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October Light
by John Gardner

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To: ALL Date: 12/23 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:41 PM OCTOBER LIGHT by John Gardiner I have just begun reading this book, and I am anxious to hear what the rest of you have to say, particularly Allen. How do you like this New England brother and sister? I love the author's sense of humor. I find the alternating stories to be fascinating. Someone else, please comment. I am also reading KILLER PANCAKE by Diane Mott Davison. This is for my "mystery fix". Jane who is home in Colorado and who is wondering where Sir Richard is!!! =============== Reply 1 of Note 7 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 01/01 From: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Time: 10:34 PM Jane, the holidays have thrown my reading schedule out of kilter, but I'm putting OCTOBER LIGHT at the top of my priorities list for this week. I would imagine the lack of response we've seen here so far has to do with people having less time than they'd like to devote to reading rather than interest level. Also, some of us are just getting done with ANGLE OF REPOSE, about which there's still much more to be said. So, it may take a while to get up to speed with OL, but I'm sure your patience in this regard will be rewarded. Thank you, by the way, for getting the thread started! <> =============== Reply 2 of Note 7 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 01/01 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:50 PM Dale, When Gardner gives his description of the seasons in Vermont, I find it to be so beautiful. See pp. 120 -121. "Summer, for all its beauty on those mountain-slope farms, meant back-breaking work, long hours on the tractor where you struggled against the stiff upgrade pull of the steering wheel and fought till you ached against the jerk and jab of the plow-lift lever as the plow-points skittered over stones. And then later, in July, it meant heaving bales in the still, dead heat, with bees all around you, first-cousins to the fairies, but nothing magical about a swarm of impinged bees in a dry, hot haylot in July, no magic in anything except, perhaps, to the tourists who came like a plague of locusts and had time to watch the otters in the high mountaim streams, or the foal in the shadow of the barn. August was cooler, though still high summer, so cool in the morning and evening, at times, especially those mornings and occasional evenings when mist filled the valleys, that it was best to have a fire in the woodstove; but August meant even more work than before - still hay to get in, but also sweetcorn , potatoes, and tomatoes, and now wheat and oats, grainsacks to throw, your eyes and ears and nostrils full of dust, harsh chaff in the cracks around your neck." You get the idea! He goes on through the months and talks about the locking time and doesn't explain this term until later in the book. I had never heard this term before. Perhaps he is referring to the time of life of his two main characters in the book. Perhaps they are going through the locking time as well. Jane who sees the locking going on outside her window. =============== Reply 3 of Note 7 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 01/02 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:55 AM All, I finished OCTOBER LIGHT a few days ago. I must say that neither this book, nor ANGLE OF REPOSE set my hair on fire. Pretty good reading, but I could have put them both down in the middle and not have felt compelled to pick them up again. I enjoyed Gardner's use of pithy and picturesque Newenglandisms. I found myself wishing I knew which were folk sayings or expressions and which were Gardner's. However, I'm always dubious about attempts to render accents phonetically. The scene where Ed Thomas, in the hospital, describes the seasons is beautifully written, but it comes off like an essay, not the words of a very sick man. I felt a real intrusion here, as if Gardner himself, had poked his head in out of a closet. One thing these two books have in common, is switching back and forth between two different story threads. To me, this is distancing. Just when I've gotten inside a character's skin, I'm jerked into something else entirely. It keeps a damper on my emotional envolvement. It's like looking away from the screen during a scary movie scene in order to convince yourself it's just a movie and not really happening. I found myself skimming large sections of AOR, waiting for Lyman to come back on scene, just as I found myself gulping down the novel-within-a-novel in OL. At least I could see the rationale behind Stegner's use of this device, but what in the world was Gardner up to? I hate to say it, but I just don't get it. What was the point of interrupting the action time and time again with this so-called "trashy" novel? (Which was really kind of ordinary until it got preachy there at the end and then my eyes really glazed.) I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you say about this. Ruth, in Redlands, where it was in the 70's today, clear, sunny and dry and the Japanese maple outside my kitchen window has outdone itself in the most brilliant flame/orange ever. =============== Reply 4 of Note 7 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 01/02 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 10:58 AM Ruth: To me, the ordinariness of the "trashy novel" interwoven with OCTOBER LIGHT is Gardner's point...i.e., contrasting the banality of what the general public settles for in entertainment (stories of others' lives) against the humor and richness and complexity of James's and Sally's lives--and by extension, our own--if we could ever once see them whole rather than through the narrow lenses of assumption and self-interest we inevitably do. Or maybe I'm just making this up. BTW, I share your leeriness of the split narrative and story-within-story techniques for exactly the reasons you mention. When a master like Stegner uses it in AOR it doesn't bother me, but all too often lesser writers fall back on it to inject artificial suspense or drama into a narrative where the real stuff is lacking. A notable exception, which I've been bending the collective CR ear about for a long time now: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, by Russell Banks (1985). It's a pretty long novel, and 90 percent of the route is two completely separate stories. Story A begins with a middle-aged repairman of oil burners in New Hampshire, cheating on his wife and daydreaming about working for his brother's liquor business in Florida. Story B is of a woman in the poor hill country of Haiti, raising her five children and dealing with hurricanes and the other perils of daily life. My exasperation grew, the whole way: Good stories, beautiful writing, but what the heck do they have to do with one another? When the connection finally dawned on me, it hit me like a wrecking ball and I haven't been the same since. One of a handful of books that have actually changed the way I see the world. (For a much shorter, but brilliant, intro to Banks's fiction, THE SWEET HEREAFTER is a gem...) Dale in Ala., where despite the grayness spring was back but not for long =============== Reply 5 of Note 7 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 01/06 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:34 PM Ruth and Dale, I finished OCTOBER LIGHT last night, and although I like it a lot, it wasn't among my favorites that I have read on CR. I thought that it was rather interesting that Sally decided to come out of her room when she had finally finished the novel. We CR's can certainly understand this. I could stay in one place for a long time if I had enough to read, but if I had finished all reading material - FORGET IT!!! I would be out of there!!! Maybe the trashy novel gave Sally a different perspective on her own life. There were some things she seemed to have missed, like a wild sex life, and some things that she didn't, like drugs and illegal activities. I still think the whole story had to do with the locking process. James and Sally are old and their lives are slowing down, like the locking process in the fall. They are both rebelling against old age. They fear losing what little they have left, and they both do lose. James loses his truck and teeth, and Sally loses her home and her TV which his her connection to the outside world. Jane who is going to start CORRELLI'S MANDOLIN next. =============== Reply 6 of Note 7 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 01/07 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 11:16 AM Dear Jane, I haven't finished OL yet, but I had read it before a long time ago and if my memory doesn't fail me, I liked it more the first time. I think your comments about the locking time are astute. I think James' locking time kicked in a lot sooner in his life than Sally's did. You have a treat in store with CORELLI's MANDOLIN. The writing is exquisite. Both my husband and father-in-law liked it. Sherry in Milwaukee on a brilliant cold day. =============== Reply 7 of Note 7 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 01/07 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 10:55 PM OCTOBER LIGHT readers--I'm about half-way through, but wanted you to know that there is one more person reading this. As I go between the trashy novel and the life of Sally and James, I keep remembering that this was written in the 70's...just after and during one of the bigger generational divisions that I've experienced (maybe because I was a part of it). In any case, it seems to me that part of what Gardner was trying to do must have been a reflection of that. The division between James and his sister and children was difficult but reflected against the culture that the novel represented, it was even more striking. Also, there were those constant references to the lack of reality in the media, that the book was like a starts with James blowing up her T.V., then she retreats into a book that is actually like another T.V. show. Jane, I agree that the "locking process" is a dominant theme. I bracketed that whole desciption in my copy of the book. What lovely writing! Also, much of what was portrayed about aging rang true to me. As I watched my father get old, I started to understand the anger that comes from watching your body betray you and feeling less a part of the world. Both Sally and James reflect those feelings in their own way. I'm back to work tomorrow...what a culture shock this always is. Why can't there be this much time to read all year long?!? A blizzard might've have been nice, but Michigan escaped it. Barbara =============== Reply 8 of Note 7 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 01/08 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:23 PM Barbara, I enjoyed your comments about OL. I think you are so right about the trashy novel. But it gets more and more bizarre! Jane who had to return to work today as well. =============== Reply 9 of Note 7 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 01/10 From: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Time: 0:35 AM Jane, I've finally finished OCTOBER LIGHT, and I apolo- gize for the delay in getting back to you. I gather that you're interested in my opinions on the book as a New Englander. Well, I can report, for one, that Gardner got the details -- settings, speech patterns, accents -- down just right. The characters, too, have a familiar feel to them; I've certainly known more than a few folks with at least a streak of our rigid, closed-mouthed, hard-hearted friend James Page in them. (Coming as I do from an old- line Yankee family, I have to admit there's such a streak in me, also.) Gardner does a fine job of fleshing out the familiar bones of that stereotype, humanizing James into a character with whom, despite his intolerance and all- around cantankerousness, the reader can sympathize. Before I began OL, I wondered just how much of a New England feel to the story Gardner could achieve; on finishing it, I felt that his Vermont and his Vermonters had the ring of truth. Perhaps the fact that OL was so authentic, and to some extent, close to home, made me find it much less funny than most of you seem to have. I could tell, of course, that some passages were meant to be lighter than others, but Gardner so ably made me feel the pain of James and Sally's pasts, and the hopelessness of their present and future, that for the most part I found it impossible to change emotional gears. It may also be I'm reacting this way because I read the book in a New England where things are well and truly "locked down" for the duration. Ruth I also am usually pretty dubious about attempts to render accents in prose; if misjudged, the effect can be grating or distracting. In this case, for me anyway, it's a necessary part of the characterizations -- having James and others say, for example, "wasn't" when they ought to say "wa'n't", would have immediately struck me as false. I could *hear* these people speaking as I read, and they seemed that much more real because of Gardner's ear for dialect. I agree that Ed Thomas' lengthy soliloquy on the changing seasons seemed like an authorial intrusion -- an essay with some Yankee accent mixed in. This was really the only false note I detected in the whole course of the book. Toward the end I had pretty much lost patience with "The Smugglers of Lost Souls' Rock"; the "real" story was so much better and every respect that the novel-in-a-novel became irritatingly tedious. I wonder if writing this part might not have been more difficult for Gardner than the rest; having to turn down the "quality meter" and write in a voice not one's own has to be something of a strain, to say the least. I think that if I re-read OL -- and it does bear rereading, to be sure -- I'd just skim over the "trashy" parts. Anyway, the above objections are tiny quibbles; on the whole I found OCTOBER LIGHT to be thoroughly absorbing, for the story, characters and, as everyone has commented, John Gardner's wonderful prose. Thanks to Joe Barriero for putting this one on the reading list! Speaking of which: next up will be RABBIT BOSS by Thomas Sanchez -- the nomination of Theresa Simpson. (Come in and say hello, Theresa, won't you?) Allen =============== Reply 10 of Note 7 =================  
To: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Date: 01/10 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 12:04 PM Allen, When you said that the only thing in the book that didn't ring true was Ed Thomas' nature speech, were you referring to his bedridden, thinks he's going to die speech? I thought that was a pivotal part of the book, maybe a little overly literate, but from the smidgen of Ed's personality we get, not out of character. "Ed's Song" is the title of that sub-chapter, and very few sub-chapters rate titles. James begins his unlocking process upon hearing Ed's song. His giving in to Sally about the TV, his remembering of Ariah, and most of all his figuring out the deep dark secret of what Richard was ashamed of right before he committed suicide, all stem from James recognizing the truth in Ed's Song. In the end this book reminds me of a symphony, with its major theme, it's secondary theme, its development, several elements that remind me of a fugue and a sort of transcendent coda at the end that tie all the elements together and make you realize why you like to listen to symphonies in the first place. Sherry in Milwaukee =============== Reply 11 of Note 7 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 01/10 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:33 PM Sherry and Allen, I really enjoyed reading your comments about OL. It is so interesting to hear so many points of view on this board. Most of them are so apt that you sit there and think "Yes, that's right. I wish I had said that." Even if I don't agree with a post, I always take time to think about it. It is good exercize for the brain to have a little disagreement. Jane who had a very long day at school today. =============== Reply 12 of Note 7 =================  
To: ALL Date: 01/14 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 10:09 PM Finished OCTOBER LIGHT today and am glad I read it. Wasn't riveted to it as to some others, but James and Sally's characters will stick with me awhile. As I said before, watching my father age, not as a sweet old man, but fighting against it the whole way made me understand a whole new dynamic of the human reaction to aging. James reminded me a lot of my father and I think I understood him a bit. One of the most poignant quotes in the book on this topic that keeps ringing in my brain was: "The bitterness was that he felt like a young man, trapped inside this wrecked and dying body. He felt as alert as he'd ever been, handsome and full of beans, not at all the hollow-eyed, ghastly white ghost that for an instant stared at him, piteous with appeal, from the windshield." Should also mention on this thread, since I already did on the illustration one, the contribution of the illustrations to this assuming that all editions have them. Was particularly taken by the illustration of James on the cover of fit so perfectly with the James as described in the book. I agree that "Ed's song" is pivotal to the James' ability to move forward, but I too had difficulty not being distracted by the fact that this was a very long, detailed speech to be delivered by a weak man dying of heart failure. And, I was pretty patient with the trashy book device (could even see it's value) until about the last third of the book when it just got too weird for words...finally took Allen's advice and started skimming...was also getting more and more interest in the main story and didn't want to be distracted by the other one. Would love to read what Gardner had to say about the use of this technique. And, Dale, thanks for letting us know about the Carver essay on Gardner. Will be looking for it. Barbara =============== Reply 13 of Note 7 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 01/14 From: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Time: 11:42 PM Yes, Sherry -- that long monologue Ed delivers in the hospital after his heart attack is the speech I was referring to. There's no doubt that this is a vital passage, and on rereading, it doesn't strike me quite so much like writing rather than speech. I think that the fact that the novel rings so true everywhere else for me makes this part stand out in particular. Dale has remarked elsewhere about the pains a writer has to take to insure that his artifice doesn't make itself plain to the reader; my reaction here was that briefly, I couldn't help seeing the author pulling strings behind the scenery. There's something else I'm less sure of, and I'm wonder- ing if anyone else agrees: why are the young musicians in love, Terence Parks and Margie Phelps, in the book at all? They certainly have no role of any importance in the plot; in fact I think they're the only characters who have no contact at all with James or Sally. Terence's meditations on "work music" vs. "real music" are interesting enough, but like the characters themselves, seem out of place. Both Terence and Margie could be lifted from the book without harming it at all. If anyone either agrees, or can explain why they're vital elements in the novel, I'd like to hear from you! Allen =============== Reply 14 of Note 7 =================  
To: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Date: 01/15 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 9:30 AM Dear Allen, I hadn't given Terence and Margie much thought, but what came to mind when you asked the question of why are they in the book was this: maybe they are there as contrast. The words "sorbet" keeps springing to mind. They are refreshing and remind us that the journey through life starts somewhere. James probably feels about as old as Terence IS. Their tender budding love is a reminder of the other end of the timeline of life--about how things begin, and to continue the seasons analogy that permeates the book--they represent spring and the stirrings of how life begins in the first place. Sherry =============== Reply 15 of Note 7 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 01/15 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 1:46 PM Allen and Sherry, When Terence and Margie were shyly spending time together at James' house, I thought that they provided just the contrast and message that Sherry describes. However, the chapter involving James listening to the Tippett Sonata for Four Horns left me with the same feeling as Ed's Song...the one that Allen describes about feeling the author's presence. It was a beautiful passage, and interesting, but how did it fit? Then, I thought of Sherry's comparison of the structure of the whole book with a symphony and wondered if there was a connection to the overall flow that I was missing...any ideas? Barbara


I thought that it was rather interesting that Sally decided to come out of her room when she had finally finished the novel. We CR's can certainly understand this.
What lovely writing! Also, much of what was portrayed about aging rang true to me. As I watched my father get old, I started to understand the anger that comes from watching your body betray you and feeling less a part of the world. Both Sally and James reflect those feelings in their own way.
I can report, for one, that Gardner got the details -- settings, speech patterns, accents -- down just right. The characters, too, have a familiar feel to them; I've certainly known more than a few folks with at least a streak of our rigid, closed-mouthed, hard-hearted friend James Page in them.

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