Week 2: Enemy Women Read-a-Long

This is week two of the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long.  If you missed last week’s questions, please check out the discussion for Prologue through Chapter 6.

For this week, each of us had to read chapters 7-15.  These chapters follow Adair Colley and her plight in the women’s prison near St. Louis.

How would you compare Adair’s thinking to that of a more traditional southern woman, like Rhoda?

S:  It seems that Adair has a more modern sensibility compared to her counterparts.  She’s not afraid to talk back to men and stand up for herself whereas Rhoda and that traditional stereotype seem content to let the men take care of them and not to fend for themselves.  At one point, I think Rhoda says something to the effect that a southern woman must endure her abusers, whereas Adair is looking for a way out of the situation.

A:  Adair certainly is a feisty one!  She will stand up for herself, no matter who is involved, man or woman.  I wonder if this has anything to do with growing up without a mother and not having to do the usual “woman’s work” around the house.  It’s been mentioned that no one really cleaned or darned socks and stuff like that.  It seems she has had an nontraditional upbringing for the time, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s not a traditional Southern woman (whatever that might mean) and not the type to submit to the will of others.

Describe the relationship between Adair and Major Neumann.  Is it believable? Do you think the war has influenced it and in what way? Has their plight moved you?

S:  At first the relationship between the two seemed to be more about lust and desire, since he wanted to touch her, but as the last chapters in this portion of the reading went along it was clear that Adair was more to him than just an object.  I presume it was the way she opened up to him in her “confessions,” which seemed to be more like letters, that captured his heart.  But I wonder about her motivations.  Is she really in love with him or is the simple “he looks good in a uniform and he can get me free” thing the reason she is so attached?  The war is definitely playing a role in this relationship, and I’m glad that Jiles has Neumann address it aloud in the book.  Their relationship hasn’t moved me yet, but that could change, especially if it endures their eventual separation.

A:  At first I didn’t know what to make of it, and I think the war certainly could play a role in their attraction.  He seems different from the other officers and could be lonely…yet, he doesn’t seem to care as much about any of the other women in the prison.  She could view him as a way to get out of prison…yet she seems genuinely upset when he tells her he is being transferred.  I must admit that I’m a romantic at heart, so by the time I got to the scene where Adair is sick in bed, I totally bought their relationship.  How Major Neumann gets back at Mrs. Buckley was awesome, and giving his ring to Adair was a tender moment.  However, part of me wants to think it wouldn’t be that easy, especially since Adair was so angry about the Union Militia arresting (and likely killing) her father, stealing Whiskey, and attempting to burn down her family home.  Granted, Neumann is not part of the militia, but he’s an officer in the Union Army, but then again, he seemed sympathetic toward her right away and she’d already spent a few weeks being worn down in the prison by the time they met.

What do you make of Adair’s “confessions?”  Do you think she should have followed Major Neumann’s advice and given them anything plausible just to be released?

A:  I really enjoyed reading Adair’s “confessions.”  The first had a fairy tale quality to it, with the inclusion of Snow White and the exclusion of any real hardships she has faced over the years.  She pours her heart out on the page, and it’s touching.  What she wrote about the Knights of the Golden Whiskey Jug was absolutely hilarious.  I respect her for staying strong and not breaking under the weight of sickness and the horrid conditions she has been subjected to.

S:  I really enjoyed the confessions, but I think it would have been easier if she did give them some tidbit of information about the confederates, even if it was outdated information.  I do like the fairy tale quality of the confessions.

What is your overall impression of the book at this point?  Are you enjoying it more?  Less?

A:  I definitely am enjoying the book more now, and the lack of quotation marks isn’t as distracting as it was before.  The introduction of Major Neumann’s character has helped the story progress at a faster pace.  I think I even like Adair more than I did before.  Her conversations with the major are entertaining, with much seriousness on his end and sarcasm and even playfulness on hers.  It’s a good thing she’s been portrayed as a tough cookie from the start because with the escape plan in motion, she’s going to need every bit of strength she has to survive.

S:  My overall impression of the book hasn’t changed much, but I didn’t expect it to.  I have a really hard time with the lack of quotation marks and the prose is not as captivating as I had hoped, but I do like Adair and have grown fond of her in spite of her rashness.  I agree that Major Neumann has helped speed up the pace of the plot, though the romance was a bit unbelievable at first for me.

What questions did you have?  What did you think?  Feel free to answer these questions in the comments and even pose your own.  We’d love to discuss the book with you!

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18 Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts this week. Serena, I’m sorry you’re not really enjoying the book.

  2. I like it better than I did initially, but I’m feeling kind of blah about it overall.

  3. I hope it gets better for you. Even though I read this one before, I don’t remember what happens. But I do remember enjoying it the first time around. It was several years ago, though, so we’ll see if my reading tastes have changed.

  4. I have to admit I am enjoying it more in this section than in the first chapters. I find the captivity to be more plausible than the trek. The writing is a little less pedestrian.

    I like the relationship that is developing between Adair and Major Neumann, but feel it has a Hollywood feel to it with the rushed nature and the oppposites attract aspects. I do think it is plausible that they would be attracted to each other and have not assigned ulterior motives to either. With her personality it seems likely Adair would have found a man like him war or no war.

    I am definitely warming to Adair although I find her personality is anachronistic. There weren’t very many women’s libbers in the Civil War South. Rhoda is certainly more authentic to the times, but their debate was instructive and made me think of how feminism has triumphed in modern America. The Adairs won, but not until 100 years later.

    I enjoyed the two confessions, especially the Knights of the Golden Whiskey Jug. The Major must be truly smitten to have put that before the board with a straight face. I personally believe she should confess to something, especially now that the Major is part of the reward for doing so. However, it would not fit the plot.

  5. I agree that the imprisonment was more plausible than the trek. I like that Adair is a bit more “modern” in her sensibilities because it sets her apart from the other female prisoners…maybe that makes her more appealing to the major.

  6. Their relationship does seem rushed, but I think that’s because we don’t really get a sense of how much time is passing. I think 3 weeks pass before she meets the major and then he asks how long she’s been there and it’s something over two months. While not long enough in my opinion to want to marry someone, it was a chaotic time.

    I don’t know enough about the time period to know whether Adair is like other Southern women of the time, but I do like her spunk!

  7. I read this book last month and have already finished it, so it’s a little harder for me to think about just the chapters being discussed (next time I read a book for a read along, I think I’ll really do the read along instead of reading ahead!).

    I did think that Adair seemed a bit too modern for her times, but then there must have been a few women like that all throughout history (and I’m sure they suffered for it too). After all, times have changed, and they changed through the actions of people (women) like Adair.

    I thought the relationship between Adair and Major Neumann was believable, but very much influenced by the war. The part where the Major said to her that if she had come upon him at a social gathering, she would not have spoken to him, and her reply was that she did meet him and did care for him, really rang true to me.

    I liked Adair’s “confessions” – the fact that she refused to give any information that would hurt her brother or her people. I thought it was appalling that women were imprisoned in this way; I had never known that before reading this book.

    The lack of quotation marks and the number of incomplete sentences still bothers me, but I was getting more used to that by this point in the book. I enjoyed the story (mostly) but wish it had been a little better written.

  8. It is unjust that Adair is imprisoned, but I think that happens more often than not in times of war. Here’s another take on the questions: http://sillylittlemischief.blogspot.com/2011/08/week-two-of-enemy-women-read-along.html

  9. Hi Cheryl! Glad you’re joining our discussion even though you’ve already ready the book. I do think they’re relationship is influenced by the war, but I do believe they care for one another, at least at this point in the book. I knew about the imprisonment of women from reading Ann Rinaldi’s Juliet’s Moon, and the incident covered in that book is briefly mentioned in one of the historical excerpts at the beginning of one of the chapters from this week — the prison collapse that involved the Anderson girls.

  10. Even though Adair seems rather modern, she also has that scene towards the beginning with the mirror and the lake, trying to see who she will marry. She seems ready to fall in love, and he’s in the right place at the right time. Sides in this situation seem to be so blurred, not just Union/Confederacy that I don’t even consider that as a factor in their relationship. They do come from very different backgrounds though.
    One part I found interesting was that when the author made a brief allusion to Adair’s accent, which had been completely nonexistent in my mind before then. I wondered if that’s why she chose to nix the quotations marks, so that rather than focusing on the different dialects we could focus on the story. I still don’t appreciate it, but I’m always trying to figure out why an author made certain stylistic decisions. Just a thought.
    Anna, so glad you mentioned an Ann Rinaldi book related to this book. I’ve only read one of Rinaldi’s books, but I loved it and have wanted to read more.
    I am enjoying the book more now, although I admit I’m not reading the book as closely as I normally would because of other things going on. Sometimes I’m confused as to what’s going on, and I haven’t had the patience or time to reread or try to figure things out. Hopefully I’ll be able to focus more on the end.

  11. I wonder about the stylistic choices as well and had wondered why Adair’s accent wasn’t mentioned previously. Good points.

  12. Shelley, you are right that the sides are so blurred. I wonder if other states saw such confusion or whether they were either one side or the other. See, I really know so little about the Civil War!

    I am so glad that Jiles doesn’t have Adair speak in her accent because it would be so hard to read. It does help give a fuller picture of her to know how she spoke, though. Maybe that does explain the lack of quotation marks.

  13. I’m so behind! I got my post up the other day. In a nutshell…I think I felt about the same as both of you. haha

    http://notenoughbooks.blogspot.com/2011/08/enemy-women-by-paulette-jiles-read-long.html

  14. Kris, don’t feel bad! It’s been hard for me to keep up with my reading this month. Off to read your post!

  15. I had a hard time getting into the book, but I’m actually finding it a little easier in these later chapters. I love the historical letters at the beginning of each chapter.

  16. Hi Irene! I really enjoyed the second batch of chapters the most so far. It slowed down for me in the third section, but hopefully the ending will satisfy me. Glad to have you join the discussion!

  17. […] 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week […]

  18. […] do check out the discussion for the read-a-long on War Through the Generations if you’ve read the […]


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