Final Week: Stella Bain Read-a-Long

Welcome to the final week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve. For this discussion, we read pgs. 208-end.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. (from GoodReads)

Beware of potential spoilers.  Check out Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3.

Serena: Wow, this book packs a lot in it!

Were you surprised by the outcome of the court hearing? I was but not overly so. I think there was some foreshadowing about how the term “shell shock” would not be received well.

Anna: Yes, it does! It was so hard for me to stay quiet about this last section of the book when we were discussing last week’s section. I had to keep reading since last week’s section ends right before the outcome of the court hearing, and I just had to find out what happened.

I thought the judge was leaning in Stella’s favor, especially since he didn’t seem to be too happy with Nicholas and his lawyer, and then August’s letter put a damper on all that. I had a feeling that would factor heavily into the judge’s decision, especially since the term “shell shock” was still so new at the time, and given that August thinks Etna may be the first woman diagnosed with the condition. I felt bad because August really thought he was doing a good thing with that letter.

Were you surprised by the revelation of Phillip’s sexuality? I wasn’t shocked by it, to be honest, but I was more shocked with Etna immediately turning to August and indicating that he was the reason she went to England. That confused me a bit because not too many pages before that, she mentions that seeing Phillip was the real reason she was going there. That being said, I really wasn’t surprised that Etna and August ended up together. I think they were well suited to one another.

Serena: I wasn’t really surprised by Phillip’s sexuality honestly. He seemed like he loved her but more in a way a brother loves a sister. Doting on them and protecting them, like he does with Etna. I do think that his falling out with his brother helped distance him from that sense of family, which may be why he readily clung to Etna — especially when he saw how passionate she was when in love.

I think August thought the letter would help, but the judge had the very opposite reaction, which isn’t hard to fathom given that she did abandon her kids in the first place.

As for Etna, I still cannot figure her out. She says one thing and then does another. She says that Phillip is the reason she was going back to England, but turns around and tells August that he was the reason. Perhaps I read too much into her comments about Phillip, but I did sense something sexual between her and August from the get-go, even though he was married.

Anna: I sensed something between them, too, from the very beginning — especially when he woke her up from that nightmare. At least they didn’t act on those feelings while Lily was alive. That might’ve clouded the whole ending for me.

Speaking of the ending, it definitely didn’t pack a punch like in Shreve’s other novels. But I was okay with it, because there was so much heaviness earlier on with the war, Etna’s memory loss/trauma, and the court case, that I was glad that the very end showed that she and August lived a fairly uneventful, happy life after all that. I didn’t have too much of a problem with Etna, given what she’d gone through. Maybe once the unfinished business between her and Phillip was dealt with, she could finally face her feelings for August? What did you think about the ending?

Serena: The ending left me a little let down. I prefer her punchy endings, and I felt like this one was rushed and glossed over. I feel like all the sort of “removed” passages about objects in the house and the events that pass were told to me not shown in favor of expediency. I felt cheated in a way.

I’m not unhappy that Etna’s life became calmer, happier, and independent, while yet full of family and love.

What about you?

Anna: I didn’t mind the ending. I sensed that Shreve went that route because Etna had endured so much previously, so seeing her living out the rest of her life in contentment with August was satisfying. I didn’t mind her glossing over what happened to the other characters so much because they weren’t a huge part of the story, and it’s almost like the story ended that night she and August were first together, when she finally realized that their intimacy was so much different and better than what she had with Nicholas. So I didn’t feel cheated in the end. I closed the book knowing that Etna found what she’d been looking for.

Or maybe it’s because Shreve sort of kept readers at arm’s length through much of the book, and I sort of became used to that by the end. I knew enough about Etna and August to care about them, and Shreve didn’t leave any loose ends, so I was okay. Actually, with all that they had endured during the war years, I would’ve felt cheated if there had been some big twist that turned the whole story upside down at the end and just left it like that (which is what I almost expect with Shreve’s novels, at least her older ones, i.e. The Last Time They Met). It’s almost as if she’s showing us how ordinary, flawed people can do extraordinary, out-of-character things during wartime, but when that’s all over, they’re just normal people who made mistakes and they likely will go on to lead normal lives. I don’t know.

Serena: I see your point. I just felt let down by the ending. It was flat to me. I think I would have preferred it to end when she got together with August. I think I could have lived with that and assumed she got her kids back into her life and was happy.

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Come back in October, for a read-a-long of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter for WWII.

Week 3: Stella Bain Read-a-Long

Welcome to the third week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve. For this discussion, we read pgs. 139-207.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. (from GoodReads)

Beware of potential spoilers.  Check out Week 1 and Week 2.

Serena: Wow, what a section! This case seems to be moving very quickly, and it makes me wonder how different the legal system must have been back then to have a case move so quickly.

What did you think about how quickly Etna and her daughter Clara reconciled?

Anna: It was such an interesting section, that I must confess I went ahead and finished the rest of the book.

I wonder if the trial actually happened that quickly. Shreve doesn’t really indicate the passage of time, other than at the beginning of each section. It does seem that Etna spent quite a bit of time in Florida with Clara before heading up north to be with Nicky. But if it was quickly, I think it’s because Clara is older and she saw what her mother went through, even being called upon by her father to lie. So I don’t really think her parents’ problems went over her head, not at her age.

We got our first glimpse of Etna’s husband here, and what did you think of him?

Serena: Ah, Dean Van Tassel, what a stuck up, self-important ass! OK, now that I got that out of my system. Clearly he didn’t really love Etna — maybe just thought he was because he doesn’t know the difference between love and lust/obsession.

You really feel for Etna and her situation when you learn more about her husband during the course of the trial. He really wanted things to be his way and only that way. I can see why she would feel stifled. I do like how Shreve portrays the domestic as well as legal struggles of women during this time period — even though she freely volunteered at the front, she’s still constrained domestically.

Anna: I loved watching him and his lawyer get put in their places by the judge. I have no idea how Nicholas really felt about Etna; we just hear Etna discuss his inability to distinguish love from obsession. I would’ve liked to see something from his point of view because I just see a man who wants to control every aspect of his life; I’m not even sure why they married. His absence from the court room emphasizes his self-importance on the one hand, but it prevents readers from seeing his reaction when the lie and the rape are discussed.

I can’t imagine being in Etna’s position, where you’re only a wife and mother and unable to have any creative outlet. I can see why she needed the cottage, “a room of one’s own,” so to speak. Shreve really does cover a lot of ground when it comes to women and their roles in the family and society at large in the early part of the 1900s. I think this novel would make for a great book club discussion!

The shell shock diagnosis seems difficult for Etna to process, despite what she knows about it from her work at the front. Since this section ends prior to the outcome of the case, do you think August’s letter explaining Etna’s time as Stella Bain will help or hurt her case?

Serena: I honestly don’t know if August’s letter helps or hurts her case, but I would presume it would be helpful as he had first-hand knowledge of her care, but as he’s not really a specialist in the field, I’m unsure.

I do wonder about the passage of time, especially when she says Ferald, one of the witnesses, didn’t seem any older, even though she hadn’t seen him in three years. She’s only been away for three years, but her time at the front and her time without memory seem to have been longer than that to me. I think in that aspect Shreve has done really well to demonstrate how much can happen in such a short time, even things that she can’t remember. I wonder if that’s a fog of Etna’s memory coming into play. The time frame seemed longer to me, but it was only three years.

I wonder if August will make a reappearance in her life or if Mr. Asher, who had to have his face reconstructed, will be heard from again?

Anna: I like when I know how much time has passed, so I’ve sort of had to force myself to just go with the flow here, especially since much of the story is told in fits and starts and requiring some patience on the part of the reader. I’m sure that is intentional, given the book’s focus on memory and the way the brain processes things even when it is not fully conscious of them.

There definitely hasn’t been closure in her relationships with August and Phillip, so it would be safe to say that they appear in the next section. I don’t want to say too much since I read ahead, but given my schedule for the upcoming week, it’s a good thing I did.

Anyway, I was surprised how many different directions this novel has gone, from the front in France to the Admiralty in London to a courtroom in New Hampshire. There are just so many layers to this story.

What aspect of the book has interested you the most so far?

Serena: My favorite parts (if I can use that terminology) were at the front when she was aiding those in need and driving the ambulance. I did like her time outs with Asher at the front too, there was a mystery there, which I don’t think has been resolved. I know what his feelings might have been about Etna, but I certainly don’t know what hers are or were given that she never expressed them fully and has since regained her memory.

The court room stuff I can take or leave, though it was nice to see her interact with her kids, but I still would have liked her to focus on her memories of their times in the garden. That would have rounded out the picture for me.

I’m looking forward to finishing the next and final piece.

Anna: I agree that the war-related parts of the story are the most interesting, but the court room stuff really gives readers a fuller picture of Etna and what prompted her to go there in the first place.

I can’t wait to discuss the last section with you!

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Also stayed tuned for the final week’s discussion on Aug. 29, when we will discuss the final section of the book, beginning with page 208.

Week 2: Stella Bain Read-a-Long

Welcome to the second week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve. For this discussion, we read pgs. 71-138.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. (from GoodReads)

Beware of potential spoilers.  Check out Week 1.

Anna: Were you surprised by the revelations of Stella’s past? I will say it was difficult to get used to thinking of her as Etna!

Serena: I liked how Etna Bliss was an anagram for Stella Bain (I think that’s the right word). I still call her Stella in my head. I kind of figured that she was American, and that she escaped from her (abusive) husband. I wonder about her reasons for coming to WWI’s front lines, simply to find a sibling of her former lover to make amends. That seems odd to me, though maybe it was just an excuse because she really wanted to be away from her husband. I’m also questioning her character now that I know she left her kids behind, particularly her daughter who was abused by the father, or was she? Somehow I’m not sure if that’s true.

Anna: Yes, that was interesting how the name was twisted (no idea if it’s really called an anagram, should look that up lol), sort of indicating the weird ways our minds work under duress. I wasn’t too surprised about the lover and the abusive husband, given the pictures she had drawn and shown to Dr. Bridge. I think what’s lacking in this section is details. We know so little about her husband, just fragments, which may be because of how she was remembering things, but that does make it difficult to truly understand why she went to France in search of Phillip.

I didn’t really question her character so much for leaving her kids behind, per se. We don’t know exactly what happened between her family and Phillip, so her guilty conscience may have been heavy enough to prompt her leaving. If she was abused, she may not have been thinking straight anyway, and on top of that, she lost custody of her children, so she may not have been able to see them anyway. I just hope more details are revealed by the end of the book.

I wonder why her daughter is in Florida and her son is in New Hampshire, since they’re only 16 and 8. There must be some story there.

I think it’s interesting how many women’s issues Shreve covers in one book, from their service during WWI and the psychological issues they suffered as a result to domestic violence and parental rights in the early part of the century.

Even though her memory appears to have returned, she’s not done with Dr. Bridge, as evidenced by their continued correspondence. I still wonder if he has something to do with her past, or if Lily’s death just opens up a door for them to become romantically involved in the present. What do you think about their relationship at this point?

Serena: I’m going to say her name is a near-anagram, and it does highlight the mysterious ways in which the brain works after suffering trauma.

I’m not too crazy about the continued correspondence with Dr. Bridge at this point, but that might be because I just don’t “feel” their connection. I mean he helped her, but it doesn’t seem that it was that long of connection and how can she form feelings for someone when she’s still unsure of who she is. Maybe there will be more correspondence that enlightens me and shows their developing connection to one another.

I do like that Shreve is tackling a lot of women’s issues, but it seems like there are too many issues for so short a book. I wonder if she’ll be able to give all of these issues the in-depth attention that they need to make them believable.

I too have wondered how the daughter is so far from her home, her brother, and her father, especially if he got custody. There is something we are missing her, and I’m sure it will be revealed in time.

I’m sort of on the fence about this book right now because we know so little about what happened to Etna and the story seems not to be about her PTSD and her time in France so much as her traumatic experiences at home with her husband and family. Is she like a moth to a flame when it comes to traumatic and dangerous experiences? I wonder about her.

Anna: Near anagram is probably best because it definitely isn’t a true one.

I’m not going to write off Dr. Bridge just yet. I’m wondering if Etna/Stella will be able to help him through his grief like he helped her recover her memory? There must be a reason for him to continue to play a prominent role in the book.

Already the book seems to lack the necessary details, but I’m going to reserve judgment because Shreve has been known to pack a punch at the end. I’m still not sure what to make of Etna, but at first I thought the book was veering away from the war and the PSTD, but then it went back and with more description about her duties there. Is she suffering from war-related or abuse-related PTSD or both? Hopefully, we’ll get more of an idea as the book continues, because at this point it seems like her wartime service is finished…but America has yet to enter the war.

So far, despite the lack of details, I like the book. I like that Shreve is keeping me guessing about Stella/Etna and how all the pieces fit together. I just want a little more clarity by the end.

Serena: I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Dr. Bridge.

I think she’s probably suffering from a lot of PTSD all around. At one point, I think she says to Dr. Bridge that she can’t feel normal because she doesn’t know who she is and that even once she does know who she is, she may find that she doesn’t like the person she was. I wonder how she is feeling about herself now?

I think that the distance provided by the POV is part of my issue with the book. I feel like I don’t get enough insight into Etna’s character; I’m just an observer of her struggles with little emotional investment. Part of that also could be because she doesn’t know who she is or was, and we’re kept in the dark about the full story. I still wonder how she feels about her true identity now — to me she seems a little “too” perfect.

Anna: Hmm, I don’t see her as being too perfect. I see her as very troubled, stumbling about life after the loss of her children. She asks to be dismissed so she can go home, and when that request is denied, even though there’s nothing technically holding her there (well, aside from travel money), she stays. Sometimes she seems like she’s truly getting something out of her experience of helping people even when there isn’t much help to provide, but other times it seems like she’s there solely on the mission to find Phillip. And even that seems unresolved, despite having found him. There seemed to be something between them, especially on his side, but then all that was interrupted by their injuries.

You’re right that we don’t get much insight into her character, but at this point I think it’s intentional because of the memory loss. I wonder if the letters between her and Dr. Bridge were supposed to let us inside her head somewhat, so I wonder if the letters will continue. I hope that we’re able to become more connected to Etna/Stella as her story is fleshed out. I, too, am curious about what she thinks about herself now that she remembers. She does hint at entering into a custody battle in one of the letters, so maybe now that she’s had the experience in France, she’s going to move beyond the mess in her past and do what needs to be done for her children. Maybe that’s where we’ll find out the truth about her, whether there really was abuse, etc.

Serena: Maybe she seems perfect to me because she goes to war to make amends for something her husband did, because she keeps herself at a distance from Dr. Bridge while his wife is alive, because she cares for the sick even after she decides she wants to leave, and because others (like Phillip) seem to view her that way.

I do think it will be interesting to see how her experiences in France will prompt her to tackle her troubles at home. I’m still looking forward to the next part.

Anna: I see your point, but none of those things struck me that way. I just felt a lot of pain and guilt from her past prompting her decision making, and I wondered if Phillip’s observations of her and his brother all those years ago created this ideal for him of true love and clouded his judgment of her and whatever happened back in New Hampshire. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out. It’s becoming difficult for me to read the book one section at a time.

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Also stayed tuned for the third week’s discussion on Aug. 22, when we will discuss pgs. 139-207.

Week 1: Stella Bain Read-a-Long

Welcome to the first week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.  For this discussion, we read pgs. 1-70.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. (from GoodReads)

Serena:  What are your first impressions of the novel so far?

Anna: So far, I really like the book, but I’ve long been an Anita Shreve fan. I like that it’s more than just a book about the psychological impact of war, that there’s a bit of mystery, too, when it comes to Stella’s past. But what I really like is that Shreve focuses on the women who served and how they were scarred by the war. It’s easy to forget that they were in the thick of it, too.

Serena:I love Anita Shreve too, and this book so far has my attention. Stella has it rough waking up in a field hospital without any memory of her past and pulling a name out of thin air. I wonder if that’s even her real name or someone else’s. I like that she’s still concerned for the soldiers even in the midst of her own crisis, which shows her training transcends her current memory loss. It’s like something she’s been trained to know and hasn’t forgotten. I found that fascinating.

Dr. Bridge seems like an odd sort, like he’s interested in Stella, but I am hoping its merely in a professional way. What are your impressions of him?

Anna: On top of remembering her training, she also remembers how to draw. I find it interesting that the most pressing memories have to do with a garden, and connected to her training maybe, the Admiralty.

Dr. Bridge [just checked that it is Bridge, not Bridges, I couldn’t remember] does seem odd, especially how he takes on Stella’s care when it’s obviously outside his field of expertise. It makes me wonder whether there is some connection between the two that she doesn’t remember, especially since she ended up near his house in the first place. I have a feeling that their relationship will stray into unprofessional territory, and that makes me sad since Lily was so nice to her when she was ill. I’m sure there are connections there that haven’t yet unfolded.

Serena: I wonder about that too … his motivations seem to be professional curiosity, but at the same time, it is outside his medical expertise — and everyone else is way too busy with male soldiers and their issues. Seems a bit convenient for him, but she’s unlikely to question it since she can’t remember anything.

I am leaning toward them having a prior connection as well — perhaps they had a relationship before now — and he’s trying to see how much she remembers or if she’s there to ruin his marriage, etc. Ok, that’s a little soap opera-like.

Lily is so nice, and I wonder if that’s because she has not other outlet for her nurturing skills other than those soldiers. It is interesting that she was great athlete when she met her husband. I wonder how much that will play into it.

One thing that has been bothering me is that Stella seems to have been “on leave” for some time without any repercussions from the French military. Do they know where she is? Do they assume that she’s remembered where she came from and returned there? Or did they not have those mechanisms in place to track down “missing” staff?

Anna: I also wondered how she was able to be gone from her post in France for so long. But maybe they wouldn’t even be able to track her down, given that the nurse who first spoke to her said she was just left outside the tent by someone in a cart. (There has to be a story in that!!) I wonder if they don’t even know who she is.

As for a prior connection between Stella and Dr. Bridge, it might be soap opera-like, but that wouldn’t be too far off for a Shreve novel. I think her books are more about the twists and turns and shocking endings than whether such a connection is overly dramatic.

Serena: I think you’re probably right that the overly dramatic romance is typical of Shreve, but I love the twists and turns in her writing.

There is definitely a mystery in this one, pretty early on. The Admiralty is one fragment I cannot wait to see unfold.

Anna: We definitely have only scratched the surface of this novel, and I can’t wait to get back into it. I have so many questions; I want to know the meaning of the garden and the flowers she draws, why she can’t picture the house. I also want to know how she ended up in the hospital tent in the first place, and why she was just left outside like that. I, too, am curious about the Admiralty, and I’m worried about those dark and disturbing drawings of that man. I like Stella, but I’m being cautious about it because I have a feeling that I’ll soon question my opinion of her.

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Also stayed tuned for the second week’s discussion on Aug. 15, when we will discuss pgs. 71-138.

August Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve


As part of the War Through The Generations 2014 Reading Challenge with a Twist, we’ll be hosting a read-a-long for WWI.

In August, we’ll be reading Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.

Discussion questions will be posted on Friday for the designated chapters.  Here’s the reading schedule and discussion dates:

  • Friday, Aug. 8: Pages 1-70
  • Friday, Aug. 15: Pages 71-138
  • Friday, Aug. 22: Pages 139-207
  • Friday, Aug. 29: Pages 208-end

We hope you’ll be joining us next month for our WWI read-a-long.

WWI Linky

The 2014 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge With a Twist has begun. For July and August, reviews for the WWI should be linked here.

To be clear, you don’t have to read just WWI books now, but any of the books that fit the war categories. We’ll just be posting the linkies for the reviews in the months we designated here.

Welcome to the WWI Reviews linky for July/August:

Looking for the Linky for the Gulf Wars, go here.

Looking for the Linky for the French and Indian War, go here.

Looking for the Korean War linky, click here.

Week 2: War Babies Read-a-Long

Welcome to the last week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of War Babies by Frederick Busch for June.

A short but powerful tale weaving together moral complexity and romantic intrigue, Frederick Busch’s War Babies is the story of an American lawyer in his mid-thirties (Peter Santore) who travels to England in an attempt to tie up the loose ends of his own dark past.  Peter’s father, a prisoner who turned traitor in a Korean War POW camp, might have had something to do with a fellow captive’s death, the father of one Hilary Pennels — now a woman Peter’s age who lives in Salisbury.  When Peter and Hilary meet, they both want information from the other, and more, and find themselves engaged in a wary dance of attraction laced with mistrust.  But it may be a third person, the sole remaining survivor of the camp — a Mr. Fox — who holds the key to the mystery of betrayal that haunts Peter and Hilary alike.  (publisher’s summary)

Because the novel is so short, we’re only hosting 2 discussions for it.  For week one’s discussion, go here.

For this week’s discussion, we’ve read pages 51 through the end of the novel.

Serena: At one point, Hilary tells Peter that Fox likes to talk about the war and that he’s brutal about it. Given that war is brutal in itself, did you find anything else brutal about the way he talked about the war?

Anna: Maybe I’ve read too many war novels, but I found the way Fox talked about the war to be the way an old soldier with bitterness talks about the war. It was brutal, but that was to be expected, I think, when one talks about the war.

Serena: I agree; I didn’t find anything unusual about the way Fox talked about the war because he’s clearly bitter — and understandably so. I think maybe she finds it brutal because of her relationship with him, which I found very twisted. He’s supposed to come back and look after her for her father, but then he’s having a sexual relationship with her that gets twisted up in some kind of revenge scenario he’s cooked up to get back at Peter’s father and even Peter himself.

Anna: I thought this book was many shades of messed up, but I was more disturbed by Fox attacking Peter in the duty free store. He had some weird fascination for Peter’s father that went far beyond hatred for his role in Hilary’s father’s death. I understood the characters in that they were in pain, each feeling some deep loss, but they were portrayed so oddly.

I didn’t like the characters or their stories. I didn’t connect with them at all, and I didn’t care how they fared in the end. The only thing I like about this book was how it shows the scars of war among those who fought and those who didn’t, those who survived and those who were abandoned.

Serena: I have to agree with you; this was a book with a great deal of potential, but it was poorly executed. I think the most interesting character was Fox, but you don’t really get to know him.

I wonder if the third-person POV had something to do with the narration disconnecting us from the characters?

There’s another part in which Hilary talks about the nation of cripples and how we have a duty to recover from the past and the move forward, what do you think she meant by that? A duty to whom? And is she even taking her own advice?

Anna: I was confused by how it was mostly first-person but switched to third person at times and even used second person at one point.

Fox was interesting and creepy. Mostly creepy, though. But it was hard to like because the characters were all over the place. I’m not sure we even really got to know them. Peter’s short trip to England barely scratched the surface. And honestly, I’m surprised he found out as much of the story of their fathers as he did, given that they seemed to spend the entire book in bed.

Honestly, I don’t remember that part about the “nation of cripples,” but I don’t think she’s following her own advice. She seemed to be at first, falling in love or at least in lust with the son of the man who may or may not have killed her father, but that whole scene with her mocking Peter makes me think twice about that.

Do you think Hilary and Peter were in love? What was all that about if it wasn’t love? It seemed so melodramatic and so impossible.

Serena: I don’t think she follows her own advice either, but I think she’s manipulative — case in point, her mocking of Peter, and her jabs at him even before that.

I think Peter was trying to be in love, seeing that there might be something else out there for him beyond thinking about his father’s betrayal. I wonder how manipulative Hilary and Fox were from the very beginning since they seem to be in on some kind of torture scheme where Peter is concerned. Did Fox know that Peter was coming beforehand because of who Peter asked about Hilary’s father? Did she agree to be in on it?

I don’t think she’s in love or even knows how to be in love honestly. It is overly dramatic and ridiculous. And at one point I was thinking that maybe it was that way on purpose to demonstrate how traumatized people can have such heightened emotions and be out of control.

Anna: I agree that she was manipulative, and I actually did feel bad for Peter after he caught her with Fox because he thought they had something in common. I do wonder how much she knew, since I’m still not convinced their meeting up was a coincidence.

I think ridiculous is a good way to describe this story. The characterizations and their relationship were just over the top.

What did you think about Hilary’s anger at her father for not leaving the cave and how it meant that he chose to abandon her? The way she called her father “the hero” throughout the book was really put into perspective after that. We read so many stories of children being proud of their hero fathers, and she really turns that on its head.

Serena: I’m not convinced their meeting was a coincidence either.

I do find it interesting that Peter wants to believe there was some good in his father — and its almost like he would have preferred his father had not come home to be put in jail but remained out there somewhere — and Hilary sees nothing good about her father’s actions.

I think they are both feeling abandoned and maybe for a brief moment they find solace with one another, but that is short-lived.

There’s a point in the latter part that Hilary really turns her own notions about her father upside down — it’s like she’s questioning her own convictions about the matter. It’s after Peter asks why they don’t hate each other, and she says something to the effect of they chose how they wanted to live and die, and “you mean they owe us from the grave?” It’s like she’s trying to convince him that they can choose to not hate each other, but she doesn’t even believe it herself.

Anna: That is probably the most clever thing about the novel, that Peter’s father was a traitor and he wanted to believe he was good, and Hilary’s father saved many of his men and she thought he was anything but a hero. I wonder how much Fox and his weird hold over her affected her feelings about her father?

Serena: I wonder that too, but doesn’t look like we’ll ever find out.

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Come back in August for our read-a-long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.

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