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Spill Simmer Falter Wither
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2018 Book Discussions > Spill Simmer Falter Wither - Falter, Wither and whole book (spoilers allowed) (Jan 2018)

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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2716 comments Mod
This topic is for discussion of the second half of the book, your overall impressions and anything else you wish to discuss.
A few starter questions: Did you feel the narrator had any alternative to the road trip? Why could he not resist returning? Did the revelations about his father's death change your feelings about the book? Did you think the ending was inevitable? Did you enjoy the book and would you read more Baume? For those of you who have read A Line Made by Walking how did they compare?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Just a quick initial thought on the last question re comparison to A Line Made by Walking. First, neither book has a plot. We just spend time in the main character's head, seeing and feeling their world. Second, I have not read yet read the reviews posted in the general thread, but I am impressed with the author's ability to capture the mental challenges of the main characters of each of these books.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer In terms not of comparing the two books, a number of reviewers have commented that Line Made by Walking feels more like a typical first novel. Heavily autobiographical and this book (Spill ..) more like a second novel, where the author extends their technique to other voices. On Goodreads you will when find one readers convinced that in fact Line Made by Walking, was largely written first and then completed and published after the success of this novel.

It's clear though that this isn't the case, but that Sara Baume has said that she does regard Line Made by Walking as her first novel, partly because it's autobiographical and partly because she never expected for Spill .. to be published and instead saw it more as an experiment before she worked on her next project (which became Line Made by Walking).

From an interview in 2015

"I’m probably more excited about what I’m writing now. It will be a novel, but not a very traditional novel. As soon as Spill Simmer Falter Wither was finished I started writing another one, because I thought, ‘That won’t get published, that’s my practice novel. When I get to the end I’ll write a real one.’ But for the last year I’ve been tapping away at this thing that is now a massive word document. It needs an awful lot of work still. I suppose it’s a first draft; there’s a big hole where the end should be. It’s not the kind of thing that needs an ending I think, there’s no story per se. Ends are hard."

As to her next project - currently it's heading to be visual rather than literature - drawings of patterns she has found in curtains and carpets.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 185 comments Oddly having just finished, I had exactly the opposite reaction to the one you suggest as most common.

This felt much more like a first novel - with the requisite 'twist' at the end for example. The writing here is great at sentence level but as a literary feat, A Line Made By Walking feels on a whole different level. Let me put it this way - there is a reason one was on the Costa First Novel list and the other the Goldsmiths.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer I don't think it is odd at all Paul, not least as it clearly reflects a) what happened and b) how the author herself sees the books, including her comment that her second book would not have an "end"


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 185 comments I meant odd as in the reaction of others that you report seems odd.

Not quite sure what to think of this book - the writing is beautiful but it didn't ultimately do much for me as it didn't seem to get anywhere. Dare I say I got a bit bored by the last section, particularly as it was obviously heading towards the revelation as to what was in the attic.

I also expected a bit more rationale for how someone could live like that, with his father and cut off from the world, in to his 50s.


Whitney | 2160 comments Mod
Loved the writing in this book. The closest thing it brought to mind was Gilead, told in the form of a letter to a son. I'm guessing other epistolary novels may have similar effects with the effortless switch from second person to first person as a narrative is recited to a non-verbal listener. SSFW was also seamless in it's transitions from present to past tense. I never grew tired with Ray's details of the world around them. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have had more of a laundry-list feel to it, but Baume really made it feel like you were inside Ray's meticulous head.

I do have mixed feelings about the skeleton in the attic. I expected Ray to reach an understanding of some horrific event or events from his past, but this was a little more gothic than really seemed to fit. Does anyone think we needed an explanation for why Ray suddenly broke his long exile to adopt a a dog? My assumption was he recognized a kindred spirit in the photo of One Eye, and also that it was a final effort to claim some sort of companionship in the world. Maybe Baume thought that was unlikely, and Ray needed a more 'practical' reason for the adoption.

I don't know about alternatives to the road trip, but it certainly served to show a stripping down of Ray's (paltry to start) material existence as metaphor for the stripping down of his mental barriers. That image of him on the beach with his long, stringy hair, layers of grime, and pus oozing from his hangnail brought home just how far he had descended. I couldn't help thinking of Ray as I passed three men last night, covered in greasy blankets and tattered clothes, rooting through a dumpster.

I also think he needed to come back for that final reckoning. There certainly wasn't going to be any kind of happy ending, but I was glad for the afterword. If Ray had taken One Eye over the cliff with him, I would have had to hate him a little bit.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 2716 comments Mod
Thanks Whitney. I tend to agree about the skeleton being unnecessarily melodramatic but I suppose it evens up their outlaw status.


Neil | 309 comments I agree on the skeleton. I don’t think that was necessary as a lonely man wanting company is enough for the story to work (and work better, I think). Road trip ok for me, but disappointed by the skeleton.


Whitney | 2160 comments Mod
Another thing that bothers me about the skeleton is that it's incongruous with the rest of the book's themes. Most of the book is a slow revealing of Ray's past, primarily his childhood and how it helped make him the person he is. The 'reveal' suddenly shifts the focus to more recent events, something we were never concerned about until then. I would have found it more satisfying if the main thing Ray had done back at the house was to retrieve his poor disintegrating teddy bear from behind the washer.


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Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 185 comments One of the reasons I felt this had a bit of 'first novel' syndrome. A Line Made by Walking is a much more assured book.


Whitney | 2160 comments Mod
I'm certainly quibbling with the ending, but mainly because I loved the rest so much. I thought it was otherwise an amazingly assured book. Beautiful writing that always drew me instantly into Ray's world, and the tone never faltered.


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Neil | 309 comments Whitney, I agree. My problem with the final section is mainly that it spoiled what had been a wonderful reading experience until then. I thought the first two parts were amazing. I was less convinced by the road trip in Falter and not at all convinced by the skeleton in Wither. But the writing stayed beautiful the whole way through.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Jan 08, 2018 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Neil wrote: "I agree on the skeleton. I don’t think that was necessary as a lonely man wanting company is enough for the story to work (and work better, I think). Road trip ok for me, but disappointed by the sk..."

You all make me wonder if I am headed into "A Rose for Emily" William Faulkner type story. Not but what the first two chapters don't have some suspicious clues.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/wf_r...


Whitney | 2160 comments Mod
The difference is that gothic is completely appropriate for Faulkner, especially in this story about the decaying south.


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Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Okay, help? p141. What does "beet" mean in the context used?

"...why I'm parting a path through his beet...."

"You rush and skip into the beet again, as though you are euphoric too."

(Somehow I am reminded of a scene from Tess of the D'Urbervilles; are beets grown as an animal feed?)


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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2716 comments Mod
Not on page 141 in my copy. Beets are grown for sugar too...


message 18: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 309 comments My uncle used to grow beet in Norfolk. Sugar, feed and, of course, beetroot.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 274 comments Well, I finally finished.

Like most of you, I loved the language. It's what kept me reading. I thought the first two sections of the book were much stronger than the last sections. Falter and Wither seemed to drag.

I didn't think some of it was very plausible, for example, the skeleton in the attic. Doesn't a decomposing body smell so badly that the smell saturates everything around it? Couldn't the neighbors smell it? What about the salon on his ground floor? Couldn't they smell something rotting?

Also, there were neighbors around who knew of his existence. He was abused and neglected as a child. He never went to school. Didn't the neighbors know something was wrong? It seemed like a fairly close knit community, so surely someone would have realized there was something amiss in the house and notified the authorities?

I thought the novel was strong in some areas, weak in others. I gave it three stars in my review. Maybe it just wasn't for me.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


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Marc (monkeelino) | 2719 comments Mod
Does my memory serve me right in a late explanation that one of the primary reasons Ray gets OneEye is to scare away the rats in the attic who've been dining on his father?

I thought the on-the-lam road trip seemed kind of impulsive at first, but made more sense in terms of not wanting extra-attention on the house or questions about his missing father, in addition to protecting OneEye.

I really liked how Baume moved Ray from imagining himself as OneEye to seeing OneEye as a young, disobedient/PITA Ray to himself as a kind of father who could choose/show the sort of compassion Ray himself never received.


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

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Hugh wrote: "Not on page 141 in my copy. Beets are grown for sugar too..."

It is in the scene where Ray helps the boy bring in his cows. Places may exist where pasturing cattle in beet fields is done in the U.S., but I have not encountered or heard of such. I have been trying to picture what might have been the scene here.


Whitney | 2160 comments Mod
I suspect that the trail into the barn just runs next to the beet field. One sentence is "Now he follows his cows along the field boundary toward the farm."

Beets are commonly fed to cattle especially beet pulp which is a byproduct of the sugar industry, but no one would intentionally let cows run around in a field with crops.


Kathleen | 279 comments Yes, to Marc's memory of the rats. That was the explanation for why Ray got One Eye.

I just finished, so I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. My initial reaction is it kept me reading for three things: 1)the tension. Once the lady threatened to have One-Eye destroyed, I had to know how this was going to end. 2)The writing. 3)The oddness--the exploration of this certain type of lifestyle.

Call me gullible, but I found it all believable. The road trip decision (especially for someone with Ray's lack of life experience), the willingness of the community to overlook what they'd never wanted to see anyway, even the body in the attic. (Maybe the rats got to him before he could smell too bad?)


Whitney | 2160 comments Mod
I certainly found it believable, (except that the body wouldn't reek to high heaven, even with the rats eating it. I know from experience how badly an unpreserved corpse smells within 12 hours of death.)

And, as you say, the willingness of people to overlook what they don't want to deal with. Consider how socially awkward Ray is, the town is probably ready to accept that he is intellectually stunted and unfit for school.


Kathleen | 279 comments No disrespect to this meaningful, important book, but did anyone else notice an overwhelming desire to clean after reading it? :-)


Calzean The writing is incredibly soulful as the narrator talks about his life in a tumbling, dirty house, his father and his few interactions with others. My problem was the having the story told in the first person. The writing is masterful but I couldn't match it with a character who was supposedly of limited intelligence.


message 27: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Kathleen wrote: "No disrespect to this meaningful, important book, ...."

Kathleen -- I'm curious. Why do you call ssfw a "meaningful, important book"?

I'm glad to have read it and found some of the writing extraordinary; however, for me, it fell far short of your appellation by the time I finished it.


message 28: by Lily (last edited Jan 19, 2018 09:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Calzean wrote: "...The writing is masterful but I couldn't match it with a character who was supposedly of limited intelligence...."

According to whom? For me, the author painted a discrepancy between the perceptions of the outer world, including even his father, versus his actual capabilities and his use of the materials (books, ...) within his grasp.


Whitney | 2160 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "Calzean wrote: "...The writing is masterful but I couldn't match it with a character who was supposedly of limited intelligence...."

According to whom? For me, the author painted a discrepancy bet..."


What Lily said. I don't think he was of limited intelligence at all, he was just of very limited social skills. Given a non-judgmental dog, he was able to express himself quite soulfully, as you aptly put it.


Kathleen | 279 comments Lily wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "No disrespect to this meaningful, important book, ...."

Kathleen -- I'm curious. Why do you call ssfw a "meaningful, important book"?

I'm glad to have read it and found some of t..."


Some of the books I see as most important are the books that reveal, that tell the truth about a person or situation. I thought this book did that, shed light on this particular outcast and therefore, hopefully helps us look differently at other outcasts. I felt a great deal of empathy for him, despite my sarcastic comment.


Kathleen | 279 comments Whitney wrote: "Lily wrote: "Calzean wrote: "...The writing is masterful but I couldn't match it with a character who was supposedly of limited intelligence...."

According to whom? For me, the author painted a di..."


It's easy to assume that someone who has trouble articulating themselves has trouble thinking. This happens all the time. That's one of the things I loved about the book--the vehicle of the story gives this character a voice to reveal what's really going on in his head, and it's not at all what others might assume.


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Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Kathleen wrote: "Some of the books I see as most important are the books that reveal, that tell the truth about a person or situation. I thought this book did that, shed light on this particular outcast and therefore, hopefully helps us look differently at other outcasts...."

Thanks for sharing your reasoning, Kathleen. I can really buy that, even if I didn't personally give the book as much credit as you do. Perhaps because the way I ended up reading sswf, I confused Ray's story with what felt as if it might have been the author's story. So for me, the issue was probably partly how I read the book.


Kathleen | 279 comments Lily wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "Some of the books I see as most important are the books that reveal, that tell the truth about a person or situation. I thought this book did that, shed light on this particular ou..."

I can see that interpretation too, Lily. That's part of the magic of books, isn't it? How they strike us one way or another, sometimes even changing completely on a re-read!


message 34: by Lily (last edited Jan 25, 2018 12:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Kathleen wrote: "Some of the books I see as most important are the books that reveal, that tell the truth about a person or situation. I thought this book did that, shed light on this particular outcast and therefore, hopefully helps us look differently at other outcasts. I felt a great deal of empathy for him, despite my sarcastic comment...."

I thought of your comment today when I read a review of William Trevor's The Boarding-House by Jonathan:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I've read only one of Trevor's books, but I suspect Sara Baume may show/write more empathy....


Kathleen | 279 comments Lily wrote: "Kathleen wrote: "Some of the books I see as most important are the books that reveal, that tell the truth about a person or situation. I thought this book did that, shed light on this particular ou..."

I hadn't heard of William Trevor, and this looks like something I would love. Baume may show more empathy, but personally I think we can develop empathy from all kinds of exposure to stuff, even if it's written sarcastic or even negative. It's looking at it that's important, I think. But this book looks very entertaining too--thank you so much for sharing this, Lily!


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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2716 comments Mod
William Trevor was a very different kind of writer to Baume!


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

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Hugh wrote: "William Trevor was a very different kind of writer to Baume!"

Yes, but how would you describe the difference, Hugh? Rambling comments: (view spoiler)


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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2716 comments Mod
I have read four or five Trevor novels (depending on whether you count Two Lives as one or two) and for me he is much less interested in relating his own experiences and more interested in the interaction of characters.

What they do have in common is the Anglo-Irish background and their powers of description. One might also say that Ray shares his social marginalisation with some of Trevor's most memorable characters, but I am not aware of any that are quite as isolated. Trevor also seems much more interested in religion, but that may be a generational difference...


message 39: by Lily (last edited Jan 26, 2018 09:45AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Hugh wrote: "...What they do have in common is the Anglo-Irish background and their powers of description...."

Thx for your comments, Hugh, all of them, on Trevor vs Baume. It has been awhile since I read Trevor. Neither he nor Sara are authors to whose work I am anxious to return -- more inclined to move on to others. I loved Baume's descriptions in the first half of ssfw, but the story fell apart for me, even though I found both Ray and OneEye sympathetic characters in many ways. (The secondary characters -- given the first person voice of Ray's storytelling, was their almost stereotyped flat, minimal characterization simply fitting?) I recall Trevor as bleak and unsparing in his character portrayals and have no particular recollection of his language usage, except that it is good.


message 40: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2716 comments Mod
Thanks for all of your contributions - I have enjoyed this discussion. As always the discussion threads will remain open beyond the end of the month.


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

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Thx, Hugh, for your leadership.

I just laid aside R. Marie Griffith's Moral Combat a few minutes ago, thinking about the review I would write of her admirable, scholarly work (with some glaring limitations, imo) and the ones on ssfw and Reservoir 13 that just haven't gelled for me. I didn't read MC in the published order of its chapters, so my final read was the one on literature, which rather dwells on the writings of D. H. Lawrence. As I mentally wandered, it struck me that Baume gave Ray a basically chaste life without romantic or sexual overtones. True, or did I miss some things basic within the story, is my parting question?


message 42: by Lily (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Okay, me again. One more time. How DID the story end? Who narrated it if Ray went over the cliff? What was he doing back in the kitchen frying sausage? What puzzle pieces did I miss?

Yes, I read the comments here:
https://www.goodreads.com/questions/6...


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Hugh (bodachliath) | 2716 comments Mod
Lily, I don't think I can give you a rational answer - it seems to be the old omniscient narrator, but I did like the way the way was bookended by the two sections written more from the dog's perspective rather than Ray's. I don't think Baume even attempted to explain how the book came to be written, but I don't have the book with me so I am relying on memory...


Kathleen | 279 comments I wish that I still had my book too, but I have two weird thoughts that I'll share because I don't have the book to remind me why they probably don't make sense!

Is it at all possible that Ray got out with One-Eye, and let the car go over the cliff? I mean, we're suspending disbelief here anyway, and we're meant to believe that he got away with hiding of his father's body for a very long time. What's to say he couldn't also find a way to keep the dog catcher away so the two of them could live (for a while anyway) to make sausages together?

I also like the bookending of One-Eye's POV--One-Eye before and after Ray. You could play with extended meanings to that, that One-Eye (read dogs, read animals, read nature) lived before and will live after his time with Ray (read people).

I love open-ended books that allow you to imagine this kind of stuff. But I welcome any comments that shoot holes in these silly ideas too. :-)


CatBee (ecospirit) | 23 comments Late to the party as usual. Loved this book, but it made me so sad! At first I kept hoping someone friendly would recognize Ray's situation and guide him out of it. But as the book progressed this seemed more and more unlikely and that the outcome would be similar to what it was. I like the possibility that Ray didn't actually go over the cliff, but the epilogue where there is just the dog looking out at the top makes that less likely - it's just wishful thinking on our part. I tend to think that the scene about cooking sausage at the end is an idea about the afterlife that Ray is now eternally happy and relieved of his suffering, this is when he was happiest on Earth.


message 46: by CatBee (last edited Feb 03, 2018 06:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

CatBee (ecospirit) | 23 comments Whitney wrote: "I do have mixed feelings about the skeleton in the attic."

Ray often references the "smell" of the house prior to this climactic revelation, so it makes sense to me. Yes, there would be a horrible smell for a few days until the rats completely cleaned the skeleton, then of course the smell would linger but fade over time. It also makes sense to me that Ray needed a reason to adopt the dog, since at first he doesn't even like it and it does not seem like something he would do just for his own benefit.


CatBee (ecospirit) | 23 comments One of the features of the book that delighted me were the incredibly rich descriptions of nature, on the shore and in the countryside, and that this was an important part, and perhaps one of the few positive parts, of Ray's experience of the world. Perhaps Ray was not just low IQ and EQ but had some autistic spectrum characteristics in having difficulty relating to other people. Nature would be easier for him to relate to, and of course being out in nature is now known to be good for our mental health (as some of us have already known for a long time). Another reason for the road trip perhaps.


message 48: by Lily (last edited Feb 03, 2018 10:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Thx for continuing the conversation. I sincerely hope we are not reading a Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf or David Wallace. Too great a talent to lose prematurely.


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