This week’s discussion is for ch. 25 through the end of the book. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the discussions so far and have commented or answered the questions.
A lot of the latter parts of the book focus on Adair’s time alone in the woods. She sits and listens to the animals and listens for soldiers and signs of life. Do you find her reactions to her surroundings as a lone young woman in the woods believable?
S: Her observations about animals in the woods are baffling to me, with raccoons and others having “arguments” most of the time, rather than just being animals talking to one another or simply making sounds. Jiles’ description of these animal “conversations” just seemed odd to me, almost as if Adair is not 18, but younger and trying to console herself by making up stories to ease her mind. Only those stories are not fleshed out in any way, but mentioned by passing comments. They seemed to elementary for her age, but then again, many times throughout the novel, she’s seemed younger than 18. By 18 during this time period, I would have expected her to be more mature and self-sufficient than she is.
I also wonder about her suddenly being ok with lying naked in the sun and bathing in the wild when she seems so worried about Union soldiers, etc. And it is strange that she takes time to follow the “steam doctor’s” advice; the timing of these actions is just odd to me. If I were trying to escape and get home without being found by the Union, I certainly wouldn’t be sleeping much or bathing in the nude or lying out in the nude for long periods. I don’t see much evolution in her character, she still seems to be that naive girl we met at the beginning.
A: Honestly, I found this whole section boring, aside from a few scenes here and there. I didn’t pick up on Adair making up stories about the animals in the woods, but I think you have to remember that she’s sick and she’s been traveling alone with very few people to talk to. Her mind is going to wander.
As for her spending so much time sleeping and bathing in the sun, etc., I just attributed that to her sickness and her exhaustion and the need to rest often to keep her horses healthy. I don’t know why she thought it was the right time to shed her clothes, but she also was thinking about the major and about whether she would be well enough to marry, so maybe that’s why she decided right then and there to follow the steam doctor’s advice.
How did you feel about Major Neumann not making another appearance until the second-to-last chapter, especially considering that some of us are finding his story more interesting than Adair’s?
A: This really disappointed me. Jiles took the time to build Major Neumann’s character; we see him and Adair together in the prison and him on the battlefield, but when it’s time for the two of them to make their way to the meeting point (Adair’s home), he falls out of the picture until the very end, and then only to get rid of Tom Poth and find out about Adair’s father. It seems almost as though Jiles couldn’t decide who was more interesting; she may have wanted to write about a strong girl’s experiences during the war, but found that Adair’s character just couldn’t carry the story alone. It also makes me wonder why the romance was added to the story anyway. Adair is shown thinking about the major only a couple of times on her journey back home, making the romance almost a non-issue. She was going back home with or without Neumann.
S: I agree the lack of the major in the last part of the book was disappointing, and the end where he shows up shouting that he will wait for her forever and she’s just staring for the longest time is dumb. I understand that they will be together, but I wanted greater resolution, I wanted more conclusive evidence that she loved him or even thought more of him than as a means of escape from the women’s prison. And if she didn’t love him, would she tell him or merely marry him because he was the only one around that she knew and that was left. Jiles disappointed me on so many levels with this book; she relied too heavily on plot devices that were not necessary most of the time, and she failed to expound upon the relationship or the struggles that each would have encountered to get back to one another. It seems that she was more interested in providing the historical documents she found at the beginning of each chapter than the contents of the chapters themselves.
What are your final impressions of the book?
S: Ultimately, this book was disappointing to me for a number of reasons, the two-three chapters we saw of the Major were more interesting to me than the entire story of Adair. The beginning was so quick to get her captured, then her time in prison was so mixed between the poor treatment and the delight of the major, only to give away to the extra long journey home. I couldn’t identify with her at all, which soured my enjoyment. The prison chapters were interesting in that there were more characters to see and ponder, but those chapters were short lived. Adair, at least to me, remained the same naive girl that she was at the beginning.
I really had to push through the slow unfolding of these final chapters to read the end. I just wanted it to be over and when it was, the ending left me feeling flat, as if nothing was resolved for her or her family. What happened to her sisters or her brother? I presume the Major will tell her what happened to her father, but he may want to spare her the news. To be honest, I have a tough time with Civil War books in general; I’m not sure if the time period doesn’t interest me or if I haven’t found the right book, though I did enjoy Cold Mountain when I read that years ago.
A: Well, I certainly didn’t like the book as much as I did the first time I read it. I didn’t hate it, but those last chapters were somewhat boring and a chore to finish. I didn’t mind Adair; I just thought the chapters that follow her journey fell flat. Jiles’ writing seemed to come alive with Neumann in battle, but when the focus was on Adair, the story plodded along. And the end was frustrating, especially the non-reunion of Adair and the major. I loved their interactions when she was in prison, and I was hoping for more of that at the end, but readers are left wondering what happens when Adair makes her way down the hill. Do they marry? Does she survive the consumption? What about her family and their home? Honestly, my disappointment has made it difficult for me to think of some good discussion questions, so I hope the other participants will help us out!
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!