We had decided to have a potluck party for our December meeting and discuss the book afterwards. We all liked it, but I wish we had picked something a little lighter to read during the holiday. I say that while at the same time having to admit that I gave it five stars in my Library Thing. This is the online tool I use to keep track of the books I've read as well look for book recommendations.
Cathy said that it felt we've read a lot of slice-of-life books this year and that's what this book seemed like to her. Carolyn said she picked up the thread that everyone has problems and she thought that was part of the author's message. Connie said all the men were horrible and those of us who have read her three books realized that she hasn't written a strong male character in any of them.
We loved Fat Bev and deplored Mr. Robertson. Carolyn called him a predator and it wasn't until today that I realized he was a one-year substitute teacher and knew he had nothing to lose professionally.
To a person we were disappointed at the abrupt ending of the book. She literally lopped it off. Kareen said she felt it was like the editor called and said, where is that manuscript?! So she wound everything up in a couple of pages - paragraphs, really. She left so much open-ended that Diana wondered if Strout was planning a sequel.
I'm not quite sure if we came to a consensus on our feelings about Isabelle, whose story this book really was. Luci said she just wanted to shake her. I think we mostly felt sorry for her, being absorbed by her mother at the age of 12 when her father passed away. Carolyn pointed out that she was a late-in-life baby and was the center of her parents lives. Kareen said that was part of the problem. She didn't develop. Starved for a man's attention, she was easily taken in by Jake. There were so many parallels of her life and Amy's. The very things she wanted to protect Amy from eluded her and Isabelle lived in a prison of fearfulness. Strout wrote, "Her own mother had been frightened too... All the love in the world couldn't prevent the awful truth. You passed on who you were."
In spite of the brief ending, it was clear that Isabelle had opened up and changed, though we know she continued to be fearful. "Isabelle's habit of expecting disaster had not left her - nor would it ever, entirely. No, Isabelle was still Isabelle." We had a brief discussion comparing Strout with Anne Tyler, whose characters often don't change or grow. We were disappointed to have no idea what Amy's future was, other than that she had learned she was sexually attractive to older men and that thrilled her. Did finding her own biological family change her direction? Did they accept her, did she feel loved and wanted, what she was looking for from Mr. Robertson??? We don't know.
We agreed that we could read this author again. Mary was unable to get a copy in time but is reading Abide with Me. I think it would be fun to talk about all three of her books sometime.