Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Sense of an Ending

One of our first comments today was how pleased we were to find such a short, well-written book.  The other thing we were in universal agreement on was our surprise at the ending.  So much of Tony's introspection was about memory and it's reliability. As one reviewer noted, "Mr. Barnes does an agile job...of unpeeling the onion layers of his hero's life while showing how Tony has sliced and diced his past in order to create a self he can live with. In doing so Mr. Barnes underscores the ways people try to erase or edit their youthful follies and disappointments, converting actual events into anecdotes, and those anecdotes into a narrative."  We were in for a ride.

Carolyn had marked and read this quote from Tony: "We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe.  We imagine we were being responsible but were only being cowardly.  What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them."  We only know Tony through his thoughts:  "What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully?  Who had neither won or lost, but just let life happen to him?"

Adrian remarked on it first in Old Joe Hunt's class:  “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."  He seemed to be old beyond his years and we couldn't help question that if when his mother abandonment him, she took his joy with her. I wondered after I got home if his attraction to Mrs. Ford might have been related to the absence and distance of his mom.

Tony's friendship with Adrian was really packed into a short span of time when you stop to think of it.  Adrian died at 22, yet it seems that Tony continued to look up to him:  "He took his own life" is the phrase; but Adrian also took charge of his own life, he took command of it, he took it in his hands - and then out of them."  Robson's suicide note was "Sorry Mum."  Adrian left a missive, yet ironically it appears their reasons for suicide might have been similar.

We spent a great deal of time trying to figure out Veronica.  Had she "suffered damage a long way back" or was that another of Tony's rationalizations?  We realized that we only knew anyone through Tony's eyes so Kathy said she was surprised to read in one review that Veronica was bookish and shy.  Tony showed her to us as aloof and a tease.  We questioned if he were ever in love with her.  He even asked her and she replied, if you have to ask, you weren't.  Then we wondered if he truly ever loved anyone or had friends.  He turned Margaret into a mother figure.  God knows where his mother was since his parents weren't part of his reflections.  Were this read in a college seminar, I'm sure the mother themes would be examined closely.

The first half of the book seemed to be Tony's recollections and rationalizations.  At one point he said, "Learning the new emotions that time brings.  Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been."  His musings seemed to substantiate his mediocrity and apathy in everything.  Finally I asked if anyone had liked Tony.  Carolyn and Peggy but said they did.  We were floating on his slightly self-congratulatory cloud when Veronica dropped his spiteful vitriolic letter on him, which changed everything.  It showed just how much of his past he had recreated and changed to make himself comfortable.

When Kathy asked about "blood money" we had to assume that it was somehow related to the letter - it implies buying someone off.  Why did Mrs. Ford leave him the money and the diary?  Peggy said she thought the mother's actions were evil and meant to punish.  We didn't understand why Veronica kept her meetings with Tony as the end unraveled.  I didn't know if any of it could be explained by the fact that she was the adult child of an alcoholic.  We certainly realized that she had been short-changed and wronged, but Tony gives us little else to go on.  Veronica wasn't exactly helpful.  "You don't get it," she kept saying with exasperation, like the clues were all that obvious.

I asked if anyone knew the meaning of the egg on the cover and Darlene did.  It was the egg that Mrs. Ford cooked for Tony, threw in the trash and made another.  He kept recalling that scene over and over.  You know this is going to be on college reading lists and boy would I love to be a fly on the wall during the discussions.  I came across a blog post from another reader addressing some of the same questions we had.  Click here to read her thoughts.  The writing was delicious and an opening into a promising reading year.