaling Museum, and the Mystic Aquarium.  The Whaling Museum pass allows one person free admission to the museum, and you may have a maximum of two passes.  The pass to the Mystic Aquarium is a discount admission of $14 per person.  As with the other passes, please reserve them in advance, and be sure to have your library card with you when you come to pick them up.

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Cafe Parlez for January – Dark Tide

Today’s theme is Molasses!  We have gingerbread and whipped cream, molasses cookies (very yum!), and cheese and crackers.  A full house tonight to discuss this book about the molasses flood of 1919.  First order of business, after the announcements, is to take a group shot to send to the author, who is a big supporter of book groups.

 A couple of us has family members who remember hearing about the flood.

People think that parts of this book seem like a novel.  Noone had looked at the court records ever, because of the time it happened: just before the police strike and the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, and at the end of World War I.

What surprised us most of the flood?  Most agree that the size of the wave was shocking and can’t imagine getting stuck in the molasses.    Also, people agree that the fact that water wouldn’t clear it up.  The big surprise is that we never learned about this before, when it happened in our own state.    The only other books are for children. 

People hearing about this book thought it was a joke, that molasses couldn’t cause a flood.  The other thing people were surprised about is the uses for the molasses back then. 

The group liked the characters, especially the watchman who warned everyone about the impending disaster.   LS also likes the brakeman of the train who stopped the next train by standing on the tracks.  MD likes the lawyer for the prosecution.   The Bad Guy was Arthur Jell, the president of the molasses company, who painted the tank brown to disguise the leaks rather than fix them.  The problems with construction of pretty nearly everything are disturbing.  You’d think Boston would’ve learned by this flood, but our experience with the Big Dig shows us that they havent.

What would happen today if this incident had happened recently?  We agree that it wouldn’t have been as civilized, as shown by the Big Dig lawsuit, and the September 11 suits. 

Are poor neighborhoods treated in the same way as the North End was in 1919?  At first people say no, but, as we examine it, we realize that this is happening in other countries, on Native Reservations, and in some poor neighborhoods.

The flood killed horses and rats, and probably helped to keep the rat population down in the spring.

Anarchists!  People didn’t know that the anarchists did so much damage back then.   This brings the Sacco and Vanzetti case into focus. 

MC thinks that this book has a lot in common with “Devil in the White City” or “Isaac’s Storm”, where greater world events were brought into the story, you get a sense of the time, the writing made the story interesting.  Some in the group like this sort of history book, where the people are brought out.  History is about the people involved, not just the dates and incidents. 

Big ol’ thumbs up for this book!  See you next month for “The Giant’s House”. 

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