Week 4: Enemy Women Read-a-Long

This is week four of the Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles read-a-long. Please check out week 1, week 2, and week 3 discussions.  Up to this point, you would have read through chapter 24.

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!


  1. I can’t wait to read everyone’s final thoughts!

  2. […] Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 […]

  3. I thought Jiles did a poor job of demonstrating the struggle Adair faced or would have faced had the portrayal been more realistic. The lack of quotation marks was bothersome, but the poor characterizations and plodding plot and convenient plot devices made this a bummer of a book for me.

    I cannot wait to see what others have to say.

  4. Sounds like I’m in agreement with both of you. Not my favorite book, didn’t much care for Adair, the lack of quotation marks wasn’t a good choice, etc.


  5. I must be weird. I actually enjoyed this part of the book the most. I think we were well lead by the major getting his furlough papers, I knew he was going to seek out Adair. I found Adair’s feelings in the wood o.k. I think it might have been somewhat of a relief for her to hear raccoons and the like rather than guns all the time. I liked that she was not in constant conflict with other women. Sorry I like the book.

  6. There is no reason to apologize for liking the book, but I am pleased that I am not the sexist dude who throws water on the parade. I do not regret reading it, but it was not a good book.

    I did like the prison section, but the dual Odyssey sections at the beginning and end were tedious. I actually find Homer’s Sirens and Cyclops to be more realistic than some of the characters Adair encounters. But the worst of it was there was little or no payoff from these encounters. Blind the Cyclops, for Christ’s sake.

    A good example of how boring the writing style is the Greasy John map and the constant geographical references. Did Jiles think we needed directions in case we decide to reenact the journey? Does anyone care where she is at any particular time?

    Greasy John and Asa are good and the Spencers are evil? Is Jiles just messing with us?

    So many dead ends – fiddler in the woods, for example.

    So many ridiculous scenes – captured by a deserter who decides to march her at night to the Upshaws (why?) and then we don’t get what would have been an interesting reunion. He murders Dolly and then asks her what kind of music she likes. Bizarre!

    Even the scene with Neumann (he’s back!) and Poth is weird. He dispatches him with an umbrella, Poth gets his head caught between cypress knobs. Small world that he ties up the father loose end, but not surprising at this stage.

    Was she naive and immature? You tell me. Would you walk straight into your old house in Civil War Missouri not knowing who is in there? Luckily, it’s a family of circus performers who try to recruit her. I am not making this up. Oh, and they have a dancing pig. Arggh.

    Was anyone surprised that the ending was flat and unsatisfying? We know one thing – having consumption means marriage will doom her. Thanks Debbie Downer (Jiles).

    Let me close with something provocative – beautiful, vulnerable young women in Civil War Missouri can make long journeys alone with no threat of rape? As long as they only encounter men named Greasy John and the like.

  7. This seemed like a fanciful version of the events that could have happened. I’m glad to see that some of us enjoyed it though. And there is no need to apologize if you did enjoy it. Thanks everyone for weighing in and joining the read-a-long.

  8. Warmoviebuff: Sounds like we felt the same about this book, though you more eloquently expressed it. 😉 I kept wondering why the deserter didn’t seem interested in taking advantage of Adair in that way, but then again, his behavior was odd all around. I like that you point out the comparison between the Spencers and Greasy John/Asa…maybe Greasy John wasn’t considered bad even though he is in the same business as the Spencers because Adair knows him from home? Otherwise, I have no idea.

    Irene: Never apologize for liking a book! We all have different reactions to books, which is why it’s a good thing there are so many different books out there for different readers.

    What I can’t figure out is with Adair meeting so many different and outrageous characters on her journeys is why the book seemed so boring and plodding in those parts? Even if we didn’t find these encounters realistic, we should have at least found them entertaining!

  9. If any of you post reviews of the books on your blog, don’t forget to send us the links so we can add them to the book reviews page!

  10. Here’s my post on these questions http://sillylittlemischief.blogspot.com/2011/08/enemy-women-readalong-week-4.html

  11. I wrote this on my blog: “While I mostly enjoyed the story, I found parts to be unbelievable and thought it was not very well written. But I learned about the imprisonment of women during the Civil War that I didn’t know about before.” But the more I think about the story and read what others have to say, the less I like the book.

  12. I hope we didn’t ruin the book for you! I really liked it the first time I read it, but this time around (probably five years later), I didn’t enjoy it as much and found it more of a chore to read. Yet at the same time, I liked some scenes and characters and am not sorry I read it again. I guess I have complicated feelings about this book!

  13. I liked some of the characters, but mostly the ones that were not the focus of the story. I hope we didn’t ruin the book for you.

  14. Ladies, I have to thank you for hosting this. Although I did not particularly like the book, I think reading it will help me get into Heaven. Especially if God is a woman. However, you have gotten me into hot water with Caroline as I did not read “History” last month on her readalong. (I couldn’t get it through the library.) Iam pleased to see others had similar views of the book. I’m not as odd as I thought.

  15. warmoviebuff: You are too funny! I wasn’t able to read History either because of this read-along. Seems like we missed out on what probably was a more interesting book. 😉

  16. I’m glad you enjoyed the read-a-long, even though the book was not as good as you expected.

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