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!