Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meeting of October 26, 2009

This month's meeting was at Beth's home. In attendance were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. This month's book suggested by Linda was The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning. Ms. Powning lives in New Brunswick. She has written several books and this is her first novel.

The novel is about a woman who has recently lost her husband and is having great difficulty getting through the grief and moving on with her life. Most members enjoyed the book with some reservation. Many felt that a better editor would have helped the book flow better especially the first part that was filled with adjectives and descriptions that were too detailed. One member read the following passage that she had read to her husband:
"She felt young because she wore no underpants, and she'd shrugged back her bathrobe to show Tom how her breasts were like silver spoon backs."
The member told us that she then went to her cutlery drawer and took out teaspoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons and service spoons and proceeded to ask her husband which ones best represented her breasts! We had a good laugh.

Despite the shortcomings of the book, all felt that Ms. Powning represented a subject, grief, that solicited a lot of thoughtful discussion. Many of us talked about grief and how people we knew pulled through it and continued their lives or never really were able to build a life on their own after the death of a spouse. In finally going through the letters from her ancestors that were in the hatboxes, permitted Kate to imagine their lives and the losses they endured. She often imagined scenes from one or two sentences in a letter. Losing herself in the lives of her ancestors helped her in some ways to pull through the grief and eventually begin a life on her own.

Many members felt she had a good sense of place. Her descriptions of rural New Brunswick, of her home and garden, the river and the sea made it easy to visualize her surroundings. Those of us who are gardeners enjoyed her descriptions of the garden she and her husband Tom had created over the years.

We discussed the reasons why some people seem to survive grief and manage to build a productive and fulfilling life afterwards and that others have much more difficulty getting past the loss of a spouse. Some felt that women who have had an independent life before or during their relationship probably found it easier to build a life on their own after the loss of a spouse while others felt that it depended on making a decision to give of themselves through, for example, volunteer work.

One of our members who had read the book several years ago went back to her notes and had then thought that maybe the writing style, the jumbled thoughts and short sentences of the beginning of the book and then the more thoughtful descriptions and more flowing sentences may have been used to portray how grief affected Kate. At the beginning she was overwhelmed by the loss and unable to think straight and as time passed and she began to accept more her life, the book's writing style changed, became more fluid, easier to read.

Finally all members said that they enjoyed the book with some reservation.

1 comment:

  1. The Hatbox Letters began with an interesting premise, and I'm sure many of us can relate to how fascinating it can be to delve into our family history. I enjoyed the cross-references between Jonny's letters and Giles' more concise diaries. The bird motif was also fun to explore--was the purpose to remind us of the east-coast setting? On the negative side, I found the author's use of similes and metaphors really overdone, to the point that they distracted me from the story. I also found it hard to get into the backstory that narrator Kate kept imagining...I always have trouble when blanks are filled in by someone who has not really "lived the life," so to speak, even in fiction. There were aspects of truth that appealed to me--for instance, the fact that memories warp and history is re-written in our minds. Overall, however, this book was not one of my favourites. (Sorry, Linda...you and I usually have similar tastes--as you know, I think The Shack that you loaned me this summer would make for great discussion, even though--or maybe because--it can make the reader uncomfortable.)

    I would have loved to see you all last night, and I'm glad there is another meeting before our Christmas break so I can catch up. Hope to see you all then! Jolene



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