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Women & Men Chapter Discussions > 0159 BETWEEN US: A BREATHER STILL AT THE BEGINNING

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message 1: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Discuss.

message 2: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I just finished the section and am starting Ship Rock. I'm being absorbed into the story. There are so many interesting things to note. You're right, Nathan, in that the story is for me, too. I especially link to the dynamics between the women since I've had my own dynamic with my mother and my daughter, and the women I know. I understand very much the dynamic of Jim's strong grandmother Margaret, who had an independent life, yet mentally weakened her daughter Sarah so much that it set the push to her suicide.

My own story is similar to Margaret and Sarah's, but hopefully not as tragic. My mother, at the age of 13, was forced to leave North Vietnam to live in South Vietnam with her aunt because her father died, leaving his two wives and eight children destitute. She had a hard childhood where she had to act as the family maid. Her aunt treated her with cruelty and condescension, and her cousins constantly taunted her as they would a lowly servant. When she was 21, she became pregnant with me out of wedlock, and was thrown out of her aunt's house, where she had days when she only had an onion to eat. Somehow, she managed to survive and here I am in the U.S. My mom is a very strong woman who survived the worst trials, yet she weakens everyone around her mentally with her controlling and willful ways. I read a lot of books and became absorbed in my thoughts to get away from her daily nagging and needling. I've had to learn to mentally strengthen myself and find ways to counteract her toxic suffocating influence. I also learned to become opposite of what she became. My daughter rarely hear me nag except when necessary. I'm very loving and have an opposite relationship with my own daughter, who is growing up to be a confident and self-sustaining lady.

message 3: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments A lot of personal stuff, but I remember the influential women in my life as I'm reading this book.

I also enjoy Margaret's story of the Far Eastern Princess of Choor and the Navajo prince as her own special message to Jim. I'm not sure whether I need more info. in order to understand this. Is there any outside material on Native American life that would clarify the meanings in the book? He uses references to Native American tribes frequently in this book, even in the opera singer's tapeworm story. I have to see how the tapeworm winds its way throughout this book (pun intended). Obviously, it has meaning in this story.

Grace's story is of regaining your power, which is optimistic. I link mostly with her stories. Jim's story, so far, is of a lost man trying to figure out conflicting messages and a sad past of his parents' deadening marriage and mother's suicide. Jim's story is a downer, so I don't link too much with his stories.

message 4: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I find an interesting play on matriarchal and patriarchal, with the matriarchal Native American societies and the patriarchal European societies. And there's the beginning birth scene of the matriarchal and patriarchal roles. There's also a patriarchal and matriarchal elements to each characters, Margaret, Grace, Jim, etc.

message 5: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: " I'm not sure whether I need more info. in order to understand this. Is there any outside material on Native American life that would clarify the meanings in the book? "

Honest to goodness, if someone had put together annotations to W&M, you can bet the whole house I'd have it to read along with. No doubt. But, as Friend James said, there is something liberating about reading a book like W&M "untethered," untethered because largely unread (until now). Just as you are asking about the roles that the various Native American tribes play, I'm still curious about the meteorological debates and how much of that has a grounding in scientific meteorology and how much of it is a sophisticated mythology of land and air and water and fire.

I think an analogy of your relationship to the stuff of the text might be similar to my relationship with the stuff of Ulysses or Finnegans Wake. The difference is that there are very sophisticated annotations available for the Joyce novels and I sure as hell have them along. What would Dublin look like in Ulysses to the average American reading the novel "untethered"? Is intimate knowledge of Dublin necessary for understanding Ulysses? It certainly elucidates the text, but I don't think it is necessary for a first understanding. Certainly a more nuanced knowledge of Native American tribes would be helpful for a more comprehensive understanding of the story in W&M, but I am confidant that even so untethered you will find your first understanding already quite profound.

And--I've already begun to picture the story you relate above about your family into the story of W&M; a story parallel to the Chilean story, a second story of international intrigue and family intimacy.

message 6: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan (nathandjoe) | 51 comments Very interesting, and very specific, descriptive language used of the Interrogator in this section - we are told he/it has a "tail", we are also told he/it could be in uniform or mufti - we get glimpses of some sort of chair to which the "we" is bound, and to a room. There is obviously and Angel/Devil conclusion to reach here but, what with the more sci-fi aspects of James' dreams/visions of the future, we may simply being dealing with something alien or post-human. Curiouser and curiouser....

message 7: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (last edited Apr 01, 2017 08:16AM) (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan's deleted posts ::

We begin with 'All things to him she was' and see this apply first to Lou and Grace, to Mel and Sarah, Alexander and Margaret, and maybe if we strain a bit to the NY Doctor and the Opera Diva. The words themselves echo, refigure: 'All things she was to him' (bottom of 159), '"she's everything to me"' (171).

We see Lou when Grace was her 'lover, co-breadwinner, co-coughing breakfast-nook-bar celebrant'. They seem happy, preparing to go out to dinner, waiting in line for the movies on a windy day. Scenes from marriage. She's making coffee, his eggs. He gets out of bed. She throws one of the eggs into the sink (I think). He says "What was that for?" This is the morning Grace tells him some version of She Wants Out. He packs his suitcases, vomits in one of them.

This second breather seems to have the same three primary threads as the first, Grace, James, and the opera singer. We haven't followed our Diva in her own individual chapter yet, and so these Breather sections have been her most concentrated appearances thus far. In this one we pick up where we left off last time. It's after she has brunch with the doctor. She slept with the officer the night before. Why? 'For [her] father, for [her] family [...] for [her] country [...] danger, comfort, fun.' Her father has been or is to be tortured for speaking out. She abhors the idea of dieting, preferring the 'angelic worm', The doctor considers dosing her with an Atabrine Evacuator, used to treat worm infestations.

Jim Mayn is a 'boy propelled by boydom', grabs a cruller, then on second thought another one, on his way out. "Jimmy, you must have a tapeworm". Memory told Jim he never dreamt, but once he did ('an early-day dream likely'), and as he told Margaret of it, she told him she thought he dreamt of the same world as her stories of the Eastern Princess. She spoke of the princess being sent on a giant bird to a flower shaped mountain. She is to survey the Indian way of doing things. She ends up traveling with the Navajo prince, who is trying to heal a hole in the head of his mother. Alexander (Jim's grandfather) remembers Margret's journey westward, sending back copy as she went. They remember various events of that time, both small scale and world altering like 'the railroad [as] liquor, the railroad [as] sickness shot straight into the system.'

We experience more of Grace's life, particularly her childhood and some of her sexual experiences post-divorce. Her family grew up near a man made lake. That's where Grace was raped by her Uncle Walter. Again she was raped by a 'friend-of-her-family man in uniform'. We experience this incredibly well rendered moment where Grace's brother (Walter) is instructed to run out and return some empty bottles to the milkman, falling in the process. Post-divorce, we have Grace's experiences with swinging, or orgies, or group sex, putting 'peer bandhood before pair bonding.' She describes what it's like to have sex with a man and then learn his name, share a meal. I think the person it describes her meeting this way is Cliff, based on him referencing his time in Alcoholics Anonymous. We are told of another connection between our Grace and our Mayn. Grace knows Mayn's daughter, named Flick [edit: sort of, through a "corespondent-woman" involved in the workshop who speaks of (reads?) a letter Mayn sent to Flick].

Flick gets a letter from her father mentioning his interview with the German-Chilean beekeeper. Mayn asks what is going to happen? Beekeeper predicts Allende's election. "Will he stand his enemies against the wall?" Mayn is watching Mackenna's building it seems. So Mayn knows Mackenna is in NYC. We get another vision of Mayn's future. Locus T was previously Locus Transfer but now is Locus Transform.

'The worms gone'(!!!)'Flushed out after the Diva's doctors left'. That was fast. I hope I'm misreading here, because I'll miss the angelic thing.



The Interrogator is more present in this breather than the last. What do you make of it/him? He is almost certainly a Chilean in the world of the book [edit: sometimes], but is also addressing us personally, questioning us about the characters of the novel and occasionally supplying information about them himself. 'Our eyes are riveted in our interrogation chair pivoting back and forth' This describes...reading. What holds us in the chair? Is The Interrogator the text somehow, and we are the angels-breathers, filling the gaps, answering the questions asked of us. What is this 'New Torture of Painlessness'?


'Like Mayn, who's some of what by now we all have in us, we're out here in the future, but at the same time we're not.'

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