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August: Graywolf Press Book Club > First impressions?

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message 1: by Marisa, Moderator (new)

Marisa Atkinson (totesmarisa) | 244 comments Mod
What are your first impressions of this month's selection, Mattaponi Queen: Stories by Belle Boggs? Post your thoughts here!

message 2: by Hillary (new)

Hillary Major | 22 comments Local Color

Since I hail from Mechanicsville, VA, some of the first things that stick out to me in these stories are the landmarks -- Broadus' flats, the gas stations in Central Garage, the Ashland Ponderosa, King's Dominion, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The familiar landscape does in fact feel familiar to me.

I wonder how the details of landmarks and landscape appear to readers who aren't from the area?

I also feel like the prominence of the physical landscape says a lot about the characters & their rootedness. Boggs gives us characters who, willingly or no, are defined in large part by their relationship to place. (This kind of focus on land/setting is often cited as a halmark of Southern fiction, but the generalization has always bothered me. Any thoughts?)

message 3: by Hillary (new)

Hillary Major | 22 comments Quiet Endings

A number of the stories seem notable for their quiet but resonant endings. "Deer Season," "Good News for a Hard Time," and "Imperial Chysanthemum," for example, seemed alike in this way to me. I love the description of the shad at the end of "Good News":

"By now, it would have been baking for hours, the bones soft and gelatinous in the tough salty flesh. Ronnie could almost taste it, intense and rare, not like food at all. It was like love, she thought. Something you thought you should have until it was right there in front of you and you realized you were committed to it whole." (p. 27)

At times I wondered whether these endings provided enough closure, enough of the satisfaction of having come to the end of a story rather than a vignette. After all, few of the stories ("Homecoming" seems like one exception) could really be called plot-driven. Ultimately, even though everything may not be fully "resolved" at every story's end, I felt like the language of these endings (I'd call them "multivalent" rather than "ambiguous") did provide me with a sense of closure, however it's closure that's not closed to mystery or wonder. Am I making any sense?

message 4: by Marisa, Moderator (new)

Marisa Atkinson (totesmarisa) | 244 comments Mod
Hillary, these are such great jumping-off points for our discussion of Belle's book. The great thing about having an international forum like Goodreads for discussion, is that we'll wind up having readers for which the landscape of Belle's collection is both familiar and foreign. We'll hopefully see impressions from both sides.

As for your point about "open" endings, I think we should put that to the other members of the group. For those of you that have had a chance to start in on Mattaponi Queen , what do you think? Do you feel the endings have been ambiguous? Do you look for more solid endings/closure in short stories or do you like the sense of wonder and mystery that Hillary describes?

message 5: by Marisa, Moderator (new)

Marisa Atkinson (totesmarisa) | 244 comments Mod
UPDATE: Because it's been a very busy August, we're going to extend the reading period for this month's book club selection, Mattaponi Queen , through to Friday, September 10th. This should give everyone a little more time to read the book and post their first impressions, discussion questions, and questions for Belle Boggs.

Happy reading!

message 6: by Elena (new)

Elena (elenameredith) | 3 comments Having never been to VA, I love reading about the landscape and how much it defines some of the characters (especially Skinny, who "calls" for his piece of land on the reservation, something I've never heard of before). Boggs' descriptions give a clear picture of the land and give you a sense of being there, seeing the houses, feeling the air. I particularly love the opening paragraph of "Election Day" with Cutie looking out the window, remembering the feel of crunching frostbitten dirt under her shoes as a little girl.

I do feel that a lot of the endings leave me wanting more--but not in a bad way! I expect most short stories to have ambiguous endings without any sense of closure. This is just more true to real life--things rarely have a definite ending (Lila's relationships in "Opportunity" was the best example of this). The pacing of some of the stories (especially "Good News for a Hard Time" and "It Won't Be Long") made me forget I was reading a short story, not a chapter, and surprised me when they came to an end. It was a treat when a character would return in a different story. I thought almost every one of these stories could be fleshed out into a novel--I would love to read more!

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