October 21, 2020 by Aimee Bender
Oh, readers. So much raw (yet meticulously crafted) heartache in Chapter 8. I’m glad we’re reading it together. As @anotherannmarie noted, “this is the saddest book I’ve read for ages.” P. 112: “…take away… take away…”
As Charles Baxter says in his great essay on Maxwell “The Breath of Life”: “Their worlds will be destroyed, and, being children and mostly wordless, they will have no sentences for these unaccountable losses, and they will not be given any.”
Thinking of what @piaze wrote yesterday about how “the pain is filtered through the children in the book… children bear the carnage.”
Clarence is completely over his head in court, turns a corner; “His mind was filled with thoughts that, taken one by one, were perfectly reasonable but in sequence did not quite make sense.”
“Dog,” continues Baxter, is “a vessel of pure feeling” who “can express the core emotion of the book, deprivation.” Maxwell’s choice of dog POV here comes due fully, after what was just that brief internal visit in Chapter 5.
How magnetic it feels to circle back to her, again and again, the writing pulled almost gravitationally to the dog as she struggles with and voices her/their impossible losses. Our witnessing of a writer trusting himself.
Many authors cite Trixie’s presence as an inspiration for animal figures in their books. “And it wasn’t just the dog howling, it was all the dogs she was descended from, clear back to some wolf or other.”
Tom comes to life in the book to deliver insight about Fern’s youth, her desire to rebel, and his awareness of Clarence’s violent streak. Who hasn’t been Fern and disregarded knowing adult advice? (“… it was his very understanding that drove her to act.”)
Chasms between people: The Colonel’s political fretting about how to write a vague recommendation so wildly out-of-step with Clarence’s rising despair; Fern misreading Cletus’ anguish as indifference.
“A distant hammering: Pung, pung, ung…” We know this house. We know the strange temporary sanctuary it will provide for these two boys who are suffering silently and differently just a few doors down from one another.