Friday, August 13, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I received several emails in advance of our Tuesday meeting so was not surprised when there ended up just being seven of us. After all, this is a big vacation month. I guess because this book has stayed with me since I read it as a young person, I was surprised that it was a first read for several and very happy to share it! And we were joined by another Linda - welcome!!

We talked about how achingly lonely Francine was and then to almost have been taken advantage of by Lee. We were unresolved on his intentions and a little confused by her insistence that their single encounter was her true love lost, though her mother's contribution wasn't helpful. The blinders were off when she left for college - giving Ben five years to show himself as her love. He was as directed as she!

We were stunned at how unprotected Francie was in school and then wondered how much of her alienation was of her own perception, saying that women hate other women. At graduation, the other students clamored to write in her book. Would they have been friends? Would they have been friends if they knew her true circumstances?? And there was the teacher who, unaware of Francie's true living conditions, felt that she had manufactured sordid stories of which she was intolerant. We were unclear on how this quashing of her art would parlay into the future, though she did save four stories.

We cringed at the doctor who insulted Francie's unwashed arm which vaccinating it. There was no mention that he made an attempt to make the area sterile. She told him not to tell the next little boy, because she had already told her - protecting Neeley. Her mother and she unwittingly both protected Neeley. We were confident that Francie would strive and achieve but we weren't clear on what Neeley's future would be, other than that he didn't want to be a drunk like his father.

We loved Aunt Sissy and "John" and did think that her first baby was probably his. The story was rich with these characters and some supplementary material suggested that they were stereotypical. We talked it over and felt that they really weren't, that Smith had fleshed them out so that each stood on their own. Uncle Willard was perhaps the most bizarre and laughable. Johnny could have been a classical Irish drunk, but we agreed that the family loved him unconditionally and his memory went untarnished. We questioned his private indulgences, the barber, paper cuff and collar, the appearance of a gentleman. As Maureen said - who was he kidding? It was taking food out of his childrens' mouths. Yet he loved them, enough to provide flowers and a card for Francine's graduation. Did he know his life was that short or did he commit suicide by alcohol poisoning? We weren't sure.

Brooklyn was as much a character as anyone in the book. Kathy grew up in Brooklyn and shared her knowledge of the neighborhoods, the ethnic neighborhoods and their relationships to each other. It gave us perspective, flavor and background. We spent the last ten minutes or so brainstorming book titles we might like to consider for 2011.

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