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Topic: Begin discussion of Prodigal Summer

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Subject: Begin discussion of Prodigal Summer
Date Posted: 9/1/2012 10:57 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Heather decided she didn't want to lead the discussion so I'm taking over for her. First question is coming today but then I'll probably wait until Tuesday to post the next one so everyone who is enjoying their long weekend can get a chance to answer if they want to.

1. Why do you think this book is entitled Prodigal Summer? In what ways do all of the characters display "prodigal" characteristics? Who, or what, welcomes them home from their journeys?

Since the only definition of prodigal that I knew was "one who has returned after an absence," I figured I'd post them all because I'm pretty sure it's asking for the other definitions as well. According to m-w.com:

Noun

  1. One who gives lavishly or spends foolishly
  2. One who returns after an absence

Adjective

  1. Characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure
  2. recklessly spendthrift
  3. yielding abundantly

So with Deanna I think she got lonely and Eddie gave her the opportunity to be reckless and wasteful. She also metaphorically becomes one who yields abundantly at the end of the book with the pregnancy. Lusa also becomes reckless and abundantly yielding, she's reckless by not planting the one crop that everyone knows will produce a profit and then she yields abundantly with her goats, an idea most assumed was reckless. Garnett just worried me through most of the book, I felt like his story was going to end in him hurting someone through his stubbornness but I'm glad he became more reckless in his mind and learned to give Nannie the space to be as wasteful as he thought she was being. She on the other hand was the one who was thrifty and strived to not produce waste. As for who is welcoming them back from their "prodigal Summer" I'd say Nannie was pulling double duty and she is welcoming both Garnett and Deanna back and Lusa is being welcomed back by Cole's whole family who became her family. It's a "prodigal" summer because summer always returns after an absence and all of the characters return after some kind of absence, Deanna's is literal but Garnett and Lusa have more figurative absences. They both have absences of presentness, meaning they both leave their current lives and retreat into their minds somewhat.

So over all I liked this book, what I liked most was the small random ways she interlocked the stories, for example the chair on Deanna's porch that came from Cole's mothers den. I think the writing was well executed but not showy, though she was pushing hard for everyone to know she has a vast knowledge of bugs. It also had some predictable plot twists, I knew Deanna was going to get pregnant the moment she mentioned she could tell when she was fertile and had to use condoms during those times. There are a lot of things that made me want to slap Deanna silly, she was my least favorite character and the least believable plot line. Lusa's was probably my favorite of the plot lines, the way she became part of the family and realized that Cole gave her more and more every day. He gave her a home, a family and a place in the world. I gave it a four out of five and this book taught me to give authors a second chance because I honestly expected this book to be the most depressing we had read so far.

Date Posted: 9/1/2012 7:39 PM ET
Member Since: 11/14/2009
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I'm just checking in,  I did not read this book because I was in the cozy mode.  I did just get the book for oct so I'll be back then. 

Take care.

Date Posted: 9/3/2012 8:28 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
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Chris, I'll need a few more days to get this book finished.  I still have over 100 pages to go.  Sorry, I was busier than I thought I would be this weekend.  I will chime in when I get done.

Date Posted: 9/4/2012 12:32 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Gonna give everyone a little more time to finish this one so I'm holding off until Friday. Once you're finished you can come along and post your answers to the first question at any time.

Date Posted: 9/5/2012 2:43 PM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2009
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Chris,

I absolutely loved the book.  It was my first Barbara Kingsolver book and I read all her other books after this one, even though only the 'Poisonwood Bible' came close.

I want to start out be saying what surpised me is that it is a book for both men and women, my husband liked it as much as I did (even though he preferred the Poisonwood Bible).

I love how you started the discussion by defining prodigal.  Both dictionary definitions apply  to the story:  a summer of abundance and the return of something you lost.

My favourite characters were Lusa and Nannie, mostly Lusa, she made the book for me. I loved how she moved on after her husband's death and then came up with a new idea of farming, breaking the mold, and making money while being a total newbie.  I also loved how she described the house she lived in, it was so real I could almost touch it.  It was great that she took in her niece and nephew.

I was torn about Deanna, I liked her free spirit and intense bond to nature.  She was fiercely protective of the cojotes and other wild life and again I learned a lot about predator-prey relationships in nature.  I thought it was irresponsible to get pregnant, but also brave.  I actually liked her (summer-)boyfriend, but feel it would have taken away from the story if she had stayed with him.

I want to be like Nannie when I get old, she is my role model.

This book was about strong and independent women and it really appealed to me,being a feminist and it is not a cuss word for me. I am proud of woman power and feel that so many books that are written for women, make the women needy and co-dependent on men.  Find your prince, marry, get pregnant, be forever happy (ie. lose yourself to please your man).  One of the many reasons why so many women romance novels turn me off.

I love your choice of Katherine Howe's book, read it and will participate in the discussion.

 

Date Posted: 9/6/2012 11:10 PM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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I want to be Weezer from Steel Magnolias when I grow up ;) Thanks for coming along and joining in on the discussion :D

I'm posting question two now because I may be out and about tomorrow and forget.

2. Deanna is the self-appointed protector of coyotes and all predators. Is she disturbing nature's own ways of dealing with upsets? What about Garnett and his quest for a blight-free chestnut tree-is this "good" for nature?

Both are probably deluded in thinking that their goals will ever be achieved but I don't think either is doing harm through their crusades. I don't think that protecting animals from people upsets nature and Deanna doesn't protect the coyotes from other animals.

Date Posted: 9/7/2012 8:58 AM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2009
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Chris,

I don't think Deanna is disturbing nature at all by protectiong the cojotes.  What she does is protect the cojotes from a larger, more aggressive predator (us humans).  If we decimate cojotes and wolves etc too much to 'protect' our life stock and farms, then the prey animals are over-populating, the sick ones are not hunted (taken from the gene pool) and there will not be enough food to live on in the winter for all of them.  So in nature predators and prey balance each other out by themselves, without our meddling.

The blight free chestnut tree might actually help nature, if it manages to get its resistant gene DNA to tree offspring.  The balance is only taken off balance very slowly and over many tree generations.  I cannot imagine a scenario where it would be bad to have too many chestnut trees.

Subject: Spoiler Alert!!
Date Posted: 9/7/2012 8:22 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
Posts: 2,353
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Finally finished this one, and it is a keeper.  I will probably read this one again.  It is rare to find such a good story, intertwining the lives of people in unexpected ways.  I want to read a sequel to see if Garnett and Nannie develop a relationship, what Deanna does with her career as a new mother, see how things go with Garnett meeting and getting to know his grandchildren, and Lusa taking on the raising of Lowell and Chrys.  Chris, so glad you mentioned that green chair, I didn't see that because I was in a hurry to get finished so I could join the discussion.   And I also like how you defined prodigal to start this discussion.  I actually looked it up a couple of weeks ago.  I always thought it meant 'a repentent return' but was surprised to learn it had another meaning entirely.

I liked your analysis, Chris, and only have one thing to add.  Lusa not only yielded abundantly with her goats, but also with her produce and canning.  The ways the stories connected was interesting too, especially that Garnett was helping Lusa with her goats, and she ends up with his grandchildren.

I thought it was interesting that all three women were protectors of their environments, striving to strike a balance with nature - essentially protecting them from men.  Men with artificial pesticides, men with guns, men with tobacco - all things that were bad for their environment.  Deanna was protecting the coyotes, Nannie was protecting her crops from chemicals, Lusa was protecting her land from outside influence and later from disturbance.  Lusa too became a protector of the coyote at the end of the book.

For question two, I agree with Jerry, the larger predator is humankind.  The coyotes fill an important role in the balance of nature, and Deanna is protecting that.   The introduction of blight from foreign import tilted the balance and resulted in the chestnut devastation.  It seems to me that Garnett is trying to put the balance back.

Date Posted: 9/10/2012 3:47 AM ET
Member Since: 8/9/2005
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Since there are only a few questions on the group guide I'm gonna spread them out a bit but I have one of my own to tide us over until the next one. Did the ever changing story bother you or were you ok with the three seperate stories not really ever becoming one in the end?

It sort of irritated me that the stories had no real relationship to each other but they were connected in a thousand little ways. I assumed that by the end they would all collide and make one large climax but they each ended in their own seperate ways.

Date Posted: 9/10/2012 8:53 AM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2009
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Chris,

I actually liked that about the book, 3 different stories, interwoven and yet separate.

Then again I love short stories, prefer them over novels, so maybe I saw it as three novellas being tied together by silky relationship ribbons.

Barb S. (okbye) - ,
Date Posted: 9/10/2012 12:23 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2011
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I didn't read the book but in general I like it much better when the stories come together. IMO it is a difficult writing skill and it always impresses me when a writer can connect some really different stories in a believable way. 

Date Posted: 9/10/2012 5:32 PM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
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Chris, I am with you.  I was expecting for Deanna to go to Nannies and then meet Garnett.  I thought Garnett would meet Lusa face to face and see his grandchildren.  I thought maybe Deanna would run into Lusa where the forest land met her property.  None of those things happened and I felt a little like the book was left unfinished.

Date Posted: 9/10/2012 11:14 PM ET
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That is exactly it Carole, it felt like she left off the last chapter where everyone meets and dove tails into cohesive story line.

Date Posted: 9/12/2012 7:34 AM ET
Member Since: 7/10/2011
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I sent a pm to four others who said they were reading the book.  OK all you lurkers, come out and play!!

Date Posted: 9/12/2012 8:53 AM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2012
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I'm here, i'm here.  Just trying to get my thoughts together.

 

Charlene

Date Posted: 9/13/2012 1:12 PM ET
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K next question. How did the relationship between Deanna and Eddie change them both? I think it made Deanna want more human contact and it made Eddie think twice about the coyotes though I don't think she changed his mind.
Date Posted: 9/13/2012 7:09 PM ET
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I think you are right about Deanna, Chris.  She did seem to want to leave the soliutude behind at the end of the book.  We never really know if Eddie changes his mind totally or if he just decides to leave the local coyotes alone.  She spent so much time telling him about the effects of hunting predators I like to think that some of it sunk in.

Date Posted: 9/16/2012 4:37 PM ET
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Should Deanna have told Eddie about the pregnancy? I say yes if for no other reason than he had a right to know.
Date Posted: 9/16/2012 9:00 PM ET
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I say yes as well.  He should have been told.  It was not really clear why she didn't tell him, other than he left so abruptly. 

Date Posted: 9/17/2012 10:28 PM ET
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Do you think he already knew and that was one of the reasons he left when he did?

I don't think he knew considering she was as clueless about it as she was for most of the story. That actually annoyed the heck out of me, and it always does when a writer uses that particular plot device, no one is that clueless about being pregnant for that long if they have actually stopped having a menstrual cycle.

Date Posted: 9/18/2012 5:52 PM ET
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No, I don't think he knew either.  I knew he would leave from the moment he arrived because he was from somewhere else and just there to hunt.  I am glad that he left the coyotes alone.  What was annoying to me was the short time from meeting to sleeping together.  Geez, what ever happened to getting to know someone first?  Was she that horny after being alone for so long?   Guess so, but I found it a bit unrealistic (or maybe I am just hopelessly old fashioned).

Actually, Chris, the majority of women don't keep track, especially if they believe they are peri-menopausal.  She kept mentioning that, so I believed that she might be able to explain it away to herself and not face the facts.  I have seen enough menopause pregancies to know that it isn't beyond the realm of possibility to believe that the loss of cycles is just menopause.

 

I guess no one else is going to discuss this with us, Chris.  We might as well just pm each other. 



Last Edited on: 9/19/12 9:45 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 9/19/2012 1:06 PM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2009
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I have been kicked off the CMT board lately, for posting something other members didn't like. According to them, my delivery is off or I just posted to make them upset.  So now I am careful what I say and how I am saying it and will not post in CMT again.

But I feel safe posting here on what I think about the book.

Eddie was a summer romance from the beginning, and the pregnancy was an accident.  Like many older women she thought she couldn't get pregnant easy. Like many summer romances they didn't go through the proper dating and first bed-hopping protocol. They had a hot and heavy fling and enjoyed it while it lasted.  I don't think Eddie knew that he fathered a child, nor do I think he would have cared if he had found out.

In my opinion Eddie did not change his attitudes about cojotes, he just spared the local ones because of Deanne, but he was too much of a traditional hunter and farmboy to go through such a drastic change.

I am not certain how well prepared Deanna is for the child.  She seemed like a loner, who enjoys her solitude and needs her me-time. I can understand that because I am that way, but a child does not care if you are by nature a loner and can really stress you out by being so dependent and needy 24/7.  It is a big lifestyle change to go from being alone on a mountain to being  a single older mother.

Date Posted: 9/19/2012 8:27 PM ET
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I still say she should have known. Even if I were close to menopausal age, if I had gone for at least two years without having had sex and then had a lot sex and at least one episode of unprotected sex I would assume a pregnancy before menopause. I suppose it might just be that I've read way too many books with that particular plot device, three from the same author, so I'm prejudiced against it. The minute a character mentions anything out of whack with her cycle I know there is an unexpected pregnancy coming. 

Jerry what do you mean you were kicked off of CMT? If you were banned from the forums you wouldn't be able to post here, unless something in the software has changed and I'm not aware of it. I don't pay much attention to CMT anymore unless I need to ask a question or I'm posting something. 

Anywhoodles I think I'll keep the questions going on here, there are just two more anyway, that way lurkers can still read along. I was gonna break them up like I did the last one but I'll just do them as a whole question. Next question is When Nannie and Garnett hug, a huge barrier between them drops and they both gain a basic understanding of each other's humanness and vulnerability. Do you think a romantic relationship between them will ensue? How much does Garnett's unrecognized longing for love and human contact account for the shift in his perception of Nannie and the greater world around him? What else influences the shift in Garnett? Does Nannie change as well?

I don't think there will be a romantic relationship between them, Garnett strikes me as the kind of man that really only loves one woman his whole life. I think they will have a growing friendship though and probably one that will share for the rest of their lives. I think when she tells him about the chestnuts and that he can take as much as he needs without paying her he realizes that she isn't out to get him and then his view of her shifts. 

Date Posted: 9/20/2012 7:56 AM ET
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Jerry, you can't let one person on a thread upset you.  Go back and read the latest posts after yours in the TV thread, Tome is sticking up for you as well as blasting the person that commented against your post.  I don't post much there anymore, it is mostly too boring.  Not into all the stupid games, opinion bashing and fights.   I have better things to do with my time, like read and discuss books here.

Date Posted: 9/20/2012 8:24 AM ET
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It is most kind of Tome to stick up for me, good to know there are a few kind souls around.  But I am pretty done with CMT, too much like High school. 

I agree with you that Nannie and Garnett may become friends and really good neighbors, but not romantically involved with each other.  Garnett adored his wife, will not love another woman the same way, and Nannie is way too independent.  Yet their friendship may bring them out of their shells and actually mutually benefit them. I think a woman like Nannie does not need a romantic partner in her life, friends yes, but a partner may be too restrictive of her personal freedom and Garnett seems too jaded and old-fashioned for a free spirit like Nannie.  Yet he may become more tolerant and open-minded.  Again win-win for both of them if they become friends.

 



Last Edited on: 9/20/12 8:28 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
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