Brookland Brookland discussion

Constant Reader

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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry This is the book Constant Reader will start discussing on November 15th, 2007.

message 2: by Jane (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:46PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jane There are a number of things that we can discuss about this book. First, I found the technical information about making gin and about bridge building to be fascinating. Barton must have done a tremendous amount of research. I looked up the history of the Brooklyn bridge to see if the book was based on reality. The only thing that I found was that the people of Brooklyn petitioned the state legislature to build a bridge in 1802. Nothing was done until much later in the century.

The other theme that I would like to discuss is the Winship family. What do you think of the "dark side" of the family? Was it realistic that the daughters were accepted as the owners of the distillery? People did accept their attire as well. In those times, I would think that the family would have been shunned.


Do you think that Pearl had it in her to do the awful things that she did at the end? Was it a culmination of the way that she had been treated her whole life? I felt it did not fit her character. She had a moody side but not a destructive side.


message 3: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:48PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth Just picked this up from the library this morning. I'll be with you soon as I can. Pant, pant, puff, puff.


message 4: by Colleen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:48PM) (new) - added it

Colleen Hi guys. I am new and this is my first comment on a book.I began reading a few weeks ago in preparation for this discussion. I am only about half-way through so I did not read the above mentioned spoiler, however I can comment on the other points you mentioned.

I too found the technical stuff fascinating (although I will agree that this story did start slowly). I haven't reached the part about the bridge construction yet, so I will stick to gin for now. I know that women worked then, and some even wore pants (gasp!) but I found it a little unbelievable that all of those grown men would answer so willingly to a nineteen year-old woman. I would think that given the prejudices at the time that there would have been some sort of mutiny for control of the business. The author did go to great lengths however, to discuss how respected the family was, despite its shortcomings. But more interestting to me was that a woman then would even WANT to run a distillery. What? No husband and kids? Heck they were considered almost too old to marry and bear children if they were older than 20. So, that both of them would shun tradition, and be pretty eager to do it, was hard to believe.

But I am not so focused on that that I cannot enjoy the story. I like historical fiction and especially, like someone here mentioned, if it is well researched and entertaining. I am from NJ, so the fact that it is my part of the world also makes it fun for me. I would like to pose a question though, to anyone who is a couple of 100 pages into the book, who would care to answer. I have a daughter (3) who has Autism. In the story, Pearl is mute, but we are not clear on why. This is so constantly referred to as such a horrendous disability, even though cognitively she is fine, that I find myself wondering how a child like my daughther (who is pretty high-funtioning, verbal and socially aware)would have been viewed. I find myself saying to myself as I am reading---what is the big deal!? Did anyone else feel this way? Just wondering.

message 5: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie As I said, I felt this began slowly but once I got going I was racing along until after the mid-point when I’ve ground to a pretty much a halt – but I don’t think this is the fault of the book. I think I’m putting on the brakes so I can stay in the book a while longer – duh – but the discussion is NOW, Dottie – and I’m talking to myself to get started again later this evening so that I can finish while the talk is still going on.

SO – having done all that mea culpa – I want to say that I really had very slight twinges and few of them about the girls being accepted in their manly garb – as for the workers etc – I took it as a family run small operation and growing and all treated very fairly so that they accepted it when the father brought the girls in and so on. I really believe history alights cases of women doing just what these women did – taking upon themselves a man’s work and doing it well. In those times there were often circumstances which forced women to do just that – step in and make it work or perish. I DO think the girls are pushing it historically as to childbirth etc however but again – it isn’t bothering me enough to stop my enjoying the book.

I’ve loved the distilling info – remember I’ve grown fond of my gin – well, Genever as in Flanders and the Netherlands, but still gin none-the-less. And the making of the model and those drawings – wow. It’s going to be interesting to see how she takes it from there but I’m enjoying it as I said – enough to try to put off finishing it so soon.

My first response is that the reaction to Pearl’s handicap really doesn’t seem to ring true – there were probably more people with handicaps included in daily life then than now – at least that’s my thinking.

message 6: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:49PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim Like others, I am caught in the middle working slowly towards the end.

One thing that catches me is the resistance to hgih drama in this book. Barton has just as much sex and suicide as Guest did for Ordinary People, yet she seems to spend more time describing how to make gin than how Pru felt when she took her first lover. As near as I can tell the answer to the second question is "pretty good".

There might be a theme there, but I probably ought to finish the book to see if I get crossed up.

-- Jim in Oregon

message 7: by Colleen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - added it

Colleen Jim,
I agree with you. Definately no "high drama" here. Everything is pretty understated, and technical.
And if I have to hear one more time about how Pru feels guilty about some childish prank with a doll, I am going to scream.
Read my lips..."You didn't cause her to be non-verbal!!"
There...I am better now.

message 8: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry Jane, this is answering your spoiler question. So this is also a


I agree that the Pearl we were presented with did not seem to have it in her to do the things she did, but remember that we saw her largely from Prue's vantage point. If she had the same depression and anger her mother lived with, maybe all the years of being treated as a child built up to a rage comparable to the conflagration she caused.

When I finished this, I was left with a mood very somber and depressed. I must have been effected, but it's not the effect I like books to have. I don't mind depressing books, but I like being left with a ray of hope. Brookland seemed rather bereft of hope in the end, didn't it?

message 9: by Jane (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jane Sherry,

I didn't really understand why Pearl was so upset. Pru had given her the permission to marry. Yes, it was a half-hearted, "I can't stop you", but Pearl went berserk.

I didn't feel depressed like you did. Pru had Recompense and her husband and sister. The business seemed to be doing well. On the other hand, it certainly made me think of the infant mortality rate in those days.


message 10: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:54PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth I'm now about 2/3 of the way through and bogged down. I know way more about distilleries and bridge construction than I ever wanted to. (Some authors cannot bear to leave out any of their research.)

I need some encouragement. I'm starting to skim.


message 11: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:55PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim Some might be interested in the podcast of an interview with Emily Barton located here


While the actual events in the book are fictional,she did a lot of period reasearch and found that women were more active in business in the late 18th century than is commonly supposed.

message 12: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth Thanks, Jim. That was interesting. I was having a hard time believing in Prue's activities. Or about the bridge.


I was interested in Pearl, and I could understand at first when she was treated as an invalid. But later, particularly when she did that beautiful, accurate drawing, I couldn't understand how she was just shoved back into the closet.

However, as much as she was confined, I had a hard time swallowing that final scene before she walked out of the house. Her protests before weren't strong enough for me to believe the extreme reaction at the end.

All in all, I think the book could have benefitted from a generous amount of editorial pruning. I was skimming a lot towards the end.


message 13: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim Like Ruth I went through several spells when I wondered whether the story was every going to get going or whether it was just a description of walking around 18th century Brooklyn,

I eventually warmed to the meandering, fact filled quality of the book, thinking that a great deal of it reflected the sensibility of a business person in the 18th century. You shut down the distillery for weeks to mourn your father's death, and then you go back to work since you are still alive that it what being alive is about. There is not much more to know about the death of a father other than it feels bad, and there is quite a bit more to know about building a bridge.

(view spoiler)

message 14: by Jane (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jane Ruth and Jim,


I am in Ruth's camp on this one, Jim. Pearl did have a rebellious streak, but she seemed to care for her family. This Pearl in the end was much too destructive and did not match the Pearl during the rest of the story. I think she wanted out of the family, so that is perhaps the main reason that she got pregnant. Then they would have to allow her to marry the preacher.


message 15: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth But if she loved the preacher (and we were given indications that she did) and she was pregnant by him, then why


commit arson and run away. Looks like she shot herself in the foot.

message 16: by Jim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim My thought is that Pearl resented having her contribution to the project overlooked as well as being overlooked in general. Marrying Will Severn wasn't enough to give her a sense of importance. She wanted to have a life like Pru virtually running things on her own.

When she couldn't get that life, she attacked the symbols of that. I wonder if Tem's alcoholism and refusal to marry isn't another version of the same problem. At heart this is a feminist tale.

message 17: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Barbara I just finished the book tonight, racing through the last 70 pages. After getting a bit bogged down in gin making and bridge building, it became a page turner in the end. I need to think about everything a bit more, but regarding Pearl:



I felt that Barton had been slowly dropping hints throughout the book that Pearl resented being left out of everything of consequence and was becoming more and more disappointed by how restricted she was by her family. It's not hard for me to see this turning into fierce anger, especially when she saw the distillery and bridge as things they had shut her out of.

There's something else about the relationship between Will Severn and Prue. She was attracted to him. I wondered if he felt some of the same attraction to her but never acted on it because of what he knew she was doing with Ben. If so, could Pearl have sensed that or realized it later while she was staying there? If so, it would mean that Prue had everything, the distillery, the bridge, Ben and Will.


message 18: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Barbara And, Colleen, regarding your question about how a child with autism would have been treated, I think that communities often simply accepted their own. A high functioning autistic person might have been restricted, much as Pearl was, but also might have just been seen as an odd member of the community.


message 19: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth There certainly was a lotta gin going down. Teacups full. Straight. I wouldn't have lasted long.


message 20: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Barbara My big area of disbelief was that Prue could come up with this idea for the bridge out of the blue and then study up on bridge building and put it all together. I could see her possibly being able to take over the distillery with the initial backing from her father, though that stretched me a bit. But, the bridge seemed entirely unlikely. The one thing that works for the idea is I've always had the impression that people used to be less hung up on the idea of a specific degree given you specific expertise. I suppose I can imagine Leonardo da Vinci doing this as a young man--so why not Prue? But, it's not working for me.

And, Ruth, I had the same thought about the gin. Hard liquor gives such a major hangover.


message 21: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sherry MY big area of disbelief was that she was obviously quite intelligent and rational but she still harbored guilt over that stupid "curse" that she "inflicted" on her baby sister when she was five or so. How in a million years she could think that a curse was a real thing is beyond me, and to have her sister believe it too was a bit much.

And I was always a bit shocked out of the book when I realized how early in our nation's history this was supposed to have been. I don't know why it is, but it seemed more modern a tale.

message 22: by Ruth (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth I had a hard time believing her belief in that curse, too. Sheesh. She was supposed to be very bright.

Barb, I saw all those hints about Pearl's dissatisfaction. It was obvious she was unhappy. But it never seemed to me she was disturbed unhappy, unbalanced unhappy. She never did anything that seemed more than just a little pique. To have that happen at the end didn't seem to follow.

What about her disappearance at the end? I kind of liked that she was never heard from again. Sometimes novelists are too anxious to tie up all the loose ends. Life consists of loose ends.

But I kept wondering how she could possibly survive. Well, maybe she didn't.

message 23: by Jane (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:00PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jane Sherry and Ruth,

I agree about the "curse". This weighed down Prue her whole life, and I thought that she would outgrow it just as she gave up the idea that Manhattan was where the dead people went. Prue was scientific and rational about her work in the distillery and on the bridge. It didn't seem right that she didn't get over the "curse".


message 24: by Dottie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:00PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dottie Except Prue wasn't all that rational about her distillery work -- she had some odd feelings about that press and she balked at changing the way they'd always varied the recipe of added herbs. And remember the time frame -- feeling personal responsibilty for her curse wasn't so strange I felt -- people were more tied to such superstitions then I think -- they were also more ingrained in the belief that they were responsible for another expecialy a relative -- and the parents were unaware but the first servant who was even more superstition prone fed the feelings on the part of both Prue and Pearl.

message 25: by Barbara (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:01PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Barbara And, isn't it interesting that the parents were so rational, rejected any form of spiritual worship and yet tolerated the servant's views (was Johanna her name?)

Also, didn't you wish that Barton had developed the character of the mother a bit more? I understood that she left her family and was cast out by them because she married Matty. Then, she didn't feel accepted by the new community. But, there was such a little bit of the text devoted to the reasons for her feelings of isolation and so much devoted to her relationship with Johanna and her break-down when Johanna died. And, she seemed like such a strong person initially. I couldn't imagine her not finding a way to make some kind of inroads into that social structure.


message 26: by Kim (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:02PM) (new) - added it

Kim I finally finished reading the book. I had to force myself to read the second half of the book. I lost interest in both the story and the characters. I'll gather my thoughts, read comments to-date and post my comments by tomorrow.

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