Best of 2001

Gross Family argross at
Sat Jan 19 10:28:17 EST 2002

> Ros wrote [more snipped]:
> >
> >>  >>  I still think _Sing the Four
> >>  >>  Quarters_ wins hands-down, as I expected more from a rec. by DWJ
> >>  >>  from Charles de Lint.
> >>  >
> >>  >I'm going to have to be a renegade again and say that, contrary to
> >a
> >>  >few people on the list, I really, really liked _Sing the Four
> >(I
> >>  >completely forgot to say this in my list!). What did I like about it?
> >>  >characters, the way they are *naturally* bisexual, without any
> >hand-waving
> >>  >or fuss; the world it's set in with its magical system--I found the
> >>  >thing quite charming. I enjoyed the others in the series, too, though
> >>  >found numbers two and three in the series a bit less enjoyable than
> >>  >third and last. But the second and third contained that delicious
idea of
> >>  >two souls inhabiting the same body (or something along those
> >>  >memory is a bit unclear about it).

> >>  Ok, since you're going against the herd *twice*, I won't bore on
> >>  about what I disliked, but just say that I did like the music/magic
> >>  system also. :)
> >
> >Yes, that was good, I thought. Actually, you won't bore me if you tell me
> >what you disliked--I'm interested to know. But if you mean that you don't
> >feel like it/don't want to or whatever, that's fine, too.

Hallie replied:

> Not at all, I was just trying not to be a pain by sniping at a book
> you liked.

Hey, that's nice. But as I love discussing books, I don't mind!

> Well, under the circumstances of your
> lack-of-sheepishness. :)  I can only really remember two specific
> complaints at this stage.  One was the casual promiscuity, which I
> just don't like when paired (oh, no pun intended) with a supposedly
> deep and committed relationship.  I don't find that at all appealing.
> So had it just been a ropm, with these singers wandering around
> having sex with whomever pleased their eyes, it wouldn't have been
> much of a problem, but this way it was.

I understand what you mean, but it didn't bother me, I guess because the
whole world had a different attitude towards sex than ours--in context, it
seemed to make me, I mean. I accept that you didn't like it.

> And secondly, I just found the "oh my, I'm throwing up all the time
> and yet putting on weight!  Whatever could be the matter with me?"
> line very, very tedious.

Yes, I agree that that was a little hard to believe! I suppose that I found
the character doing the dumb act so attractive that it didn't interfere with
my enjoyment.

 > >[-The Tower at Stony Wood_]
> >  > >
> >>  >I'll let you know what I thought when I've read it. You might have to
> >remind
> >>  >me, as obviously my memory is not entirely reliable!
> >>
> >>  Ok!  But how will I remember to remind you?
> >
> >Well, you're younger than me, so maybe you've got a better chance of
> >remembering! :-)
> LOL.  Only a couple of years (and no, I didn't remember that, I
> looked it up in the Questionnaire folder!), and I'm decidedly hoping
> for little or no more memory loss over this next couple of years, or
> I'll be in big trouble!

I'm glad you had to look it up--it would have made me even more worried!
Maybe those couple of years make all the difference! :-) I really have
noticed it during the past year--for instance, not being able to think of a
simple word when I need it...

> >
> >>  Glad you understood it, but I think I could have come up with a
> >>  catchier category title.  Most Enjoyed Loathing?  That sounds
> >>  disturbed, but at least it's shorter.
> >
> >I like that. It's not really disturbed so much as ironic, no? Anyway,
> >people already consider *me* disturbed just for taking a book with me
> >everywhere!
> :)  Yeah, but that's the kind of disturbed we all consider a
> compliment!  I like "ironic", though.
> >
> >OK, here's the question I want to ask you. Important spoilers coming.
> >
> >
> >
> >S
> >P
> >O
> >I
> >L
> >E
> >R
> >S
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >Did you think that the implication was that Joanne's consciousness only
> >continued until she managed to get the message across to Richard--that
> >experience after death followed the same timeline of what was happening
> >her friends in the living world--or do you think the implication is that
> >consciousness goes on after that, too? I was discussing this with a
> >and we both felt confused by the fact that time seems to flow at a
> >rate for Joanna after her death and the living world, so that the reader
> >can't be sure that her message gets across at the same time as Richard
> >'gets' it. Also, we both felt that it was unclear whether Joanna's
> >consciousness continues after she gets the message across, but we also
> >felt that Willis was leaving that possibility open--refusing to give a
> >definitive answer, but sort of saying 'maybe', and also at the same time
> >saying, 'yes, but it's totally different from anything you--or Joanna
> >herself--could imagine." Do you (or Melissa, or anyone else who's read
> >book) agree?
> Hmmm.  I'm dredging my memory for discussions around this bit, and
> really having to think hard.  (What a pain - having to think about a
> *book*.)  Ok, here's my take atm, qualified by a lot of uncertainty.
> I don't actually think my feeling was that Joanna managed to get any
> message across to Richard.  I think it was purely his knowledge of
> her, combined with a lot of hard thinking, which is what enabled him
> to get it.  (Not that I think you're "wrong" if you feel she did, you
> understand, it's just my interpretation.)

Hmm. I think that maybe this is something that Willis again keeps
deliberately ambiguous or open. I wondered when I read it whether maybe it's
Joanna's intense longing and need to get the message to Richard that somehow
helps him to 'get' it. I think Willis really doesn't want the reader to
interpret things literally, so much so that she leaves things like this
deliberately grey--so as to avoid black-and-white understandings (which is
how I think she sees the religion versus science thing in the book--as black
and white, and thus, basically inadequate in themselves).

> What I tend to want to cling to is the idea that Joanna *does* manage
> to communicate with Maisie.  I especially feel this as Maisie
> herself, who never, never wants to believe something just to make
> herself feel better, believes Joanna saved her.  I'm not sure there's
> any justification in this belief, mind you, and it could certainly be
> something along the lines of what I said above about Richard: that
> Joanna gave Maisie a lot while she was alive, and that Maisie managed
> to use that strength and learning to rescue herself.  I think this
> may be the more "correct" interpretation, based on something CW
> herself said about believing there is no communication between the
> living and the dead.  On the other hand, she's only the author - who
> says we have to take her interpretation as gospel? :)


Yes, I think I see this in a similar way to the getting-a-message-to-Richard
issue--that Joanna so much wants to communicate to Maisie that it gets
through. I agree with what you say about Maisie--her statement that it was
Joanna that saved her carries a lot of weight because, as you say, Maisie
will not believe something just because it feels good. Again, this may be
something Willis leaves deliberately unclear. In fact, as I'm writing, I
feel more and more that this is the answer to my own questions.

> I guess the thing I find the most confusing is the seeming presence
> of Maisie-as-Helen/guide/companion/whatever.  I thought first time
> round that Helen would be the girl whose heart Maisie got, but she
> acts so much like Maisie that I changed my mind.  Mostly.  But
> reluctantly.

The Helen thing is so vague in my mind that I will have to re-read those
parts (memory again).

> I guess I think the line: "just because you want something to be true
> doesn't mean it isn't" is really important, though that's not much of
> an answer.

Yes. What I like is that "Just because you want something to be true doesn't
mean it is" and "Just because you want something to be true doesn't mean it
isn't" are both true statements and balance each other. I *think* she
mentions both these statements, though I could be wrong. Even if the first
statement doesn't appear in the book there, it would seem to be implied by
the second one. They seem to me to represent the stereotypical "scientific"
and "religious" approaches respectively, and again I see Willis trying to
find a position that eschews both (in their stereotypical forms).

> >The other thing we were confused by is the fact that Willis has that
> >wonderful, poignant, heartbreaking description of Joanna's memories
> >disappearing one by one, but the next thing you know, she still has those
> >memories! What did you make of that?
> That one doesn't bother me, because I see the memories disappearing
> as the death of her physical self, her brain.  (And it is incredibly
> moving, isn't it?)  But I felt the last page showed her spirit, soul,
> call it what you will, now freed from her physical body.


> Which I guess goes back to part of your first question in a way.  The
> time does seem to move at completely different rates, so Joanna's
> death, which probably takes 5 minutes in real time, is spread out and
> interspersed among events of a few weeks (more?  I'm fuzzy on that
> now) in the living world.

Yes, that was the source of the confusion I was trying to describe.

>But *after* all the things which she'd
> expected to happen in death have gone, Joanna's consciousness is
> shown continuing.  I found the last page amazing, and personally,
> loved the way standard Christian symbols became an organic part of
> symbols which had become meaningful for Joanna in the book.

Do you mean "passage" and "message" as symbols? I've probably not realised
which other symbols might also be standard Christian symbols.

The way I personally would word what I loved about the ending is that Willis
seems to transcend the limits of both science and conventional religious
beliefs to say something that shows the presence of real mystery and
transcendence. That is, you can reject the conventional religious platitudes
about death and life after death and still have a vision of something
genuinely transcendent and spiritual.

But you may disagree with my wording....:-)


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