Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Juno's "While Reading" Questions From the Author

Comment with answers to Lise Saffran's questions to be considered while reading Juno's Daughters:
) How much do you believe that Jenny's own relationship with her sister and her mother play into her parenting? Similarly, what do you think of Jenny's approach to parenting and does your opinion change as you move through the book?

2) Think about the depiction of small-town, hippie life on San Juan Island—what about the dynamic of its residents do you find endearing? Do anything about their life seem claustrophobic or limiting? Would you wish to live in a place like this?

3) How do you find yourself reacting to the fact that the visiting actors are known (at least until the end) by the names of the roles they play in The Tempest? Do you find it distracting, or does it serve to underscore the insider/outsider dynamic of island life?

4) If you were unfamiliar with The Tempest, are you finding that the novel gives you enough of the play as you go along to understand the interplay between the two stories? If you were familiar with The Tempest, were you expecting Juno's Daughter's to more directly echo the plot of the play?


Sparkling Squirrel said...

3) I somehow particularly liked that the actors were known only by their parts. It seemed very real to me. I've certainly been in situations where people are known only by their roles ("cute lab partner" "orange hat boy" "skanky bitch") and it has been somewhat jarring to learn that they actually have names. I loved Lilly's "His name is Andre?" reaction on pg. 308. It felt true to her and expressed what I felt.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

2) I thought the book did a good job of making the explicit differences between summer life and winter life on the island. I've been a "summer person" in an isolated village in the highlands of Scotland and it felt great to feel part of a such a cool community. Similarly, I was a visitor at a hippie commune for fire juggling week and it was wonderful. My friends who lived in these places year-round had very different experiences that I'm not sure I could stand.
Living year round in Glenville, WV (pop. 1,500) was plenty tough and it was quite the event when the state folk festival came to town for 4 days every summer. Moving there as a college professor, I was always an "outsider" to the true locals and would have appreciated any influx of interesting "non-locals".

I did wonder at the book's depiction of big, bad, Seattle. While Seattle definitely has a gritty side, I wondered if Jenny really thought it was all bad (although, come to think of it, most of my neighbors in WV couldn't understand why someone would ever venture to Pittsburgh, D.C. or even Charleston, much less live there.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

Thoughts from SalSis who is reading this while in Haiti:
1. Haven't learned much about her sis or mom. I think she is too lenient with her daughters (& that my mom was extremely not with me).

2. Yes I would like to livein a place like that - next to the water, walking everywhere (or I picture her walking, though I know she drives). Kind of like this community in Haiti (except no ocean or restaurants, or stores).

3. I like that the actors are referred to by character - distinguises them from islanders - they are a character - you can make strangers be whatever you want them to be until you get to know them.

4. Not familiar with the Tempest but catching how it relates to the island.

janet said...

3. I did think it underscored the insider/outsider dynamic…I commented on that in the other question more.
And, like Sparkling Squirrel, have had situations where people are called by their roles!

janet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
janet said...

2. It seemed the islanders had a lot of camaraderie. But, I don’t think I would enjoy it. It would be way too limiting and claustrophobic for me. Jenny’s dating life was really limited. Not only by number but by hurting feelings and the awkwardness that you could never really get away from an ex. They were going to be in your everyday life anyway!

janet said...

1. I was not that impressed with Jenny’s parenting. She wasn’t awful, but she seemed a little afraid to be the authority figure in her daughters’ lives. I can’t remember much about Jenny’s relationship with her mother, and her sister seemed like a different sort than her, even though I felt like she was supposed to be sort of a negative character. Jenny’s past didn’t really stick out in my mind.

4. I don’t know the Tempest, and I didn’t really assume that the play and this story were related. I would be interested to know the similarities.

janet said...

PS..I had already finished the book when I got the "while reading" questions. Sorry!!!

Ad Astra said...

1) I found Jenny avoided discussing important issues with her daughters in a timely fashion, and was frustrated by her approach. Situations blew up in her face due to her unwillingness to maintain dialogue with her daughters. At critical moments, she would engage in small talk and make excuses to herself while pushing off critical conversations. She also seemed unwilling to place any restrictions on Lilly. Reading the story made me consider how I discuss things with my own daughters, who are admittedly younger (4 and 8), and about upcoming conversations that will need to occur.

2) I think Jenny moved to the island in an attempt to control her situation and raise her children in an environment where she knows everyone. In addition, she was physically removing herself from her family.

I do feel like I live in a small town atmosphere here where I know my neighbors, but envied a lifestyle more connected to nature. However, I must live somewhere close to an airport!

3) I thought this device was a way for the author to explore identity. The actors were hiding their identity. Frankie was struggling with her identity and hid herself from the other actors (wearing the leotard during dress rehearsal). I didn’t find it distracting.

4) Wish I had taken the time to read a synopsis of The Tempest before reading this book as I suspect I would have gained a different level of meaning in the story.

papillon said...

So, I am "while reading" just about after the girls painted the rock. I am not familiar at all with The Tempest, and since I haven't finished I am just reading now, I didn't know that the names aren't their own. I live in a world of non-standard names, so hmm I am interested to read more. That said, I reread the pot luck 4 times because so many names were thrown out at once without many memory tags for who they are. I still have to go back and check now and then (like Jenny's 2 ex boinkers)

2) I think the story paints a fairly rosy picture of island life. I visited Orcas and while beautiful, it would make me crazy. Salsis- down in Haiti, so you walk everywhere and know everyone, but would you want to stay there forever and raise your family there? No secrets. I love small towns, small communities, but I am in and out. I never stay. So I can relate to the joy the actors bring to the islanders, I am one of those folks who hops in and out of established communities.

AdAstra- how do you talk to your girls?just curious.

papillon said...

question for the group, sorry I am taking down the intellectual discussion a notch:
REALLY? would you boink the man you knew your daughter had been in love with--age aside?
yes, Jenny need to address the issue with Lilly and Jenny, in my opinion, had an obligation to stop it, but REALLY? I mean really you'd be intimate with a guy who definitely was taken for a moment by your 17 year old????

Ad Astra said...

For me, it would be a major deterrent. I would want a mate that would fit comfortably into home life, and that initial interaction between the two (Andre and Lilly) would be something impossible to get over.

Ad Astra said...

Talking to girls:
At this point it is a lot of correcting behavior, but I'm working to make it more of a dialogue. It is a learning process!

Sparkling Squirrel said...

My first reaction is, "of course not", but like PC (on the "overall impressions post) I was eventually sympathetic to Jenny's situation. It's not as if many men are going to come around, as if Trinc will suddenly be right for Lilly if Jenny doesn't pursue the relationship, or as if her daughter wouldn't flirt with any remotely eligible man who came by.

Tucson Trekker said...

Was going to reread the book before answering these but that will probably never happen so here goes:

1) As I recall, she's estranged from her parents because they just don't understand her. She's antagonistic with here sister even though she doesn't want to be. Competitive? I would love to hear Lise comment on this, but it seems that with her mother and sister attemts at closeness end up causing more distance. Maybe this is the source of Jenny's fear of talking to and putting limits on Lilly. She thinks contact like that will drive her away. She thought she had lost her, anyway, and probably had until the Seattle episode. Was it sort of self-fulfilling behavior -- fearing to drive Lilly away, she kept a distance herself. If not for Frankie running away, does Lise think Lilly and Jenny would have come back together? Would a firmer hand have driven Lilly away more or helped her be closer?

2) I love how informal the islanders are. Frankie just sleeps in the bed at the party until Trinc needs it. I did live on Orcas for 2 summers. Not being able to go more than 12 miles in any direction made me crazy. I wonder if I could handle it socially. I think it would depend completely on the specific people involved, which is probably a 'no.'

3) Answered this one as a comment on a different post. I'll cut and paste later...

4) I saw The Tempest as a kid and watched Prospero's Books years ago. I thought Lise did a very skillful job of interspersing bits of the Tempest into the novel at key places and giving the reader enough of the play's story to see how they related. I'm foggy in remembering the details now (sorry), but I remember thinking that as I read. The first (I think) being Jenny thinking of the power of the sea in the shipwreck and relating it to the forces that strike fear in parent's hearts. Wish I could find this again... I can't. Then there's the part where Jenny muses on how her daughters are like Miranda ... Frankie has the innocence but Lilly would snatch up the prince. Oh dear, I really want to do this question more justice. I liked some of Lise's discussion of a protected environment versus the larger world and the parallels between the San Juans and Prospero's island in that regard, as well. Reading the book, the connection between the play and the novel was one of the things I really enjoyed. My son is about to wake from his nap, though, maybe I can get back to it later.

Tucson Trekker said...

3)I liked the use of play names for the off-island actors. To me it seemed in each case that what was referred to by the play name was the part of the character that belonged to the summer and the island. It kind of made the island seem like more of a crucible where people can't get away from each other and relationships are intense (an experience I've had in the San Juans). Like, for a time, the off-islanders were defined by who they were on the island -- in relationship to people on the island, island culture, and the islands themselves. They didn't seem to focus on off island concerns until the end of the book when their ordinary names were used. To me it seemed like that was when they stopped belonging fully to the island and became more what they really always were -- people whos lives and concerns were by and large in other places.

Lise Saffran said...

Nice to visit you all again after my travels. You are an unfailingly interesting bunch!

First, one of the best experiences of writing this book has been hearing from people who have ties to the San Juan Islands. Summers on Orcas? Living on Waldron? Love it!

Happy to chat more on the topic of permissive parenting: As you can imagine, this has been a HUGE part of the discussion of Juno's--and something I've spent a lot of time thinking about. I fall into the strict category (that is, among the liberals I hang out strict is relative). We limit video and TV, come down hard on homework, demand our pre-teen check in with us wherever he goes etc. I imagine I will FREAK OUT if there is ever any pot smoking.

And yet, in my history as a parent, what I intend to do isn't always what I end up doing (did I just bribe that kid with candy?). So, will I actually lock my kid down, as promised? Or will I end up being more like the parents--good parents, flawed, often confused--of my sometimes wild friends when I was a teen?

I've mentioned before that I have friends with teenage girls who were wild and friends with teenage girls who never took any risks and of course I wonder how much difference the parenting made--or how much was luck and the personality of the child. The thoughts that Tuscon Trekker, Ad Astra and others have shared are exactly the kinds of thing I was thinking about when trying to imagine Jenny as a character, with her own history, challenges and flaws.

For those who would like still more to read on this topic, I wrote this guest post not too long ago:

Lise Saffran said...

I realize I hadn't yet addressed "the competition" and that, as you can imagine, has also been a lively focus of discussion. So here goes.

I was out with friends the other night and a guy stopped me in the alley to talk about the book. He gave an impassioned defense of David, the carpenter (this guy was a carpenter, too, turns out)that ended with the observation that Jenny was "setting a terrible example by choosing a flaky actor over a nice carpenter." I asked him if Jenny should have partnered up with someone she didn't love for the sake of her daughters? He laughed and said he got my point.

What do you do when what you ought to do as a parent conflicts with something you really, really want? If it involves leaving your underage children alone in an apartment so that you can go to a resort in Mexico the answer is clear. That aside, it seems to be that there's a lot of gray area in the self-sacrificing mom business. We moms don't always agree!

I've been happily married for 20 years and I don't live on an island. Trinculo would not have been my temptation.

But when my younger son was under two I received a fellowship from the MacDowell Colony for an extended stay. My baby would be safe at home, but he would miss me terribly. I could wait and apply another year. I was writing well at home. The thing was, I desperately wanted to go, right then. I went.

Okay, you might argue, this was in the name of art and not romance, but still, the dilemma is one I've faced at different times. When considering her affair with Trinculo, Jenny realizes "it would be best" if she didn't let it continue. She also wonders, "if it is absolutely necessary" that she give him up.

How good do we have to be in order to sometimes be a little bit bad? Who decides? I've certainly second guessed myself on that one...