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  • Andi 2:00 pm on March 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Good Earth, Discussion the Last 

    Sadly, we’ve come to the end of The Good Earth, and I’m curious how many of you had your hearts ripped out?! I won’t go into a ton of detail and spoilery fun about the ending, but we’ve essentially witnessed Wang Lung’s demise. I bet some of the questions I’ve asked or hinted at before are beginning to come into focus.

    Namely, how did education impact this story? Specifically, how did education impact Wang Lung’s sons and their actions near the end of the book?

    What was the land worth to Wang Lung in the end?

    What did you think of the ending? Was it a satisfying and rightful conclusion to the book? Sometimes tragedy is poetic, and sometimes individuals feel as if they’ve had their time stolen. Was it a waste of time for you given the ending?

    More to come on Pearl S. Buck herself tomorrow!

    • Patti Smith 10:59 pm on March 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I’m still chewing on the ending…it certainly didn’t end happily but I don’t think there was another way. If it had all ended “nicely,” it wouldn’t have been realistic. Wang Lung saw education as something he lacked and others had. While I think he truly wanted what was best for his sons, I do think he wanted what was best for his sons for the wrong reasons. What is an education if the content is never to be used? Wouldn’t his sons have benefited more from an education tailored to what they did for a living…nurturing the family business? Instead Wang Lung sent his sons away “to get soft” like the rich men…then became angry when his sons became soft, didn’t want to work in the fields, and did not honor the land as Wang Lung had. None of them benefited from wanting what others had.

      The land didn’t do Wang Lung any good in the end…the sons were going to get rid of it as soon as he died…they would probably split the money and run through it in no time.

      I don’t think I wasted my time…there is so much here about the Chinese culture that I want to know more about…for an author who I was totally unfamiliar with and a setting with which I have no experience, I was completely drawn into this story. I think there are so many life lessons here…namely being satisfied with what you have. Wang Lung spent most of his life working to obtain more…how would his life have been different and how much more happiness and less heartbreak would he have had to bear if he had just been satisfied with enough?

  • Andi 11:09 am on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Good Earth, Chapters 20-28 

    Welcome back, y’all! Another week of The Good Earth discussion, and we’re heading into the downward spiral, as it were. Looking back over the chapters, I guess it’s time to bring Wang Lung’s uncle, and his miserable family, center stage! How did you feel when Wang Lung’s uncle showed up at the door in Chapter 20 and the incorporation of his wife and son into the mix of Wang Lung’s house? His wife sure can’t keep her mouth shut, eh? This portion really tugged at my heart-strings for O-Lan:

    There came a broken sound from O-Lan, what it was she said he could not hear, but his uncle’s wife said again,

    And it is not to be thought, poor fool,that one woman is enough for any man, and if it is a wear hard-working woman who has worn away her flesh working for him, it is less than enough for him. His fancy runs elsewhere the more quickly, and you, poor fool, have never been fit for a man’s fancy and little better than an ox for his labor. And it is not for you to repine when he has money and buys himself another to bring her to his house, for all men are so, and would my old do-nothing also, except the poor wretch has never had enough silver in his life to feed himself even.

    Ugg! What a sad, frustrating sort of solidarity. The uncle’s wife knows her husband would’ve done the same, but he’s basically worthless and poor. Yay!

    Another character who takes center stage in this novel is Cuckoo–and what a fitting name! How do you feel about her role in the novel along with Lotus? Wang Lung was surprised that O-Lan’s frustrations came out against Cuckoo as opposed to Lotus, though with Cuckoo’s mouth and demeanor, I can’t say I was terribly surprised. With all these dueling personalities in the house, there was likely to be some cattiness and flared tempers.

    I was very proud of Wang Lung for standing up for his “fool” daughter in the face of Lotus’s anger. She was offended by the child and Wang Lung said, “Now I will not hear my children cursed, no and not by any one and not even my poor fool, and now by you who have no son in your womb for any man.”

    Sadly, in this section of the book, O-Lan , as well as Wang Lung’s father, meet their end. O-Lan remained unsung, and I think it’s obvious that Wang Lung struggled with her death. I was disappointed that he couldn’t seem to figure himself out! He can’t just mourn for her at first. He busies himself with preparations and rents a space for her coffin until the day of burial. When his father passes, though, he finds comfort in being near the coffin. Finally, on the day of burial he does inwardly chide himself for taking O-Lan’s pearls and thinks, “There in that land of mine is buried the first good half of my life and more. It is as though half of me were buried there, and now it is a different life in my house.”

    I think it’s obvious from the way this section ends in Chapter 28 that things are on a downward slope. Ching predicts floods and the land literally holds the best parts of Wang Lung’s life. Where do you think we’re going? Will it be a tragedy or will the land save our anti-hero?

    • mee 7:50 pm on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I read this last year. I thought the good portion of the book died along with O-Lan. Though she rarely talks her presence was always there. Felt a big loss when she was gone and I was just generally sad for her life, unloved til the end.

    • Patti Smith 10:39 pm on March 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I was so naively disappointed in Wang Lung when he gave in to Cukoo in the Tea House and asked to meet Lotus…but even more so when he brought this pretty much worthless woman into his household. Wang Lung had always complained about the extra mouths to feed when and if they could not pull their own weight so to speak…and there he goes bringing in pretty much dead weight to just sit around and be pretty…and service him when he pleased. I had thought Wang Lung so much smarter than that and it disappointed me to see that he could be duped just as easily as any other man…by a pretty woman.
      Cukoo is ridiculous…she has essentially sold her soul to the devil and capitalizes on the objectification of women…money has become her most important asset regardless of her own self worth and pride. I pitied her as much as I felt angry with her.
      I will miss Olan…I didn’t even feel bad for Wang Lung when she died…she gave him everything she had and was willing to work herself to the bone for his pleasure…but he still wasn’t satisfied. I know it seems mean but I was glad he suffered some when she died…although I didn’t feel he suffered nearly enough.
      It does feel like we are on a downward spiral…I had much higher hopes for this book…I hope Wang Lung is able to somehow convince me by the end of the story that he is worthy of my time and the Pulitzer Prize 😦

  • Andi 1:58 pm on February 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Good Earth, Chapters 10-19 

    Hello all! Welcome back for our second week of discussion of Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth! This week we’re tackling chapters 10-19.

    So, if life in the countryside wasn’t hard enough, now Wang Lung and his family are headed south on the firewagon! This section was a bit like seeing an accident happen right in front of us! While my heart went out to the family as they begged on the street and Wang Lung pulled his riksha, I was also fascinated as the family erected their little tent and lived on their mats on the streets.

    Throughout the course of these chapters, Wang Lung really suffers at the hands of the city. He is constantly ridiculed, for the southerners see him as a country bumpkin with his pigtail. He also is faced with the realization of his own illiteracy of the written word.

    Finally, once Wang Lung returns to his own lands, we begin to see a shift in his character. To this point he’s been a little disappointing at times–especially in his relationship with O-Lan–but he begins to grow further away from her. His ego expands as his pocketbook grows.

    What your thoughts so far? Here are some questions I had for you all…

    • What do you think of the means by which Wang Lung got the money to return to his land?
    • Why do you think O-Lan wanted to keep the two pearls?
    • With Wang Lung realizing his lack of education, what role do you think education will play for his children and in his own future?
    • What did you think of Wang Lung’s experiences with the tea houe in Chapters 18 and 19 and the taking of O-Lan’s pearls?

    Meet me next Monday for discussion of Chapters 20-28!

    • Heather 9:41 am on February 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Wang Lung is a resourcefully thing, isn’t he? At first, there is that initial “I can’t believe he is doing that” when all those people ‘storm the castle’ as it were, but then, it was kind of “well, everyone else is doing it!” In the end, it felt kind of…well…fair! This whole section is such a great commentary on China and it’s socialist mien.

      I can’t blame O-Lan a bit. She wanted something for herself. Her whole life, she had never had a pretty thing. What is two pearls to Wang Lung, who had so much? I was so ANGRY with him when he took them from her. I do believe I saw red.

      Education is going to mean a lot, but I’ve already finished the book! Don’t want to give any spoilers!

      As for the pearls again, I was absolutely furious with Wang Lung. I know it’s a cultural thing, that people seem to think nothing of a man taking another wife, but to take O-Lan’s pearls, when they meant so much to her…it really showed how little he thought of her. If I had been reading the book, I might have thrown it across the room! But I couldn’t do that to my iPod.

      • Andi (Estella's Revenge) 11:16 am on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        He is very resourceful! I wish that made me like him more. LOL I agree on the commentary about socialist men. Give the circumstances I just don’t think there was any choice. I’d probably do the same thing. Wang Lung is still human at this point in the book.

        And I can’t blame O-Lan either. She deserved SOMETHING! Anything at this point.

        Finally, I totally agree about taking his pearls and passing those along to Lotus. What an ass! I think it plays out quite nicely in this next section, though. hehe

    • Patti Smith 6:17 pm on February 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      While I certainly wouldn’t condone stealing or dishonesty under normal circumstances, I think war and starvation bring out both the best and the worst in people. If my children were starving I think I could steal…I think. I was so frightened that Wang Lung would sell his daughter…and then I caught myself actually understanding how he could even think of such a thing…one life to save 5 others?
      I was glad Wang Lung took the money from the rich man…Wang Lung saw a way to save his family and he took advantage of the opportunity. Wealth doesn’t have to make people selfish and just plain mean. I’m a firm believer that treating others poorly will always come back around somehow/someway.

      I wonder if there is some deeper meaning behind the two pearls that we don’t know yet…and the fact that O-Lan wants them so close to her at all times? I’m still wondering about this.

      No matter how much money he has, Wang Lung sees that he cannot equal the “city” men…it’s a class separation rather than a financial one…with education or the lack of education being a true divider of men. I hope that Wang Lung’s sons will come back to run the land but with the education their father lacked. I hope that their father will find shame in his actions toward O-Lan…without her loyalty and hard work, he would have never succeeded.

      I was furious when Wang Lung began visiting the tea house. Like Heather said, it was like watching an accident as it is happening…I wanted to yell for Wang Lung to get out of there and go back home…to remember where he came from and all the lean years he’d survived with his family. I was absolutely nauseous when Wang Lung took O-Lan’s pearls…at that moment he officially becomes all that he used to despise in the fat oily rich men behind the brick walls.

    • Andi (Estella's Revenge) 11:18 am on February 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Patti, thanks sooo muchly for your awesome comments!

      I’m right there with you. I totally could steal if it meant my kiddos got to live and I got to go home to decent living conditions!

      I don’t know about the pearl symbolism beyond something crappy that happens in the next section, but I’ll wait on your comments about that later.

      There have been soooo many times in this book that I want to tell Wang Lung to remember where he came from. He never listens! He started out such an admirable character and to watch his moral demise over the course of the novel is sort of crushing. I pulled for him all the way, though. Buck certainly is a powerful writer in that regard.

      Looking forward to more of your comments!

  • Andi 11:59 am on February 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Good Earth, Chapters 1-9 

    Hello everyone, and a happy Valentine’s Day to you all. It’s time to get started with Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, and I can’t wait to read what you all have to say about it!

    These early chapters were probably my favorite part of the book. They lay the groundwork for this time period in China and the characters Wang Lung and O-lan. I’ve always been fascinated with books that allow me to sink into a time period or specific geographic region, and obviously this book offers both. I like historical fiction that meticulously outlines the daily minutiae of  life.  Thinking back to my childhood, the first book to allow me this opportunity was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I don’t come across them often–maybe I’m just not reading the right historical fiction–but The Good Earth is the first book in a long while that made me feel as if I were living right alongside the characters.

    Speaking of the characters, I think they are marvelously fleshed out. Wang Lung’s drive to work the land and succeed, come hell or high water, is intense and wrenching. O-lan’s hard work and endurance is astounding and sort of heartbreaking since she doesn’t get the type of attention we, as readers, probably feel she deserves for her hard work.

    In recent weeks, as you all have started reading, I’ve heard from several people that this book could “Rip your heart out!” and I can’t argue with that sentiment. But why and how does it rip our hearts out?

    Some questions for you all to think and chat about:

    • What expectations did you bring to the book if you’re reading it for the first time?
    • What do you think of the characters and their respective plights?
    • What details of daily life in China have delighted, sickened, or surprised you?
    • What does Wang Lung’s proclamation of “At least I have the land–I have the land” foreshadow and is it a promising mantra?

    While you all peruse those questions and toss out your initial thoughts, I hope you’re enjoying the next leg of the book! See you back here for discussion of Chapters 10-19 on the 21st!

    • Heather 6:04 pm on February 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Well. I brought a lot of expectations to the book, the first of which was that I would probably love it. You haven’t been wrong yet Andi! As for the characters, wow! These characters are some of the most well written, well thought out, and delightfully conflicted I have ever encountered. Wang Lung….his life was a roller-coaster and it was some ride. There were times I loved him, times I wanted to strangle him, and times I just shook myself in bewilderment at him! And O-Lan. Poor, poor O-Lan. I just wanted to hug her. She needed to be loved better than she was.

      The way women were treated in China definitely sickened me. O-Lan was a slave, and even after Wang Lung took her, her life barely improved. I mean, leaving her bed after giving birth to join him in the fields? And he not saying a word to her about it? Yeah, I wanted to smack him upside the head a few times!

      The way the Chinese treated their elderly was surprising. The fact that Wang Lung’s father would eat before anyone, even a breastfeeding mother, was unbelievable. I think the elderly should be treated with respect but I also know if my grandchildren were starving, I would give them my food.

      “At least I have the land-I have the land” was very prophetic! Wang Lung will do anything for his land and to get more. And yes, it’s promising.

      • Andi 12:45 pm on February 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        I’m glad you liked it, Heather! My record continues! LOL

        I definitely wanted to smack Wang Lung upside the head as well. My heart broke for O-Lan over and over again, but then again, I tried to remove myself somewhat from my contemporary mindset and not put my expectations of the treatment of women onto these characters. I never said I was very successful at that, though!

        I was also constantly agog at the grandfather. He just seemed like such a miserable little thing, and personally I would have a hard time eating before a breastfeeding mother or my grandkids. The cultural differences are so pronounced, again, it’s hard to step out of our contemporary mindset.

    • Patti Smith 6:24 pm on February 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I really didn’t have any expectations for the book…I’ve, of course, heard of it many times through the years but never really knew past the general synopsis what the book was all about. I also am addicted to the characters even this early in our reading. The father is the one I wanted to smack in the head more times than anyone else…and that horrible uncle!!

      O-lan is a character like none other that I can think of. What a tough cookie…isn’t that an understatement?? I don’t harbor much resentment toward Wang Lung because his behavior is what is expected from a man of his age and his place in society. Actually the survival of his family depends on that he acts as he is supposed to…talk about complicated. Even if he wanted to change things, it would be impossible to the detriment of all who live under his roof. I do think he feels for O-Lan and I hope that is something that will grow as we continue to read.

      I did realize to some extent how repressed women were in Chinese society but to hear it spoken as in normal conversation and accepted as “the way things are” breaks my heart. To me, when the fourth child is born is absolutely the scene that gives us an insight into how ingrained that repression was….makes me shiver to even think of it now.

      Ok, please don’t think I am a goofy Southerner…but that whole “At least I have the land – I have the land” sounds sooooo much like Scarlett O’Hara…if Wang Lung had sold the land, the others could take away anything he had bought…but they couldn’t take the land. I hope this foreshadows prosperity for Wang Lung and O-Lan sometime in the future.

      I’m loving this book :):)

    • Andi 12:48 pm on February 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Patti, thanks for joining us! That uncle is a Uggg!!! I can’t say he grows up much either, but I won’t give any more than that away. lol

      O-Lan is definitely a tough cookie, and I found her the most sympathetic character in the whole darn thing (maybe aside from the innocent children). I think you make a good point about Wang Lung’s place in society — the family wouldn’t survive in that culture and that time period if he didn’t act just as we’ve seen thus far. It’s a hard mindset to get into. It was definitely enlightening for me as a reader.

      And Heather and I are both southerners, and I’m sure we both screamed “SCARLETT!!!” in our heads at the last line about the land.

      Glad you love it! I’m looking forward to discussing more with you. 🙂

  • Andi 8:15 am on January 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The Good Earth Discussion Schedule 

    Happy New Year classic readers!!! I’m Andi from Estella’s Revenge, and when Heather approached me to lead discussion during a quarter this year, I was surprised and delighted! It took no time at all to decide on Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. It was, by far, my favorite classic I read in 2010, and I have no hesitation about re-reading it with you all again this year. 

    A brief introduction: February will be my 6th year of blogging. There have certainly been lots of ups and downs in that time, but I always come back to books and to my blog friends. In my daily life, I’m the Program Chair for General Education at a career college in Dallas. My department covers language, math, sciences, social sciences, communications, and all the other “basic” college courses. I also teach composition and literature courses. You might think I’d be really well-suited to lead a discussion of classics, but I’m not so sure!!! The classroom discussion is quite different from the online discussion, but I’m really excited to try!

    While I’ve read my share of classics in school over the years, I’m constantly struggling to bring more classics into my fun reading, and The Good Earth is a perfect balance of the fulfilling classic with supreme readability. It’s just a great story, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

    To give everyone time to gather their books, I’ve decided to start discussion in mid-February. Maybe that will give us all enough time to recover from the holiday season and get some books under our belts and ready for some discussion.

    The discussion will be split into four parts:

    • February 14th, Chapters 1-9 (Happy Valentine’s Day!)
    • February 21st, Chapters 10-19
    • February 28th, Chapters 20-28
    • March 7th, Chapters 29-34

    So there we have it! I hope you’ll dig up an old loved copy of The Good Earth, or maybe you’ll go out and buy a brand new one. Either way, it’s worth the journey into China’s past.

    • Patti Smith 9:21 am on January 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks, Andi! I’ve already got my copy and am looking forward to it!

    • Heather 10:15 am on January 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I’m beyond excited to be reading with you Andiroo!

    • SuziQoregon 10:35 am on January 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Such a great book. I listened to the audio a few years ago. Have fun reading it!

    • Jo-Jo 10:50 am on January 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Oh this is awesome! I read this with my book club a few years ago but would definitely be willing to read this one again!

    • mee 4:14 pm on January 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Read this book with my book group last year and everyone enjoyed it. Might pop by for the discussion later 🙂

    • Jen - Devourer of Books 9:11 pm on January 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Yay! I’m so excited! I haven’t read this since high school, but I remember really enjoying it. I will say, though, I was surprised to see that it was much shorter than I remembered. I was picturing 600+ pages.

    • Eva 1:07 pm on January 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Ohh: I had this on audio a couple years ago and never finished it. Maybe this time I’ll manage to get all the way through!

    • Lisa@ButteryBooks 10:13 am on January 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great pick!

    • RaSharei 3:08 am on February 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Good choice, Andi! I’ve gone out and bought a new copy, and am looking forward to the discussion!

  • Jen - Devourer of Books 10:54 am on December 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    2010 Wrap Up, Looking Ahead to 2011 

    Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the inaugural year of the Classic Reads Book Club. Heather and I couldn’t be happier about how everything went this year. This whole thing started because I wanted to reread “East of Eden,” and now we have progressed to having a different blogger facilitating a read-along of a classic they love every quarter. As a reminder, here is what we covered this year:

    I am really looking forward to what we have coming in 2011, we have some great bloggers lined up to facilitate discussions on great books.

    • In the first part of 2011, Andi from Estella’s Revenge will be leading us in discussing “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. Expect to see a schedule from her posted sometime shortly after the new year, but go ahead and grab your copy now! This is a favorite of mine and I haven’t read it for years.
    • Sometime April – June, Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot will facilitating for “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf. I’ve actually never read any of Woolf’s work, so I can’t wait to have someone who loves her to discuss the book with.
    • Later in the summer, Michelle from My Books. My Life. will lead a discussion on “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert. Michelle and I (at least) will be reading from the new translation by Lydia Davis from Penguin, and we would encourage those interested to pick up that version as well.

    If you are interested in possibly leading a discussion in the future, you can indicate your willingness here, or email me at jen(at)

    • Jo-Jo 11:25 am on December 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for leading these discussions ladies! The only one that I participated in was The Handmaid’s Tale and I’m so glad I did! Now I will be looking forward to The Good Earth! I read that one with my book club a few years ago, but I think this one is definitely worthy of reading again.

    • jennygirl 3:16 pm on December 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for having these discussions ladies! I only participated in one, and it was very enjoyable. I will definitely do Madame Bovary. Read it a long time ago and enjoyed it throughly. Mayber I could fit the other ones in as well. We’ll see. Thanks and happy holidays 🙂

    • christina 3:48 pm on December 21, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      This is great guys! I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on a copy of The Good Earth!

    • Patti Smith 9:44 am on January 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I’m also very glad to be participating again…I only jumped in to We Have Always Lived in a Castle last year but am set for the entire year this time 🙂

      • Jen - Devourer of Books 12:35 pm on January 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Great! So glad you’ll be joining us again!

  • Chris 11:36 pm on November 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    We Have Always Lived In The Castle Ch’s 9 & 10 

    I have to apologize to everyone for not having this post up in time!! It totally got away from me. Maybe subconsciously I was trying to avoid it because it’s our last discussion of the book 😦 I’ve had such a great time talking about this book with everyone and reading everyone’s comments about it! It really has been quite the fun read. But alas, all things must come to an end, and what an interesting end We Have Always Lived in the Castle has come to.

    Did anyone find the ending anti-climatic? At first I did. I wanted more answers. Maybe not more answers, maybe that’s not the right term, but I wanted to see things play out more. We never learn much more about Uncle Julian’s death and the girls’ reaction is a bit strange…not much of a reaction at all really. I found it odd that the girls are able to continue to live in the house despite half of it being burnt down. Even with the vines growing over the house it doesn’t seem like it would be very liveable. The girls get checked in on and Helen Clarke makes a statement that the townspeople didn’t mean it the way they took it? Or something like that? That was bizarre to me. How else were the girls to take people destroying their homes.

    But after sitting with the book for a couple of days, I began to become ok with the ending because it became almost fairy tale like to me. Where things don’t necessarily have to have a perfect ending and be tied up nicely. In fact, the ending became deliciously creepy to me with people leaving baskets on the front doorstep filled with food as an apology for their past behavior. Children daring each other to go close to the door. Stories forming about the old women who lived in the house still. But we as readers actually get to see what’s BEHIND the door. And I almost felt like the whole book was an homage to these sorts of folktales and legends that live in small towns. That it showed us the humans behind the doors. The real people who take the food that’s left in the basket and how they’re not creepy old witches, but people that we can feel for despite our initial questions about them. But of course these are just my own thoughts on the book. I would LOVE to hear your own thoughts on the ending.

    What did you think of these last two chapters and even more, what did you think of the novel as a whole? Did you enjoy it? Were you disappointed by the ending? Are you likely to read more Jackson after reading this novel? I know I am!

    Also, I just want to thank everyone for participating in this discussion!! It’s meant so much to me (who was a bundle of nerves to begin with!) and I just had so much fun hosting this. Hope everyone enjoyed it!!

    • Jen - Devourer of Books 8:49 am on November 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I definitely agree, it felt like a window into how fairy tales/haunted house stories get created. I do wish we’d gotten a bit more about Merricat’s motivations for killing her family, though. If I remember correctly all we really got was why she put the poison in the sugar.

      • Chris 11:15 am on November 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I meant to bring that up, Jen…I wish we would’ve gotten more of her motivations too. I think that’s mainly what I was talking about with finding the ending anti-climatic…the murder mystery part of the book just sort of dropped off!

        • Heather 5:20 am on November 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          I know we don’t get a clear cut “this is why she did it” sentence in the book, but I think we get clues all along. How many people does she wish dead in this book? And it’s all people who have not “been kind” to her. Considering she was what, 12? when this happened, I expect it was because they were unkind to her. In her opinion of course. Maybe it was being sent to bed without her supper?

          I’ll be back with my thoughts about the ending. I need a few more days to digest!

          • Jen - Devourer of Books 11:25 pm on November 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply

            Yes, you’re right of course Heather, but who *doesn’t* wish people dead at certain times? Most of us don’t poison the sugar bowl! On the other hand, she is clearly eccentric at best, mentally ill at worst.

    • Frankie 11:03 am on November 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      So we all seem to have a incomplete feeling. I can’t say I loved it but I did like it. I think the discussion helped a great deal. I couldn’t understand the violence from the town people. why not let the place burn? why save it and then destroy it? But if they let it burn then the tale of 2 crazy ladies wouldn’t get started. I just can’t help thinking there should be more. Do the girls live in the kitchen and basement? Will Charles or someone come back and steal or hurt the girls

      • Jen - Devourer of Books 8:43 pm on November 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Well, I think that the firemen who came were just doing their duty and saving the house, but then once the rest of the town followed them, their fear and dislike boiled over into violence.

    • Patti Smith 10:59 pm on November 12, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’ve been digesting this story and letting my imagination run away with me for the last few days…like Heather I’ve wondered and at this point suspected very strongly that there is an underlying reason for Merricat’s hate. I believe at this point in her life she is most definitely mentally ill…but I think there must be a cause…was she a victim of incest or molestation? Did Constance find out and try to protect her…both from the abuse and then from the murder? The townspeople are cruel to her bc they think she’s strange…her sister got away with murder and they’ve imagined all these crazy things that go on behind their closed doors. Happens all the time. People think they know others…when many times they really don’t know them at all.

  • Chris 8:59 pm on October 31, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    We Have Always Lived In The Castle Ch’s 6, 7 & 8 Discussion 

    First of all, Happy Halloween Everyone!!! Or I should say a belated happy Halloween to everyone as you’re likely reading this after Halloween. But I hope that everyone had a wonderfully spooky Halloween and that Ms. Shirley Jackson’s wonderfully atmospheric novel could add to your holiday. I have a confession to make….I finished the book! After reading these three chapters I could NOT put the book down. But I promise no spoilers for the last two chapters here :p But we certainly reached a climax with these three chapters and I found it so hard to just put the book down for another week. So let’s chat.

    What did we all think of all of this craziness??? All of this unrest? It seems that everyone just exploded in these chapters. Everyone except for Constance who seems to just always stay as level headed as she can. I feel for Constance…I truly do. The more and more we see of her personality, the more we see that in her own little world, she’s the one that has to hold everything together but she feels a constant need to hide from the outside world. Yet everything around her is in unrest. We have Merricat just losing her cool completely with Charles and who can blame her. She tears his room apart which leads Charles to lose it on her which leads Uncle Julian to lose it on him while Constance just tries to act as the moderator. And then there’s the fire….oh the fire 😦

    What a horrible scene, huh? Did anyone else feel just a huge surge of ANGER reading that scene?? As Charles tried to haul the safe out of the house and the townspeople went about smashing everything they could find in the house and even those in charge lost it. What’s left for Constance and Mary Katherine? Who are they truly safe with?

    And then of course there is the big reveal at the end of Chapter 9. The reveal that so many of you had guessed from the beginning! This is a rhetorical question for some of you, but were you surprised by this? I guess even if you had guessed that it was Mary Katherine, what did you think of the way it was revealed?

    I’m just head over heels in love with this book and am dying to get my hands on some more Shirley Jackson. What a wonderful writer she was, huh? I love the atmosphere and the emotion that she evokes with her words. Just perfect. And I couldn’t be happier with the discussions we’re having here. Thanks everyone 🙂

    • Patti Smith 3:23 pm on November 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I kept moving back and forth between anger and sadness during the fire. Of course, I was already having enough trouble keeping it together over Charles’ behavior. He is obviously there simply because he thinks he can scavenge something…I think he was planning to get rid of Uncle Julian and Merricat so that he could marry Constance…I think Constance was terrorized by the first trial…and I think that all of the commotion is probably going to cause her to lose it and Merricat will take over. I almost hope she does. The reveal was perfect…I actually got chills even though I already suspected what Constance finally says.
      I assumed when Uncle Julian went to his room that he would die of smoke inhalation, not his heart as the doctor says. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    • jendevourerofbooks 9:15 pm on November 1, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      When you told me last night that you couldn’t help but finish it I figured it was more a ‘well, it is almost over, might as well’ sort of thing. I started reading this week’s selection but was so tired I couldn’t quite make it to the end of chapter 8. Then this morning I was finishing my last few pages, got to the big reveal, and also couldn’t help but finish the entire thing.

      I was sort of surprised that it was Merricat all along. I thought she was a little obvious, for one thing, with all of her strangenesses, but mostly I was withholding judgment on who might have committed the murders, other than being fairly sure it wasn’t Constance. I guess I was expecting some bigger twist about whodunnit.

      Even so, I thought that these were some amazing chapters. The first particularly, with, as you said, all of the anger from the townspeople. It is amazing how, once things get rolling everybody’s inhibitions are lowered and fear is let turn to rage. Absolutely terrifying, particularly because it seems so realistic.

    • Frankie 11:55 am on November 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I feel like I missed something with this story. I was excited in the begining, and it continued with Charles’ arrival, the power struggle with MaryKatherine and Charles, the fire and the behavior of the towns people. But I don’t understand why MK killed her family,why the town’s peple don’t like then and why they were so violent. I too finished the book and feel there are a few loose threads. so i’ll wait till everyone has finished.

      • jendevourerofbooks 12:08 pm on November 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        I see what you mean with why Merricat killed her family, but I think the townspeople make perfect sense. Someone killed a family that was one of the great families of the area and got away with it, and logically that must be one of the people still alive. If it was Constance, then Merricat is scary because she she seems perfectly happy leaving with Constance, and visa versa. Plus, there’s the whole fact that they live differently than everyone else and different = scary. Not to mention there may be something there with the fact that their family WAS so powerful in the area, if there were any resentments against the family it would make perfect sense for them to come out against the now largely powerless girls. When they are empowered enough to come to the house and see the girls even more vulnerable their fear turns to a feeling of power and they basically go crazy with that power.

    • Melanie 9:40 am on November 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I tore through this whole book on the Readathon! I was shocked that MK was the murderer. I was leaning toward it being one of the people who’d died as a sort of murder/suicide situation. I really enjoyed this book.

      • jendevourerofbooks 12:08 pm on November 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        That’s where I thought it was going too, Melanie!

    • citytojungle 11:25 pm on November 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Charles made me so angry in these chapters, what with his ‘oh, is this valuable?’ comments and his overwhelming need to rescue the safe from the fire. That fire scene was nuts – and some friend Helen Clarke turned out to be. True, she didn’t smash any windows, but she didn’t exactly offer any help either.

      I wasn’t really surprised at the reveal, more just ‘Aha!’ What I did find interesting, though, was that it was the first time MK & Constance had ever talked about it. So, right from the beginning Constance covered for her sister, and MK went right along with it, without ever discussing it. Actually, MK probably believes that Constance did do it. I mean, she did keep referring to the fire as Charles’ fire. MK may have poisoned the food and knocked over the pipe, but she doesn’t find herself responsible for the outcome of those actions whatsoever.

      Anyone know if throwing stones and mob mentality come up often in Jackson’s writing?

      • alitareads 10:20 am on November 4, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Oops! I was logged into the wrong account! This should be an alitareads comment 🙂

        • Heather 9:02 pm on November 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

          “Anyone know if throwing stones and mob mentality come up often in Jackson’s writing?”

          Check out her short story, The Lottery. Lots of both. And it’s very creepy.

          • alitareads 6:23 pm on November 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply

            The Lottery is what made the mob scene in Castle stand out to me. Definitely very creepy. I’m wondering if that’s something she included in more of her writings.

    • Heather 9:04 pm on November 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I have almost caught up, just in time for the end of discussion! 😦 I’m totally loving the audio production of this book. The reader. Is. Perfect. Bernadette Dunne. Look her up.

      I totally saw Merricat being the murderer a mile away, which did not make it any less chilling. These people are so messed up! And Charles! He just infuriated me!

      I should finish the book tomorrow. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

  • Chris 8:36 pm on October 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    We Have Always Lived In The Castle Ch’s 3, 4 & 5 Discussion 

    I have to start off by telling everyone that while I was first terrified of leading this group, I am now LOVING it! The discussion for the first two chapters has been wonderful and has me thinking all sorts of possibilities that I haven’t thought of before. So what does everyone think of our next session?

    Here we see Mary sort of spinning into almost a psychosis, I would say with the belief that buried objects will keep her safe, a book nailed to a post will keep bad things from happening, a series of three magic words can protect her (anyone have anything to say on those words?), a secret hiding place among trees to protect her and conversations with her pet cat, Jonas.

    But it’s not just Mary that’s acting increasingly more bizarre with these next three chapters. As Frankie pointed out in the comments of the discussion of Chapter’s 1&2, the whole family seems to make a mockery out of the murder of the rest of the family, often making harsh jokes about it. And does anyone else get the feeling that Uncle Julian knows much more about what happened than what he leads on…that he has some sort of dementia and occasionally sees through to the past. It almost seems to me that Constance tries to shut him up at time. I almost wonder if SHE’S putting something in HIS food at times and telling him “now now, just go outside and look at the pretty birds.”

    And then there’s Cousin Charles who I honestly don’t know what to make of. I find it highly suspicious that he’s there just to reunite and look after everyone. Highly suspicious. Though he seems to  find Uncle Julian’s talk of the murders disturbing at times, there’s also something about him that just isn’t right. But let’s be honest…is there anyone in this bloodline that we’ve met so far that has their head screwed on straight?

    A lot of people mentioned in the comments last week that they had a strong feeling Mary Katherine was the one who put the arsenic in the sugar. Is everyone still feeling that way? Just curious to know. I honestly don’t know what to think at this point. I really don’t! But I have a feeling I’ll be flying through our next section tonight :p

    • jendevourerofbooks 11:18 am on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      So I read your question before reading chapter 5 and I was thinking “I don’t know, Charles seems okay. Sure, a little odd he just showed up, but okay.”

      But then there were his little comments to Uncle Julian about Mary not liking him and how he gets even with people who don’t like him and now he is incredibly creepy!

      I’m actually starting to wonder if it perhaps wasn’t actually one of the survivors who killed everyone. Maybe one of the people now dead had a motive we haven’t learned about yet, or perhaps Charles or his father were somehow involved.

      I do love the verbal smackdown that Mary gave Charles at the end of chapter 5, though, about the poisonous mushrooms that don’t kill for 5-10 days.

    • vivienne 1:07 pm on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Ooh I don’t like Charles at all. He is definitely weird and I think he is far too interested in what money has been left, as he asks where it is kept. He has admitted to being left nothing, so he wants the money and he is only nice to Constance. He is rather standoffish with Uncle Julian and Mary.
      I still think Mary did it, but she was too young to stand trial so Constance took her place.
      Jendevourerofbooks comment about the mushrooms is definitely a good one. Definitely one to put Charles in his place.
      Chris – I wonder if you are right about Constance putting something in Julian’s food. He does seem to change healthwise on a daily basis.
      I can’t wait to read more.

      • jendevourerofbooks 8:15 pm on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Yes! The whole money thing was *highly* suspect.

    • Frankie 3:40 pm on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Just what this family needs, another crazy relative to add to the mix. My impression of Charles is that he doesn’t know how to present himself to the remaining family to be accepted. He uses flattery for Constance, attempts to cajole MaryKatherine then resorts to innuendo and taunting. The boy has no idea that MaryKatherine is more superior (or mentally ill)in this game.
      As for Julian I think medicating him is a good guess. If MaryKatherine is guilty of murder it would be better for the remaining family to keep that out of the conversation.
      I feel a sadness for Constance. Charlies’ presence and Mrs. Clark’s conversation has stirred a longing for her to be out and normal.

    • Patti Smith 5:43 pm on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I still feel very strongly that Constance did not commit these murders, and I had absolutely 0 positive vibes about Charles. His visit was foreshadowed through Merricat’s comments that everything was going to change. Charles seems to be a manipulator. His treatment of Uncle Julian is inexcusable!!! I am stunned that Constance allows it; at least Merricat knows how to spot a charlatan when she sees one, no matter how mentally ill she is…and I’ve no doubt that she is.
      Money almost seems to obvious of a motive for Charles…I think there’s something more to this story.
      The mushroom conversation made me laugh out loud; Charles does not need to underestimate Merricat…not if he plans on surviving 🙂
      I haven’t gotten the feeling that Constance is medicating Uncle Julian too much…I did wonder if the doctor is doing just that…I guess we’ll see…

  • Chris 11:42 am on October 18, 2010 Permalink | Reply

    We Have Always Lived In The Castle CH. 1&2 Discussion 

    It’s time to get this party started!! And by party, I mean this super creepy book. Well Ms. Mary Katherine sounds pleasant, doesn’t she? She opens the book telling us that she wishes she would’ve been born a werewolf, she dislikes washing herself and that everyone in her family aside from her and her sister are dead. I’m guessing we’re not considering Uncle Julian family since it’s by marriage or is he going to be some kind of ghost or something? And then things just  get more and more bizarre as we learn that the whole town dislikes her and her sister. Or is it mostly in her head? Or is it a combination of the two? We certainly see Mary Katherine’s own imagination get carried away as she imagines the deaths of those that give her grief.

    But it’s in the second chapter that the meat of the story seems to be revealed. A murder…a poisoning with arsenic. Is it just me or did it sound like Constance and Uncle Julian were putting on a show almost for Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright? I mean, this is a messed up family. That’s my first impression. And who is Helen? I mean yes, we know she’s one of the few townspeople that are “good enough” to come and visit the girls, but why? What’s her interest in them? And why bring Mrs. Wright?

    Wow…there’s just so much to talk about here. I was hooked by this book right from the beginning!! I’m so glad to be reading this one!! And I really can’t wait to see where it goes. So here are a few questions to discuss: What were your thoughts going into this novel? Is it anything like what you expected? Do you think that Constance put the arsenic in the sugar as of right now? Any hunch on what’s up with the family? There’s just something really off about them. Why is Helen so interested in the girls? What about the title of the book? And most importantly…are you hooked?!

    Can’t wait to meet everyone here next week!! Same time, same place 😉

    • jennygirl 12:07 pm on October 18, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I so wish I could read this one with you guys! Poor planning on my part. Oh well, hopefully I can make the next read-a-long. Have fun 🙂

    • vivienne 12:38 pm on October 18, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I am beginning to think it is a cover up by Constance and Uncle Julian. I am wondering if the crime was actually committed by Mary instead, but as she was so young (12 at the time) they wanted to save her from juvenile prison. That is why the family put on such a show – well that is what I think anyway. It is a weirder book than I expected but I am really enjoying it. I think Helen is just a busybody always trying to make people better than they are and sorting everyone’s problems.

    • Devourer of Books 1:32 pm on October 19, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’ll be back with real thoughts either tomorrow or Thursday, last week just got away from me a little.

    • jendevourerofbooks 8:45 am on October 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Okay, I read this last night, and what the heck is going on?!? I think that the most interesting part was actually right after Helen and Lucille left, when Uncle Julian was asking whether or not the events he had just described had really happened. Not that the entire rest of it wasn’t WTF worthy, but that was particularly so. I did also wonder why Helen would have brought someone with her when she had to have known what would happen. Did she secretly want Mrs. Wright to ask all of those questions and only protested because it was the ‘polite’ thing to do?

    • Frankie 11:14 am on October 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Well I’m right with u Jen. Mrs. Clarke is nosey and brought a friend to do the dirty work. But I’m confused about how old the girls r and how long ago this murder occurred, why turn a sad situation into a joke? why stay in a town where u r hated? why r u wearing ur mother’s shoes?

    • alitareads 12:16 am on October 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with vivienne – I think that Mary slipped the arsenic into the sugar, and the other two are covering it up. I am eager to find out what it was about that day – I guess even that visit with Helen and Lucille – that caused Mary not to be able to return her library books for over 5 months.

      I didn’t really get into the book much in the first chapter, but chapter two definitely hooked me. Part way through chapter two I took a short break and read The Lottery. I hadn’t read since high school but never forgot it thanks to that twist at the end. Now I’m looking forward to finding out what kind of twists Jackson has in store in this book.

    • Patti Smith 10:04 am on October 25, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I’m a little behind but hopefully will be caught up by tonight…I am absolutely hooked though…and everytime Merricat gets that chill, I find myself getting one too. 😉 I wasn’t sure what was going on until Chapter 2 and then I started thinking about possibilities. I think it is very possible that Merricat was the actual murderer and Constance just covered it up. Merricat is obviously phycologically “messed up”…the parts about her imagining others dead and pleading for help is what gave it away for me 😉 Constance has obviously been traumatized as well somehow and I’m guessing it’s because of witnessing her family’s murder, being arrested (falsely, I think) for murdering her family and the way the villagers treat her and her family. Right now I think all of that is real; I don’t think they are imagining the meanness from others. I’m wondering if Uncle Julian has some brain damage from his poisoning? He also seems evil to me…the way he taunted the ladies. I don’t think Constance is in on anything right now; I think she’s just trying to be her prim and proper mother. Can’t wait to find out what’s happening next!

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