June 2011 Read: Private Life

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June 2011 Read: Private Life

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Abr 26, 2011, 7:20pm

Just setting up the thread for a June 6 discussion of Private Life by Jane Smiley!

Editado: Jun 4, 2011, 9:09am

Why?!? Why are the scientists in books always crazy?

Jun 7, 2011, 8:28pm

LOL, Jen. I've been looking for our discussion and had to go back a few days to find it. I'll finish the book later tomorrow. I've had a busy few days when I wasn't expecting it.

I'm at the end of Part 4 (page 254) and came across my favorite line: "You had better learn to type." I wanted to jump up and down to see that Margaret is finally developing a backbone!

I've been looking forward to your comments as a scientist. Do you really think Andrew is crazy or just smart enough to think that he's a genius. Well, I guess that could be considered a sort of craziness.

Jun 8, 2011, 1:04am

I finished this book (finally) on Saturday - during vacation. I enjoyed it, but it is a lousy beach read!

Is it OK to include spoilers in this thread yet? Just in case: **spoiler alert**

I wasn't sure what to think of Andrew - I didn't think of him as crazy - mentally ill crazy - until very late in the book. Up to then, I thought of him as eccentric in a nerdy and annoying but basically harmless way. Which made it a little easier to take Margaret's lack of backbone - she was just humoring him. I did chuckle at her memory of her mother's advice to brides - you only have to obey for the first year!

**end spoiler**

I'm looking forward to everyone else's comments - there were lots of interesting details in the book to discuss.

Jun 8, 2011, 9:12am

I agree with you, Sandy, about Andrew. My opinion of him did change through the book from a sort of benign nerdy science-guy to purely ego-maniac. Accordingly, Margaret, who was presented as intelligent and self-reliant, in the end just left me disappointed. The most interesting section of the book for me was the description of the San Francisco earthquake and aftermath. Smiley's writing about waiting for information felt poignant and timely (Joplin).

Jun 8, 2011, 8:17pm

I didn't think that Andrew was mentally-ill crazy until the Einstein stuff, but he rubbed me the wrong way pretty much as soon as he got kicked out of the U of Chicago for falsifying data. My problem with him is that his type of scientist isn't fictional. I know too many people who have pulled b.s. like Andrew did, people who either falsify data or make stupid, published mistakes and then don't correct them once they are found because of their huge whopping egos. I don't think he's either crazy or super smart - he was too arrogant to be a decent scientist, and plenty arrogant enough to think he's a genius.

What I can't understand is how Margaret could have put up with it for so long - I also loved the "learn to type" line. She was a heartbreaking character. The baby, the way Andrew walked all over her, all of it. Poor thing.

I was fascinated by all the Japanese art stuff in the book. I wish it was illustrated.

Oh, and did the first few chapters (the St. Louis ones) make me homesick for St. Louis! All those places and streets! Even if it is a billion degrees there right now - I wish I was there.

Jun 8, 2011, 9:49pm

The earthquake descriptions were fascinating - and how sad to imagine the fate of the 2 women that Margaret cared about out of the thousands who suffered. But I think all the Japanese stuff was my favorite - the art, yes. I wanted illustrations, too. But the depiction of the round-ups and imprisonment in internment camps - and the heart-stopping fear that Margaret must have felt when she realized that her own husband might have had a hand in causing this terrible thing to happen to her friends.

It isn't only scientists who suffer from the appalling arrogance displayed by Andrew. You can find people like that in all fields - the ones who are lucky to be where they are but who believe themselves to be surrounded by lessor beings.

What did you make of the "Russian" man - was his name Paul? (I don't have the book with me to look anything up). I could never decide how much of what he said was true. But he seemed to have a lot of influence over both Andrew and Margaret.

Jun 8, 2011, 10:57pm

>5 brenpike:: Brenda, I too thought of Joplin as I was reading about the San Francisco earthquake. I felt sorry for Andrew because he had so much difficulty accepting his mother's death. Earlier in the book, I laughed at her playing poker with the ladies. I think we know who Andrew took after!

>6 jfetting:: I'm sure it's much cooler in Maine than it is in St. Louis, Jen. I think Margaret was like you in that she always had a little part of Missouri in her heart. I was slightly perturbed in the early part of the book when Smiley said Sedalia was in southern Missouri. How difficult is it to look at a map? Also, she said the dogwoods bloom and then the redbuds; it is just the opposite here in SW Missouri. One more bugaboo and then I'll let it go... this one has nothing to do with Missouri, but what do having 3 kings showing have to do with not being able to get a flush? A flush is five of a suit and in the cards that I play with, there is only one king per suit. Whew, got that off my chest.

I liked your comments, Jen, about scientists and their egos and agree with Sandy that it can be a problem in any field.

That would have been cool to see the Japanese art work in the book.

>7 sjmccreary:: I thought Pete was an enigma. We needed more information about him... or at least I did. The same with Dora. They were both interesting characters from the little information we were given about them. I wish they had played a bigger role in the book and there had been less of Andrew and his paranoia.

Jun 8, 2011, 11:46pm

I forgot about that bit about Sedalia being in Southern Missouri. I re-read it a half dozen times and then out loud to my husband. I never did figure out what she could have been thinking. You're right - get a map!

Jun 9, 2011, 8:30am

True, Sandy, that there is lots of ego all over. I'm only exposed to the science ones.

Everything having to do with Pete was interesting! Was he a spy? Or just a guy with an exciting past that wanted to stay away from all the misery over in Europe at the time? I like to think he was a spy. I thought Smiley did a wonderful job handling Margaret's relationship with Pete - at first she seemed a little bit too "Marry Dora! Marry Dora!" but I attributed that to her wanting Dora to stay at home and away from Europe during WWI. I didn't pick up on any attraction until they, you know, got together, but thinking it over I probably should have seen it coming. Margaret repressed so many of her feelings that I wonder if she admitted it to herself until she was pushed too far.

I have a couple of questions still: first, the man who wrote the Andrew biography - do you think he was ever sincere, or if it was just some sort of scam? What since Andrew ended up funding him completely with his own money and all.

Second, why (when they knew him to be the local crackpot), did the police take Andrew's argument that the Japanese family (I'm blanking on the name -Kiyoma?) were a group of spies? They ignored all the Einstein nonsense.

Jun 9, 2011, 10:52am

>10 jfetting:: Those are great questions. The hanger-on (can't think of the word I want... maybe sycophant?) Len seemed to be a true fan at first, but then I think he just stuck around because he had such a good thing going. I laugh every time I think of the title of his book: The Genius of Captain Andrew Jackson jefferson Early. What, no touchstones? I liked how Margaret referred to him as the snake in the painting.

I like to think that Andrew's crazy writings had little to do with the internment of the Kimura family. There were so many Japanese families taken from their homes that they might have been part of the general roundup. The Einstein nonsense was another source of amusement for me. How could the police take him seriously with his pattern of behavior and wild talk? But then we do have to consider his understanding of what happened in Nanking. That's the trouble with megalomania. We tend to ignore everything they say.

Once again, I think this was a good book for discussion purposes even though it fell as flat for me as the characters and Smiley's writing.

Where are Terri and Becky???

Jun 9, 2011, 1:23pm

I thought Andrew was mentally ill, and know that it can become worse with age, so I felt that his character was developing that way.

I wanted Margaret to stand up to him also, but understood how, at that time, she might fear doing so. Even though the divorced woman in her circle of friends did find her way back into society, it might have been an impossible step for someone like Margaret. She usually succumbed to social pressure: marrying Andrew in order not to be an old maid, for instance.

Pete and Dora were the characters I found most interesting. They should have a book of their own.

Jun 10, 2011, 12:16am

Donna, I think you'e right about Len - he knew he had a good thing going there with Andrew. Andrew, on the other hand, seemed to always need an adoring fan at hand and Len filled the bill. Which allowed Margaret a chance to pull away. Or maybe Andrew drew Len closer because Margaret was pulling away - hard to tell which led to the other one.

I wondered about Andrew's insights into Nanking, too. Did that really hold any sway with the authorities later? Did he really have any true insights, or was it just a lucky guess?

Another thing I found to be odd about Andrew: he went out and bought the car and then refused to learn to drive, insisting that Margaret learn instead. I could never decide why he did that. Did it stroke his ego to be driven around by a chauffer?, was it just enough to own one of the new machines?, did he have a fear of driving? I could see him not using the typewriter - after all he was willing to hunt and peck but heavy duty typing is a chore for underlings and still Margaret got away with telling him to do it himself. So, why not driving?

Pete and Dora were interesting, but I thought it was because we weren't really exposed to their whole characters. Andrew and Margaret were more interesting before we got to know them better. Still, it would have been nice to learn more about them.

I don't think Becky is reading this book with us - she said she doesn't like Jane Smiley and has given up reading her - but Terri should be here, shouldn't she?

Jun 10, 2011, 1:18am

Len was a sleazy fellow, wasn't he?! Such a weird (but symbiotic) relationship with Andrew. Kind of pathetic that Andrew needed his ego stroked so desperately. My feeling was the two of them deserved each other and ultimately gave Margaret somewhat of a break from Andrew.

But didn't you love Mrs. Early . . . She was really the only character I cared anything about. I loved how forthright she was with Andrew about his behavior and the advice she tried to give him. I loved her spunk and her independence and was really saddened by her death. . . If she had survived, maybe Margaret's life would have turned out differently.

Jun 10, 2011, 9:34am

>12 marise::Pete and Dora were the characters I found most interesting. They should have a book of their own.

My thoughts exactly. Glad to have you on board with this book, Marise.

>13 sjmccreary:: Sandy, I think Andrew needed a driver so he could spy on the spies he created in his head. I said that facetiously to begin with, but upon reflection, there may be truth in it. You may be on to something about Pete and Dora; if we knew them as well as we did Andrew and Margaret, we might not have liked them either! Good insight.

You're right about Becky (labwriter). I was thinking about Beckylynn. I thought I'd read a comment from her on another Missouri Reader thread that she had started the book and wasn't sure about liking the author's style.

>14 brenpike:: As strange as that Len/ Andrew relationship was, it was a godsend for Margaret. I was glad when she got a little breathing room. I liked that she found some solace in her nature walks even though her coots didn't survive.

I too was saddened by Mrs. Early's death. She was a sympathetic character. I loved that she was a card shark! Also, she tried to instill some common sense into her son through her letters to him. I hated that Margaret had to stoop to reading Andrew's private letters, but I could see that it was a desperate act to find out what made her husband tick.

Jun 10, 2011, 9:17pm

I'm here! Sorry, I've had a particularly hectic week, and no time at all for anything computer that wasn't related to work. But it's Friday night!

I really did like this book. I thought Andrew was crazy almost from the start, although he was mostly kind to Margaret. And I appreciated the way she stuck by him, even when she realized he was nuts. I didn't like Mrs. Early at the beginning, but as the book went on, I liked her more and more. It was sad that she had to die just as Margaret was realizing how much she cared for her.

I enjoyed the MO references, and it made me feel happy that we were reading something where Missouri gave someone good memories.

I thought Len was a sneak from the beginning. I mean, really, why would anyone want to write a book about Andrew? That just didn't ring true to me, and Andrew was the sort of person that would eat that stuff up. And the way he dragged Margaret in on his "liaison" with the young girl--ticked me off but good.

From the way the book started, I expected more of the Kimuras in the story, but they seemed to just be a sidebar. I found that odd.

Overall, I'd have rated it between 3.5 and 4 stars. Just a nice easy read.

Jun 12, 2011, 9:27pm

Terri! You made it!

I also came to really like Mrs Early, and especially enjoyed the descriptions of her card sharking. Even though it seemed that Margaret became a little unsympathetic to Andrew's refusal to accept his mother's death, and I agree that he did become unrealistic in imagining that she could still be alive and well, I thought it was nice that he was, for once, focused on the importance of someone else (even if it was just because of his own loss). I'd like to think that, if she'd lived, that she and Margaret would have become friendlier and Margaret would have gained a valuable ally and supporter in her ongoing dealings with her husband.

Jun 25, 2011, 11:23pm

After reading through your guys' messages, I don't feel so bad about not completing this book. I got about half way through it and just decided I didn't want to waste any more time on it.
I now completely understand by what was said in the other thread about her writing being hard to get used to.

I just don't see it nessecary to know exactly what every single character is thinking, wearing, and if their ankles are crossed or not. Sorry, I failed you guys again by not finishing another book (I've only dropped 4 books my entire adult life!)

Editado: Jun 27, 2011, 8:14am

I'm enjoying this thread about Smiley's book, although there's nothing that could have induced me to read this one. I just don't like the woman's writing. I think she's been hugely over-praised her entire career. It's possible, from your comments here, that I would have liked this book, although I think not because by this time I'm just so biased against the woman. I finally gave all of her books away this summer to make more room on my shelf--about 10 of them, so I really did give the woman a chance. I think I kept Moo, probably the one I liked the best.

It's such a shame--I'd love to really like Smiley's writing, since she grew up in Webster Groves, where I live, and she's also an alum of the high school that my son went to. Oh well.

Jun 27, 2011, 8:51am

>18 beckylynn:: Maybe the next book will work out better for you, Becky. I can't think of any reason why you should read something that you don't enjoy.

>19 labwriter:: That is a neat connection, other Becky (*smile*), to Jane Smiley but definitely not enough reason to read her books. I think I liked A Thousand Acres when I read it ages ago. I'm not sure I care enough to read it again to be completely certain.

Jun 27, 2011, 11:26am

>19 labwriter: Good to hear you sort of liked Moo, since that is the only book of hers that I own! Maybe I won't throw it out just yet...

Jun 27, 2011, 3:49pm

This was only my 2nd Jane Smiley book - the first being The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, which I chose because of its setting in Lawrence, Ks during the Bleeding Kansas period of the 1850s. I liked the first 2/3 of that one well enough, but then the book didn't end when I thought it should have. (Which is sort how I felt I felt about Private Life, now that I think about it.) With a second book finished, I don't think she'll ever be a favorite author, but I'm not ready to give up on her completely. I won't go out of my way to read her again, but neither will I make a real effort to avoid her.

Jun 28, 2011, 9:40am

Sandy, I had forgotten about the Lidie Newton book. It wasn't great literature but it resonated with me because I love pioneer stories. I'm with you, Smiley is not a favorite of mine although I like the types of books she writes.