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The Dig
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7/17 The Dig > The Dig - Whole book (Spoilers allowed)

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited Jul 03, 2017 01:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
This thread is for those of you who have read the book. Since it is a short book I think two threads are enough.

I was originally planning to post a few introductory questions here, but the early responses are interesting enough already. Feel free to say what you think, and suggest any questions that might be interesting.


message 2: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan Friedman Beautifully written and atmospheric novel, with the added benefit of providing me with ideas for how to deal with gopher burrows in our yard. The Dig continues to engage me after I finished it, particularly because the wonderful ambiguity of the ending. I would be interested to learn what others here think happened at the end of the novel.


LindaJ^ (LindaJS) | 1768 comments Ambiguous is a good description of the book's ending. While I know this is the thread for spoilers, it is only the first day of the month, so I'm putting my response to Dan's inquiry in a spoiler. (view spoiler)


Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
I will read that part again when I have time but I agree with Linda that that seemed the most convincing explanation...


message 5: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan Friedman LindaJ^, Hugh, Thanks to you both. That was my thought as well. And that explains the (view spoiler)?


message 6: by carissa (last edited Jul 01, 2017 07:58PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

carissa | 66 comments I am beginning this today and am quite nervous about the content. Human created violence upon animals upsets me in ways that human violence doesn't.

I don't want to read anything more than the cover before I start. At the end of the blurb it says this is a retelling of a Welsh myth. Does anyone know the name of the myth?

Strike that...it's for one of his other books!


message 7: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 67 comments This was definitely a very graphic book - I am not one to shy away from violence - hello, real life - but there was one specific occasion where I had to take a break from this tiny book.
I thought Jones's writing style was beautiful and simple and presented the violence and suffering in the novel very matter-of-factly, which both made for an emotional connection to the story and did not feel exploitative.
For the ending: (view spoiler)
On a separate note, is "boar" used as a synonym (slang?) for "badger" in Wales or was that just a way to hide that it is a badger?


Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
Kay, On your specific question, I believe male badgers are called boars too - I didn't question that but the Wikipedia article on the badger confirms it


message 9: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 67 comments Hugh wrote: "Kay, On your specific question, I believe male badgers are called boars too - I didn't question that but the Wikipedia article on the badger confirms it"
Thanks, Hugh.


Matthew Green (matthewgreen03) | 10 comments Hiya folks! Longtime lurker, almost first-time poster. Really looking forward to hearing more in-depth takes on the conclusion of this thing.
I didn't spend enough time with this one, instead going through it at a sprint. While I am normally a fan of the spare writing style, I found this little book so pared down that I came away with very little to hang on to. I think this is both cause and effect of my rushing through. Didn't feel much connection to the characters and certainly didn't have much of an emotional response, occasional disgust aside. A couple scenes of extraordinary cruelty were about all that stood out.
I can't seem to read anyone's comments about the end, which struck me not so much ambiguous but unfinished, but if it went the way it seems, I'd judge that a disappointment as well. On the other hand, I did find the last bit of the epilogue to be clever if not entirely satisfying.


Robert | 135 comments I just finished the novel so some thoughts will be messy. What struck me other than the scenes of cruelty is the significance of the black lamb. In the book Daniel keeps the half dead lamb, hoping it will be alive because a black lamb has to be offered to the devil.

Just as Daniel is ready to investigate the noise, the black lamb dies - Does it mean that evil has arrived? I think Daniel dies in the end and is meeting his wife and in the epilogue justice has happened.

I'm also sure that the stillborn lambs represent something as well - Daniel's current life?

Is Daniel like the badgers in the book? or is it the big man, if I interpreted the epilogue correctly.

I liked a lot of things about the book - the writing, the way Jones makes the big man hate-able from the beginning .


Kathleen | 152 comments There is much going on here. About the epilogue, I interpreted the way you did, Robert, that the big man became the badger in the end. The dogs sniff him out. "He has nowhere to go" ... "tries to use the thick blanket like a hide."

I also assumed Daniel was killed, but I don't quite understand how exactly. I should go back and re-read that scene.


Matthew Green (matthewgreen03) | 10 comments I agree: the big man undoubtedly takes the role of the badger in the end. Robert, nice catch with the black lamb. I missed the significance of that entirely. In light of that, the last chapter seems much clearer.
I'm curious about the style and tone. Has anyone read another novel from this author? Are his works typically bleak and spare? Did you guys find the language and detail presented here evocative in the way people think of works from Hemingway, McCarthy, etc.?


message 14: by carissa (last edited Jul 02, 2017 08:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

carissa | 66 comments Yes, each man becomes what they've been/done at the end. Which is a form of justice, but left me with a lot of philosophical questions about nature/nurture and the purpose of love.

I WANT to know if the Big Man ever learns to equate his feelings with those of the animals he tortures. I WANT to know if Daniel is relieved to get his heart's desire...in the end.

Growing up mostly in rural areas of MT, TX and MN/ND, I've know people like both of these men. I have grown up with this questions based on my own experiences. I know nothing is ever that compact and sensible, but I still want things to be...just, I guess and this book is. (I think real life as well, but it sure may not seem that way when it's happening!)

I abhor violence, but do not turn away from it. It's the only way to not perpetuate it, it seems. If you had to kill your own meat, would you eat it? Can you love an animal and make it a meal?

I found both main characters relateable and unlikable for different reasons. They are both lost and alone and wallowing in that. I agree with what someone wrote above about Daniel=black lamb and Big Man=badger.

I am getting ready to reread The Stranger for another bookclub on GoodReads. I couldn't help thinking of the parallels in these 2 novels.


Loved it to bits. It's a sign of a great book, for me, when I come away moved and questioning and wanting more. Thanks for putting this book on my radar 21stCentLit.


Robert | 135 comments More after thoughts:

Daniel means: God is my judge and the big man is a slang for God.

So maybe Daniel is the sacrificial lamb after all.

The badger is an animal that digs - digging means seeing beneath the surface, hence something we are instructed to do as it's the title of the book??

on another note - style-wise this novel reminded me more of Magnus Mills' The Restraint of Beasts.


message 16: by Hugh (last edited Jul 03, 2017 01:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
Thanks everyone. I was going to post a few introductory questions but this discussion has already moved beyond the stage where that might be necessary.

One of the reasons I wanted to discuss this book was that although it is memorable and easy to admire the subject matter makes it a difficult book to love. For me the violence and brutality was necessary and a more explicit ending might have tipped that balance the wrong way.

I have not yet read anything else by Jones but I would like to - I am also hoping to find time to re-read at least some of this one while the discussion is active...


message 17: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 67 comments Robert wrote: "

Daniel means: God is my judge and the big man is a slang for God."


Robert, that is interesting! God as the big man - that takes things even deeper than I thought originally.

I was also going to ask if anyone has read Jones before - I would definitely look into his other books.
Not sure I agree with the Hemingway comparison. Yes, Hemingway also does this type of direct, simple prose, but this book felt more evocative.


Kathleen | 152 comments I'm so glad you chose this book, Hugh, because without your recommendation I never would have read it.

I agree with you, Kay, that this was more evocative than Hemingway. I kept thinking of the quote that Hemingway wanted to write one true sentence and Jones did just that I thought. Several of the descriptions left me thinking, "Yes, I've never heard that described quite so accurately before, but yes, that is it exactly."


message 19: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
I have just gone back and looked at the last two chapters again, and on second reading they seem less ambiguous.

Having seen the earlier comments about the big man's fate paralleling that of the hunted badgers, there are plenty of lines in the epilogue that suggest that Jones intended this, for example "Lights blind his eyes, a dog barks inches from his face. There is nowhere to go. He has nowhere to go."

As for Daniel, I think the key line is the last line in the penultimate chapter before the italics: "The spade coming was like the wing of a bird.". I find it hard to interpret this any other way than Daniel being hit by the spade, though whether by accident or intention is unclear. Heaven is one possible interpretation of the italicised section that follows, but it could also more prosaically be the kind of hallucination commonly reported by those who survive near-death experiences.


carissa | 66 comments Robert wrote: "Daniel means: God is my judge and the big man is a slang for God."

haHA, so the old testament God/Big Man's judgement is to wack him with a spade and give him his desire of being reunited with his wife in fields of gold/Heaven.

I'm still thinking about this wickedly tight little book! So good.


message 21: by Kay (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kay | 67 comments I thought that the last italics part was Daniel remembering his wife while he was dying but I guess it could be heaven too.


Kathleen | 152 comments I'm still thinking about this too!

So the spade could have been thrown just to get rid of it? (Not unlike the way Daniel threw the ... um ... lamb's head into the woods--to avoid the paperwork and let nature take its course?)


LindaJ^ (LindaJS) | 1768 comments If I remember correctly, it was night and stormy/foggy, so it is possible that Daniel got in the way of the spade when they were digging or maybe they thought he was a badger? I didn't think that Daniel's motivation in throwing the lamb into the woods was to avoid paperwork. He didn't particularly like the paperwork, something his wife had always done, but his motivation, I think, was something different.

Equating the big man with God? Have to ponder that for awhile.


Beverly | 94 comments I have been away so just getting to write my comments.

I am so glad this book won as I had not heard of this author/book before it being nominated here.

I so "loved" this book and can say I am a big fan of the spare novels/novella that are well-written as The Dig is.

I loved the spare poetic language and I thought that paragraph format gave this novella a narrative poetry feel.

The wonderfulness of finding a new author to follow!

I will be reading more by this author.


Beverly | 94 comments One of my favorite lines in the book is:

"Sometimes you to choose between a quick misery or a slow misery."

While Daniel recalls this advice from his father when he has to make a decision regarding a difficult "lambing", but the advice recalled how the badgers were "violently" made helpless to allow/prolong their death so the dogs could more effectively attack the badgers and that provide the thrills for spectators.

For me this was another example of the contrast between good (Daniel) v evil (the Old Man) despite both living in the same hard scrabble environment.


Beverly | 94 comments Kay wrote: "This was definitely a very graphic book - I am not one to shy away from violence - hello, real life - but there was one specific occasion where I had to take a break from this tiny book.
I thought ..."


I agree with your ending regarding Daniel and the Old Man!!


Robert | 135 comments Oh i just remembered lamb is a sacrificial animal in both Judaism and Christianity. To keep his sheep farm Daniel goes through sacrifices as well


message 28: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
Thanks Beverly. I was a little bit nervous about nominating this one because of the subject matter and the relative obscurity of the writer, but so far I think it has paid off pretty well, and I have really enjoyed the discussions.


message 29: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 1453 comments Mod
Very much enjoying all the comments and insights posted above.

Felt to me like Daniel and the Big Man were kind of two sides of a coin--the former being about fostering life while dealing with death (his wife's) and the latter doling out death while having very little life (or human connection). But what really marveled me besides the absolute beauty of the prose was the way Jones constantly connected and perhaps fuzzied things. Sometimes he'd juxtapose scenes like the tragic death and removal of the stillborn lamb followed by the brutal death of the badger fighting the dogs, and sometimes he'd sort of weave in and out of scenes (the head of the lamb harking to his wife's injured skull and then back to the lamb; the final dig for another badger going on with Daniel thinking of the sounds as the digging of his wife's grave; the final capture of the Big Man paralleling the badger fight/being trapped). I thought this technique kind of amplified everything, like a mirroring effect further tying the two men together.

How did you read "the shard" in terms of what it meant to the story and/or to the characters?


message 30: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan Friedman Marc wrote: "Very much enjoying all the comments and insights posted above.

Felt to me like Daniel and the Big Man were kind of two sides of a coin--the former being about fostering life while dealing with dea..."


Marc, I don't know about "the shard," but your comments are very helpful to me in better understanding why I was so captivated by The Dig.


message 31: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 1453 comments Mod
Dan, "captivated" is such a wonderful description of this book. The writing really does pull one almost magnetically. I'm glad you found my comments helpful. I'm still thinking about "the shard" myself...


message 32: by Hugh (last edited Jul 09, 2017 10:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
I can't offer any coherent theories on the shard but it is an intriguing question.


carissa | 66 comments Marc wrote: "How did you read "the shard" in terms of what it meant to the story and/or to the characters?"

I equated it with the Badger in my mind. Both things are dug out of the Earth. The Shard by what the author called a "digger" ( some sort of smallish machine driven by a person??) and the Badger by men...although we never learn if they get him...or I may be remembering it wrong.

I also thought of it as a touchstone for Daniel...and him wanting his wife to be dug up/not dead.

It read very visceral to me, like it was being removed against it's will or something.


Beverly | 94 comments Marc wrote: "Very much enjoying all the comments and insights posted above.

Felt to me like Daniel and the Big Man were kind of two sides of a coin--the former being about fostering life while dealing with dea..."


I love your thoughts on the prose and how the author so effectively contrasted nature and the characters connection to the land. The author had sure every word counted and provided a full reading experience in less than 200 pages.


Beverly | 94 comments Another aspect of this book that I thought was wonderfully done - is the depiction of Daniel's grief - it was so poignant and gut-wrenching. My heart ached for Daniel.

It was impossible that she was dead because his feelings for her had not diminished at all. It is the ability of a person to bring a reaction in us that gives us a relationship with them, and for the time they do that they have a livingness to them.


LindaJ^ (LindaJS) | 1768 comments I keep thinking about "the shard." I like carrisa's thoughts but I'm thinking it might have even more meaning. Wasn't it being removed as part of converting more land to pasture? I keep thinking it has some connection to how Daniel wished that farming had not become so controlled by rules, like keeping track of every thing on paper (or I suppose in a computer file!). He wanted farming to be like it used to be. It seems his wife did the recordkeeping and now she was gone. Was the removal of the shard just more of his world falling apart? Not doing a very good job explaining but that the ripping out of the shard was so devastating to Daniel that it most have torn at something really personal.


message 37: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 1453 comments Mod
Beverly wrote: "Another aspect of this book that I thought was wonderfully done - is the depiction of Daniel's grief - it was so poignant and gut-wrenching. My heart ached for Daniel..."

I thought so too, Beverly. I could feel Daniel's love for and grief over his wife. Just beautiful.


message 38: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 1453 comments Mod
I left my library copy of the book at work, so now that I have it, here are some selections from the passage where the shard is dug up:
He was feeling a disappointment and betrayal that the shard had to come out of the ground. He had mythologized it as a child, a piece of lightning solidified there, a great sword, had over the years battled to move it himself. He thought it the gut of some truck or implement long abandoned and it was a mark for him. Like the mole she was self-conscious of above her hip. It felt wrong to remove it. It was right in the line of the ditch and it had to come out but he was disagreeing emotionally with what they were doing...
He was unsettled at the shard coming out of the ground, as if it would bring a wrongness.
...
He could not disassociate the [Big] man coming from the moving of the shard. As if it had conjured him.

He thought of the shard, lying there, a snapped bone. Something stricken. He wondered briefly again what it was. It worried him that there was no imagination in him. There was just a hollow, dead unknowing. Somewhere within him, the anger about the man coming onto his land.
...
He had a sudden fear for her, a belief someone had touched her or was going to touch her and harm her again. It was inexplicable.


This is the first time Daniel and the Big Man meet. Any loss to Daniel seems like a reliving of the loss of his wife. It's like the topography of the land is tied to the topography of her body...

Rereading this--it did make me wonder where his wife was buried--does anyone recall? Would there be any reason for him to think any digging on his land would upset her grave or is this merely Daniel sort of internalizing the land as an extension of his wife?


message 39: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
Thanks Marc.


carissa | 66 comments Marc wrote: "Any loss to Daniel seems like a reliving of the loss of his wife. It's like the topography of the land is tied to the topography of her body...."

Yes, without question!

I thought she was buried by the church nearby...he walked there/visited, if I'm recalling correctly. I've returned the book to the library, but since I'm STILL thinking about it, I may have to buy a copy soon.


message 41: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this discussion - It has been very interesting and since the book is very short, I am not surprised that it has been quiet for the last couple of weeks. As always the discussion topics will remain open for late contributions.


LindaJ^ (LindaJS) | 1768 comments I can't remember if this was a moderator pick or the winner of the poll. But, I am glad to have read it so thanks to whoever was responsible! I doubt I'd ever have stumbled across it on my own.


message 43: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 1473 comments Mod
Thanks Linda. This was an open pick which I nominated.


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