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!