Week 3: Enemy Women Read-a-Long

This is week 3 of the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long.  If you missed the week 1 and week 2 discussions, please take a minute to join the discussion.

This week, each of us had to read the Chapters 16-24.  Please be warned there will be spoilers if you have not read the chapters previously.

In Chapter 17, once Adair has escaped the prison in St. Louis and is searching for a way South, Jiles makes a point of demonstrating the nation in transition between farming and industrial and traditional and modern sensibilities.  How does she accomplish this and is it done well?

S:  Adair seems focused on making herself presentable as she searchers for a way further south, seeking out a hat to cover her head and make her a “lady” once again and to find a ticket or basket as a way to give her purpose.  Meanwhile, she is walking or sneaking along the road by free Black men working into the night and by the levee where ships are being loaded and unloaded and factories are puffing smoke.  I liked the contrast between her and her surroundings, especially when thinking back to her more simplistic farm life with the barn and its horses at the beginning of the novel.  It did raise questions for me about whether the hat really would have made the difference with the soldier in terms of deeming her respectable.  Perhaps it merely only hid her true identity.

A: I think the contrast between the old farming South and the new industrial South is emphasized by the fact that we’re seeing it through Adair’s eyes.  She doesn’t seem like she’s ever left the country, so it’s all new to her.  But I think the contrast really takes a backseat to Adair’s search for a hat and other things she will need in order to make her way south.  I honestly didn’t even notice it until you pointed it out to me, but going back to that chapter now, I see what you mean.

These chapters center on two things — Adair’s escape and attempts to return home and Major Neumann’s journey to join his new unit and the battle where he loses part of his hand.  Which storyline do you find more interesting at this point?

A:  It seems like much of the book so far has centered on Adair traveling.  This trek seems more authentic to me than the one before her imprisonment, maybe because Jiles does more to show how difficult it is to travel alone, sick, and with few resources.  However, I found the chapters about Major Neumann and the skirmishes he’s caught in to be more interesting.  I think Jiles’ writing comes alive in those action scenes, whereas it’s more plodding and tempered in the chapters about Adair.

S:  I agree that Adair’s trek back home is more authentic and interesting, perhaps because it shows the journey as it should have been shown the first time in terms of its length and arduous nature.  I was waiting for some battlefield action, and thankfully, Jiles provides some in these chapters, though I would have liked to seen more of it.

What do you make of the woman and the daughter Adair stays with for a time?  Do you think these scenes are necessary?

A:  I think they are only necessary insofar as to reunite Adair and Whiskey and maybe to illustrate the different things people do to survive during the war.  Maybe I’m having problems with the writing or the lack of quotation marks or whatever, but I didn’t know what to make of Lila and Rosalie.  Rosalie seemed flighty, and Lila seemed hospitable to Adair at first and then there was something mean or sinister about her.  I don’t think I got to know them enough to know exactly what they wanted from Adair.  I wonder if they’ll make an appearance later on.

S:  I knew that the scenes with the woman and her daughter would be used as a plot device to reunite Adair with Whiskey.  A stroke of luck or the author’s pen, but you knew it was coming because of her passionate connection to that horse and her need for companionship on the journey home.  Lila seemed like a woman who wanted another accomplice, someone they could make complicit in their stealing and killing of Union soldiers.  If Adair had been a weaker character and more traditional, perhaps she would have fallen in line with the other women and stayed on there.  Rosalie seemed simply eager to have someone to talk to and share things with because as it was her father had left them for another woman, so her mother seemed closed off and bitter, which probably led to Rosalie’s loneliness and seeming need for companionship.  I think she hoped to find a friend in Adair.

Out of curiosity, do you think you would be as merciless as Lila and Rosalie or more cunning like Adair if you needed to steal to survive?

S:  I would like to think that I would be more cunning than Rosalie and Lila.  I’m not naturally the murdering type, but who is.  I can’t say for sure, but I have a tendency to lurk in the backgrounds of social gatherings, so I probably would take advantage of an opportunity when it presented itself, rather than make my own move to steal whatever I want/needed to survive.

A:  I think I’d be more like Adair.  I’d steal what I needed if it didn’t hurt someone else and only out of a need to survive.  I’d look for opportunities, like Adair did when stealing the woman’s luggage.

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

A:  I’m having mixed feelings about the book now.  I’m still interested in Adair’s story and hope to see more of Major Neumann in the coming chapters, but I had some difficulty getting through this section.  Other than the action in the scenes with Major Neumann, I found it to be slow going.  Now that Adair has found Whiskey and is on the move again, maybe something exciting will happen in the final chapters.

S:  It’s funny that you are having mixed feelings about the book now.  I find that I’m more interested in her journey and what happens to her.  Will she make it home?  Will she and the Major be reunited?  What will she think of him once he returns to her with his battle scars?  Adair still seems naive at this point, at least about love.  I just wonder what will happen when the reality of “love” and all that it entails hits her, if she’s reunited with the Major.

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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16 Comments

  1. I’m looking forward to everyone’s thoughts on these chapters!

    Serena, I am looking forward to finding out what happens with Adair and whether she and the major are reunited. I just think the writing was a bit slow in these chapters, but that did help to show the passage of time at any rate.

  2. I hope people participate. Sorry I was so late with the reading this week…it’s been a tough week.

  3. Don’t feel bad. I was late, too.

  4. This book is turning into a roller coaster ride. One section is pedestrian, the next interesting, this one was back downhill (except the Neumann at war passages). I am pretty disillussioned at this stage and definitely not optimistic about the rest of the book. I do not abide ridiculousness lightly even in fiction.

    I fear the book jumped the shark for me when she acquired the hat because a woman throws it out the window she happens to be hiding by. Come on, Jiles! Don’t insult my intelligence.

    I enjoyed the passages with Neumann off to war. The combat was surprisingly well done for a female author (sorry, I know that sounds sexist), but too brief. Some of her prose steps up in this section. “He caught a loose horse and managed to get it as it circled and circled in wild panic. He shoved his foot in the stirrup and swung up even while he was being thrown outward by the centrifugal force of the horse’s spinning.”

    I found the Spencer interlude troubling. Why would they nurse her to health? The “recruit her” theory is very shaky. You could make a stronger argument that she is fantasizing that they are murdering robbers. Seriously, these two women have killed Yankee soldiers, taken their horses and stuff, and buried them in the back yard?! Is this a Hitchcock movie? Yet, they don’t steal her silver dollars? You could make a case that even if they are evil, she is a jerk for stealing from them after what they did for her. BTW did I read correctly that she purloined some items before they returned home? And she’s worried about some footprints?

    Finally we’re back to Neumann. Some more action I hope. Nope, he goes AWOL (I believe this is out of character) because Adair can kiss his hand and make it better apparently. Spoiler prediction: he dies in her arms from the raging infection.

    OMG please don’t tell me one of the horses is Whiskey. Small world! You know that quote earlier, this one completely cancels it out: “Whiskey was strong, he was beloved, and he was on her side. He would be her companion.” Argggh.

    The scene where she puts them to sleep with boring stories and lots of yawns is a metaphor for the book at this point.

  5. There is a lot of “convenient” moments for Adair. I really found it out of character for Neumann to suddenly go AWOL. I knew that Whiskey would be found given the cover image on my paperback, and I had a feeling that the Spencer women would have it. I almost would have preferred her to find him in the woods on her trek home.

    “The scene where she puts them to sleep with boring stories and lots of yawns is a metaphor for the book at this point.” I feel this more and more as I read, but I try to look at the positives to keep myself going or I might have put this aside already.

  6. I had a hard time with this week’s questions. It’s been about 3 weeks since I finished the book and I can’t remember it as clearly. Although I cannot wait to discuss the ending.
    Here are my thoughts: http://sillylittlemischief.blogspot.com/2011/08/enemy-women-readalong-week-3.html

  7. I agree that the hat and Whiskey being one of the horses were convenient. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not sure what point the Spencer women had in the book, other than to reunite Adair and her beloved horse. Neumann going AWOL didn’t seem to be too much for me, but him running off without getting the necessary amputation was a bit much. I just hope last few chapters are better. Honestly, I remember liking this book a lot when I first read it, but I think my reading so much historical fiction since then has made me pickier.

  8. Oh..good point….the part with her putting them to sleep with her stories almost put me to sleep too! haha!

    I’ve got mine up:

    http://notenoughbooks.blogspot.com/2011/08/enemy-women-by-paulette-jiles-read-long_22.html

    I’m having a really hard time connecting with Adair and that’s causing some issues with me really liking the book, I think.

  9. I think we are in agreement that the book is making is sleepy. 😉 I like Adair’s spunk, but I don’t really relate to her either. Off to read your post!

  10. I totally agree with Warmoviebuff that her writing, which I haven’t been too thrilled with so far, is well-suited to the battle scene. I think the author’s priority throughout the book has been to create detailed images in the reader’s mind (sadly at the cost of other elements.) This was pretty powerful during the battle. And then, that scene was over…
    The most interesting part for me that could be considered traditional v. modern was the “steam” doctor. He wasn’t going to use any of those “old” methods. I found the details of his treatment fascinating. I very much wanted to prescribe her some antibiotics! Her illness is very unsettling to me.
    Unbelievable as the situation with Lila and Rosalie is, it did create a little bit of suspense for me as she tried to escape with Whiskey.
    Alone, I would die. If I was responsible for my children as well, I would do whatever I needed to to keep them alive.
    The book is improving, but I still don’t think it’s a book I would hand to someone and say, “You’ve got to read this!” I do get the idea that I would enjoy her poetry more than her fiction.

  11. Her images are very vivid and detailed, but the dialogue and the characterizations are not fleshed out enough for me. Some of the conversation is just dumb and does nothing to move the plot along. The war scene was good, but too short. I think she should have considered writing war scenes, focused more on the battles…and the major rather than on Adair.

  12. I really did enjoy the writing in the battle scenes, which is why the rest of it fell a little flat for me. It’s not a completely bad book, but I’m not liking it as much the second time around.

  13. […] 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week […]

  14. It’s been awhile since I finished the book, but I have to agree with many of the other comments. I thought her finding Whiskey was just too unbelievable. And the poor writing bothered me as well.

  15. The whole thing with Whiskey was too convenient. And it was sad that the women didn’t serve any other role but to reunite her with the horse and then they were out of the picture. They were creepy and interesting so I was hoping for more, but I kept wondering where Jiles was going with them…and then I realized nowhere.

  16. I knew those women and their horse wrangling and stealing would lead to Adair regaining Whiskey. It was just too obvious…but I would rather have seen Adair in more peril from them. The women in the prison also could have played a more prominent role. I just think there were too many plot points that were used for convenience — to propel– the story forward rather the enrich the experience of reading it and of Adair’s journey


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