I find starting these blog entries very difficult. Who is the audience? Should I aim at those who were at the discussion, the reader of the specific book who wasn’t there, or the general reader? As I recall, my original idea was to keep the discussion going, but there have been almost no comments from anyone. But I remember at this discussion someone, I think Mary Ruth, mentioned that the book stayed with her long after she finished it. I am finding that true of our discussions too. In this case, I am particularly interested in the question of whether Claude bought the poison deliberately to kill his brother. Here is what the author said in an interview with Oprah:
I think it’s one of those things that can be interpreted a couple of different ways. But my take is that’s the moment [when he buys the poison] in Claude’s life when he has not yet given up hope of being a full person, a sound, good person. And he’s—what he’s encountered at this point is the ability to have death, which is the little debate that he and the old herbalist have about it’s not good to have the power of death but not the power of life. But I don’t believe that he—I believe he’s—he has a sort of darkness in him that draws him toward that. But he doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t have a specific purpose for it. Certainly not the purpose to go many years later—
This is from a conversation so it is not neatly done, but Oprah interjects “kill his brother” and Wroblewski says, “ it’s something he’s drawn toward. He might not know why…it would be a fascinating thing to have hold of.” It was the explanation I was naturally drawn to—I am interested in the way we are a product of our subconscious (maybe even unconscious) thoughts at least as much as our deliberate thoughts. And I am drawn to the idea of a single action, particularly one taken early in life defining our course. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (“And that has made all the difference.”) So I was surprised when I woke up the next morning thinking about Judi Hamill’s sense that Claude knew what the poison was for when he bought it. She (and others) kept reminding us of the recognition that he worked very slowly and patiently. And I imagined this man, a scraper, the unfavored (it seems) second son, in a foreign land asked by his government to fight for an idea, tempted by this poison. The rain, I remember. The death of the dog. He saw its power and must have know its evilness. He takes it. At that point he succumbs to temptation. There is no turning back. And he knows, at some level, that his choice is bad. And the idea of the farm and his brother must be there, in him. Not a plan, but the seed. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t do anything with it. Until. We don’t know why he came back then, Wroblewski clearly doesn’t know that. But. The opening scene is chilling. The rest of the book is the unfolding of that original action.
So I think now that in some important way, Claude knew what the poison was for, though he wasn’t certain he would use it. In spite of what the author says. Elsewhere, the author states that he wrote the book originally only from Edgar’s point of view, and didn’t want to know more than Edgar would know. He has expanded the book, but he is not the omnipotent author. There is plenty he doesn’t know and he has said so. And what I find fascinating, is that the book is ours now, to make as we choose. The reader takes the book and adds to it through his/her own sensibilities and experiences. We can argue (and I guess I like to) about various interpretations, but they are reflections of our own experiences. This is stating the obvious, but it deserves to be stated, I think. Each reading, each discussion, affects the vibrations the book makes in the world. Awesome.
There were a couple of things about this book that struck me, that weren’t mentioned in the discussion, and I would like to bring them up here. One was weather. I thought Wroblewski used it to effectively incline the reader to a particular mood. This was one of the things that reminded me of Lear. I leave it at that. The other was the wonderful section where Edgar is out in the wilderness. A wild man. Maybe a little like Claude, but without the evil impulse.
Wroblewski said elsewhere:
Another preoccupation of mine, [the first being dogs and their relationship to us] not unrelated to the first, has to do with the nature of wildness in the human character. We glimpse it in ourselves every day, from the surge of emotion that rises from nowhere to the flash of inspiration we can’t explain. Even memory itself, the very core of our identity, remains slyly feral, heedlessly retrieving all manner of incident and image, indifferent to whether its discoveries are burdens or gifts.
This is the core of the book that makes it fascinating for me. I felt unsatisfied by the sometimes rickety construction, especially at the end, but the architecture was strong. And the theme of that mysterious wilderness inside us, and the wilderness outside that both beckons and frightens compels me.
Maybe something new came up for you in reading this. If so, please click on the “No Comments,” (or maybe you won’t be first and there will be an indication that someone else commented), and leave a reply. We would all love to read what you think.