All Is Vanity ~ Christina Schwarz ~ 6/03 ~ Book Club Online
April 26, 2003 - 03:11 pm

A stunning tour de force about ambition and friendship, “All is Vanity” is a new book nobody should miss.

"...people are greedy and foolish, and wish to have and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good in life...." -- William Dean Howells

SeniorNet Readers' Guide

The author, Christina Schwarz, has joined us in the discussion!!!!

"When Christina Schwarz writes a book, clear the schedule, find a corner and read as fast as you can, then go back and savor!!! " --Lou2

April 26, 2003 - 05:14 pm
Hello and WELCOME to a book you should NOT miss, All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz!

As you can see in the heading it's a smash and it's full of beautiful, splendid, lyrical writing of a type you don't often see. There's humor and some very hard truths: it's the kind of book you call your friends and say, you HAVE to read this!

Have you ever harbored the secret desire to write a book and wondered if you could? Margaret quits her teaching job for one year to write a novel, how hard can it be?

Her best friend Letty, meanwhile, who always seemed to achieve effortlessly, is a stay at home mom, whose world revolves around her husband and children.

Before long, time is running out for Margaret, and for Letty, too, and what happens to them, revealed in email correspondence, is stunning.

We have a possibility of two dates for this discussion: June 1 or September 1. I am concerned that June 1 may not be enough time for everybody to get their copy: it's new and it's in hardback.

Let us know if you are interested in discussing this book with us and which of the two dates, June 1 or September 1, you would prefer?

Hope to see you here!


April 26, 2003 - 09:01 pm
Hi Ginny, this is a book I'd love to discuss; I see it as a funny-sad novel on the nature of friendship. I'd prefer a June discussion but my schedule is flexible. September would be okay if that's what other people prefer.


April 27, 2003 - 06:22 am
Yay Marvelle!! Welcome!!

My schedule is flexible, too, on those two months, let's see what everybody else wants.

I like what you said about the book, I think this book is hard to tell anybody adequately WHAT it's about, at least I can't, without giving it away, and there are more "its" than first appeared, apparently, I find myself tongue tied trying to say "what it's about."

If you say it's about a friendship which has lasted since childhood and how it changes, eyes roll and people say oh another one of those, it's....for me, at least, impossible to define, good thing I didn't do the blurb! hahaahah

Yet I see such awkward attempts on the parts of reviewers TO say "what it's about" that I feel in good company.

Suffice it to say it's ABOUT more than it first appears!


That's the question!

We will enjoy this one!


April 27, 2003 - 07:48 am
Hi, I would love to read this book with you all. Let me know which date you pick.


April 27, 2003 - 08:22 am
Hooray!! Vanessa!! Welcome, welcome!!

We'll definitely let you know, do you have a personal preference? In other words would June be too soon?

So glad to have you, I don't think you'll regret this one!


April 27, 2003 - 09:35 am
Hey, Ginny and all,

If we can read in September, I'd love to read this one with you. If it needs to be June, I can read when I can and then do the archives and that would suit almost as well!


Malryn (Mal)
April 27, 2003 - 10:05 am

Maybe if one of my generous ( and appreciative, ha ha ) kids gives me this book for my 75th birthday in July, I'll be able to join a September discussion. In the Madame Bovary discussion Ginny said All is Vanity is another Remains of the Day. That's more than enough recommendation for me.


April 27, 2003 - 02:12 pm
Welcome Lou2 and Malryn!!!

NO, WHAT? Archives, no no, no Archive on earth makes up for YOUR input, jeepers I well remember you in past disccussions, and THIS one will be special? I have something new I want to try, whether it's June or September, and I think you'll all like it, everybody keep saying when it suits them!!

Malryn, it blew me away, it's not like Remains but to me it's full of the same profound truths, just presented on the surface differently, it's quite a book (to me) and we'll all see soon, hopefuly good luck on the birthday.

I know several more people have indicated they want to read this with us, come on down and SIGN IN please (sounds like that old To Tell the Truth show) ...actually, ACTUALLY that might apply here too, in spades, when you thhnk about it. haahahah


April 27, 2003 - 02:56 pm
Hi Ginny, I have caught your excitement. I am looking forward to reading this one. I have read the reviews you posted in the heading, and one, in particular, caught my eye. This is part of the quote from the Library Journal, "Poisonous good fun." What in the world does that mean? I can not wait to find out. I am in the mood for some "Poisonous good fun."

April 27, 2003 - 04:22 pm
Hahahah HATS!!! Welcome, welcome!!

The book is almost impossible to describe, "poisonous good fun," now THERE'S a conundrum, huh? haahaha I think this writer is absolutely LOADED with talent and I'm really going to be interested in all of your astute takes on it, we may ask every person for his own several word deseription at the end, "poisonous good fun," would never have occurred to me, let's see if it does YOU all hahahahaa

So glad you're going to be here, which month suits you best, June or September??


April 27, 2003 - 04:22 pm
Me to. Smile.

April 27, 2003 - 04:25 pm
Welcome, Ginger!! So good to see you here!

Maybe our first question will be: IS this poisonous? haahahha NOT! hahhaa

The whole time I was reading it I could visualize our discussing it, so many different issues it raises! And with what cleverness, just love the thing (can you guess?) ahahahah Which month suits you best, Ginger, June or September?


kiwi lady
April 27, 2003 - 09:48 pm
I have reserved this book from our library. I was surprised we had it all the way over here. The library is really getting some good books in. There is only one person ahead of me so June would suit me fine.


April 27, 2003 - 10:20 pm
Thank You for your cheerfull Welcome. June or September makes no difference to me as I will be gone for a Very short while in August only.

April 28, 2003 - 05:35 am
Carolyn, welcome, welcome!!!

So good to see you here! We're assembling a wonderful group and thank you for your month preference, and you, too, Ginger, this should be fun!


April 28, 2003 - 07:47 am
June is fine with me-Looks like a great book. Vanessa

April 28, 2003 - 11:36 am
I am currently reading her novel Drowning Ruth. A good page turner. Has any one read this novel recently? What is your opinion about this book? I am planning to get her second novel; All Is Vanity when I finish reading this book. I would plan to participate in the book discussion if I complete my reading by the scheduled date posted.

April 28, 2003 - 02:59 pm
Hi Ginny, I received The Little Friend in the mail. It is a very thick book. We are reading it in June. I would like to read All is Vanity in any month accept June. If you do choose June, I will try my best to be here.

April 28, 2003 - 06:53 pm
My kids gave me this book for my birthday, and I'd much rather read it with you all than by myself. Whenever is good for me. Count me in.

Frugal I'm glad to hear you say Drowning Ruth is a page turner. That was a gift from some other kids, and I just couldn't get into it. Maybe I need to give it another try.

April 29, 2003 - 11:38 am
Frugal, Hats, and Pedln, all RIGHT!!!!!!!

This is fabulous, so excited to see so many people assembling, I have not read, but have bought Drowning Ruth, and will try to get it read by whenever we start, I have a feeling it's quite different from this book, we might want to refer to it, also.

Looks like we have two with conflicts in June and I can't do it again till September, so let's see what happens, we're going to try something brand new with this one, so hold on to your hats (HATS!) ahahahaha You can certainly read it before hand too, I loved the thing.


April 29, 2003 - 12:37 pm
Hi Ginny, June is fine with me. I am very excited about reading it. September seems awfully far away. Still, it is up to you, Ginny.

April 29, 2003 - 01:27 pm
Hi Ginny, I hope you decide on JUNE.

April 29, 2003 - 03:41 pm
Hey, Guys (er, should that be Gals??), It's fine if it needs to be June... I'm obligated to Name of the Rose, Brothers Karamazov and the other Brothers K for June reading. I'm loving reading the Dante Club archive/discussion... and can enjoy this one that way also... so go for June!


April 30, 2003 - 09:45 am
Thank you Hats and Lou2 (AGG LOU! That's a LOT of reading!!) I hate to miss YOUUUU , nothing's settled, yet, but I fear it does look like June.

Good heavens on your reading list!

Talking about reading, I just got my letter from Oxford that I've got a place in the course I wanted late July-August and would you believe the reading list is a mile long, one thing for sure I'm going to learn a lot about the British Raj. One thing they do recommend is A Passage to India. I wonder if anybody wants to read that with me? hahahahaah

I've gotten so used to reading with our astute and brilliant groups here I guess I always want you guys around ahahaha. I don't know when on earth we'd read it, tho.

If you are looking in and wondering if this IS the All is Vanity discussion yes it is. We welcome you and I hope you all will be especially welcoming, am now leaving for the coast till May 7 and I hope to return to a million happy new excited posters here!

(The book IS worth it, truly)


April 30, 2003 - 09:10 pm
Actually, September would be fine with me. I'll be reading Nine Tailors beginning May 12, and finishing The Dante Club. I'll be travelling the first ten days or so of June -- computer access, yes, but it's competitive. Someone is usually saying, "Nana, I have to do my homework" or "Mom, I really need to do some work right now."

But, whenever you schedule will be fine.

May 1, 2003 - 08:04 am
Ginny, Hope you have fun at the coast-i got the book yesterday-can't wait to read it with all of you.


May 16, 2003 - 04:38 pm
I made me great works, I builded me houses....And, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:4, 11)

It looks like the Junes have it and if you're reading this and saying oh I can't read an entire book in two weeks, fear not, we'll take it in parts and it's not all that big anyway, only 367 pages with big print.

Is there any one of us here who has not wanted, secretly, our 15 minutes of fame?

What are you willing to do for it? What would you do if you saw it slipping away after all your hard work?

Would you succumb to temptation?

I love this book. I think it has messages all over the place, and I look forward with great expectation to discussing it with you, hopefully most of you can do June 1, or at least look in during June??


May 16, 2003 - 06:03 pm
Ginny,I have the same problem as some of the others: finishing "The Dante Club" and trying to read "The Little Friend" and "All is Vanity" at the same time, especially in the summer when you spend fewer hours indoors. But I will buy "All is Vanity" and try to keep up.

May 17, 2003 - 03:36 am

Recently, my book came in the mail. I have placed it near Little Friend. I have not cracked open All in Vanity. With the quote above, we have got to be in for a wonderful discussion.

May 17, 2003 - 05:24 am
Ginny, I have the book and its an absolute winner, BUT are you saying that it's only 2 weeks until the discussion begins? Or, are you saying that All Is Vanity is a 2 week SN book discussion starting June 1 and ending the 15th?

A Loyally Confused Reader,

May 17, 2003 - 03:48 pm
Typing in the teeth of a bleeping warning on TV here!

Sorry sorry, we're having storms here and U No HU thought it would be a super idea to plant two huge flower beds (fighting the chest high weeds all the way) before they hit! Now am finished, and they look good, but we're to have three solid days of storms/ rain, if you don't see me, you know why but Horselover!! Welcome, Welcome!! I am so glad to see you can make it, I'm sorry for the conflict in discussions but delighted you will join in here, too, as you Hats, I am so glad!!!

And Marvelle, it's the loyally!! so glad you can too, I was actually worried and was referring to the 2 weeks till June 1, I hope that would be enough time for everybody to get the book at the library (or sneak into B&N and read it hahahaha). Our local B&N is sold out of it, so that wouldn't happen here. I hope everybody can get their book in time.

We'll take all of June, I think this book deserves it, and I want to try something new, also, and need all of you and your help in this effort, so there's lots of great stuff coming up (I hope: I will rely on you all, as always, to make it so: one thing's for sure, it's a good book).

YAY for you all!

ginny if you don't see me think LIGHTNING!

Joan Pearson
May 18, 2003 - 08:14 am
Well, Miss Ginny, we will have completed the Dante Club discussion by the end of May. The Inferno will have another month of life left in it. I think I will have to pick up a copy of All is Vanity and participate to some extent in this discussion...that way I can haunt Hats, Marvelle and horselover into posting in Inferno while we chat in here...ahaha

May 18, 2003 - 08:26 am
Welcome Joan P~!~ YAY and YAY and you can tell us all what awaits us when we do find out it was All Vanity, after all (is it?) hahaahahah And so you will entice, like a Circe, or maybe a female Aeneas, Hats, Horselover and Marvelle back and forth into the the jaws of hell, huh? Is there a level for Trolling Discussion Leaders? ahahahah AHAHAHAH, (If so, I'll find that out, too, won't I? hahaha) We'll go together! hahahaah YAY for you, what fun!!


Joan Pearson
May 18, 2003 - 09:46 am
hahaa...I think a DL can troll a discussion as long as s/he has acquired the book and partakes in the discussion. Of course the trolling will be so discreet that only those prodded will feel the nudge...

Seriously, you've sold me on this book, even if "my people" had not decided to join you.

May 19, 2003 - 09:09 am
11!! Jeepers we have 11 people in this thing already!!
That's amazing for such a short time out here in the public! And very exciting. And all 11 are super insightful intelligent people, (we even have a Troll! hahahaah) this is going to be great fun!

The book (and it's only in hardback so we'll all have the same version) has 368 pages so it seems natural, even if you have read it all, to look at the first 115 pages or so the first week. and behold, it breaks naturally on page 115, as the end of Chapter 7.

So we'll look at Pages 1-115 (Chapters One-Seven) (hopefully that's not too omuch for the first week?) It's a very fast read, with largish print and a light...almost indescribable breezy tone in the first week.

Then in the second week we can take fewer pages, as she really begins to lay stuff down, it's quite masterfully and deceptively written.

There's something in her writing that reminds me of Penelope Fitzgerald? She says sooo much in just a few lines and I find myself saying STOP STOP, WAIT, let's talk THIS issue over? What? What? So and yes I really must hear your opinions on some of these issues, and the more varied the background of the speaker the better, she really hits all the buttons, at least she hits mine, let's see how many she manages to his for all of you and I'll learn something and maybe we all will!

Looking foward to this with the greatest anticipation, my book is so underlined that even IF I wanted to give it away, which I do not, I could not. hahaahah


betty gregory
May 20, 2003 - 12:10 pm
Having been nudged to go read the reviews and other things (and after reading your comments here), I'm afraid I'm hooked. Satire is never my first choice, but do I detect that satire is a cover here? Or, at least, it's mixed with other things? (Nanny Diaries comes to mind.) Wondering what she has to say about vanity---and what you guys have to say---is what hooked me, though. As deliberately plain and casual are my apartment, clothes and cat hair covered everything in my life, I still think vanity gets in my way far too often. What is vanity, anyway? I look forward to hearing what you think. The state of my kitchen floor....if it needs to be spotlessly clean just before my picky sister-in-law sees it, that's about vanity, isn't it?

I wonder if Christina Schwarz is a fan of Jane Austen and if the pride in Pride and Prejudice is cousin to her vanity. If there is a good and bad pride, is there a good and bad vanity? Or, is the "bad" pride vanity? I have no idea. Maybe we can come back to my questions when and if they come up in the book. I've ordered the book today, so, with fingers crossed, I hope it gets here quickly so I can have time to begin reading before the 1st. What a wonderful group already assembled!!


May 20, 2003 - 01:31 pm
Hi Betty, I am glad to see you will be here. You always help me see characters and situations more deeply.

May 21, 2003 - 05:32 am
Whoop!! Betty!! Dr. Betty!! THERE you are, Welcome, Welcome!!

WHEE, Betty, how good to see you again, I actually thought of you when reading this book and it's for a very strange reason, we can use your psychological insights here on so many things, oh it may be an entirely different sort of Vanity (or it may not, maybe you already have put your finger on a startling point!!!!!) At any rate, I'm delighted to see you here and you make an even Dozen! Who will make it a Baker's Dozen??


May 21, 2003 - 11:52 am
I wouldn't miss Ginny's discussion so I've put the book of reserve and should have it by next week.

I am going to be knee deep in leading Donna Tartt's The Little Friend which will take a great deal of my time, but none-the-less, I will be here.

May 21, 2003 - 12:05 pm

What excitement, Welcome!!
Now THERE'S a compliment, and dedication, I look forward as always to your insightful remarks!!

Who will make it 14?


Ella Gibbons
May 21, 2003 - 04:15 pm

Yes, yes, I've read "DROWNING RUTH" - I loved the book and was hoping the author would write more, as on the dust jacket of this book it says the author is busy on her next novel.


I'll join when I can, I'm also involved with Ann's book "SEARCHING FOR HASSAN" - I have no experience in reading two books at a time (for posting anyway - I often have 2-3 nonfiction books I'm reading at the same time) - but fiction!!! No, I've never tried that, but I will this time and if nothing else, I will read all your posts.

FRUGAL - the author knows how to make a book suspenseful, doesn't she? I thought I would never find out how RUTH was drowning in the water!

Plus she's a delightful author! And I'm so glad, Ginny, you found this book for us to discuss as I didn't know her second novel was out - THANKS A MILLION!

May 21, 2003 - 06:17 pm
Ella!! Hooray!! Welcome, welcome!!

My goodness, I'm surprised and delighted to see you here, YOU and fiction?!?! I am so glad you have read Drowning Ruth and am so excited that you enjoy the author, I agree, she's fabulous, and I look forward to your always perceptive remarks when you can make them!! What a group this is becoming, I am really looking foward to this with the greatest anticipation!


May 23, 2003 - 08:30 pm
I will be sashaying along with Andrea, although I promised to look in also at Little Friend, so this will be a back and forth thing. Looks like a good crowd gathering here! Would you believe I am still waiting for my book, should arrive any day now! I'm off to read what I can about this author.

Hi, Betty!


May 25, 2003 - 01:58 pm
Lorrie, I am so glad to have you! Nobody reads a book like you do, I'm rereading the book and just living it, the nature of friendships, the little betrayals, why some people are friends, I just love this book, love the brilliant BRILLIANT WRITING; there's a super article on the Atlantic Magazine site (my hard drive is corrupt and ruined and I've lost everything, email, photos, everything there is, so if you all see that interview, please put a link to it here.

News!! News I have BIG NEWS!!

The author, Christina Schwarz, is going to talk to US about her book, and participate in the discussion!!!

Here is your chance to talk to an author about her work if you missed the first two authors on Seniornet this spring, don't let THIS opportunity fly by.

Christina Schwarz is the bestselling author of Drowning Ruth, an Oprah pick optioned by Miramax films, and herself writes reviews for The Atlantic Magazine. In Vanity she has written a wonderful book, everybody is raving about it, you can't put it down and don't want to: a very discussable book on friendship, ambition, and the tiny betrayals in life, it's fantastic and if you miss this opportunity you will miss a great one, do join us!!




May 25, 2003 - 02:30 pm
Ginny, here's one Atlantic interview I found:

10/18/02 Interview

Is this the article you mentioned? What a shame to lose emails and photos -- everything. Are they irretrievable? I'm just finishing a discussion in The Dante Club in which the author Matthew Pearl is participating. What a wonderful experience this has been and I'm excited at the prospect of another authorial treat in All Is Vanity.


May 25, 2003 - 03:15 pm
Yes, that's it, marvelle, isn't it wonderful? It raises more questions for me than it answers, love it, many thanks! Yes, apparently everything on my harddrive is gone, am here on the laptop, will put that link up in the heading immediately, many thanks!!

I'm so glad you're enjoying Matthew Pearl, he HAS been fabulous and so has Susan Vreeland, what an incredible gift an author gives us when he/ she gives us the opportunity to talk to him about his book and work!

I have read very few books I wanted to talk about as much as this one and I'm so glad we can all discuss it together and am almost (but never always) hahaha speechless that Christina Schwarz will be here too!

It's been an incredible spring here in the Books and I am so grateful to you all, our readers, and to the incredibly generous Christina Schwarz!


May 26, 2003 - 10:57 am
I went to the Borders near me, but could only find "Drowning Ruth." No copies of "All is Vanity," so will follow your posts in the meanwhile.

May 26, 2003 - 11:12 am
Yeah they're sold out here, too, at the local B&N, Horselover, oh how I hate that, would you want to consider one of the internet sites or the library? I get most all of my books on our own B&N SN site, in the clickable above, they are fast!!


May 27, 2003 - 10:46 am
I'm getting reports from people reading the book who are just delighted with it: it's bright, funny, it has an element about it like quicksilver, it's that engaging, and NO one reporting is having a problem (so far??!??) identifying with one the characters, but which one are YOU?? We'll find out on June 1. I think the author does something spectacular in this book which lies below the surface of the writing: sort of like a shark swims below the sparkly surface of the ocean.

But you may not agree! Let's talk about it!!

I know one thing, I can't stop thinking about it, and it really is altering my own relationships, and every time I do think about the book, I see something new, (of course I have finished it, and you can, too), but we'll only look at the first 115 pages on June 1.

What writing, it's indescribable, you have to read it to see what I'm talking about, and I hope you will, and that you will talk with us about your own perspectives on the million and one fascinating issues raised.


May 27, 2003 - 01:43 pm
Ginny, I was wondering if anyone'd be interested in choosing a favorite fictional character (see Curious Minds discussion) OR choosing an author? For instance, I could be an author: Melville or Poe or Maupassant or...a fictional character: Hester Prynne or Scarlet O'Hara or Captain Ahab?

Horselover, I hope you get the book soon! If a library copy isn't available, you can order quickly from B&N or used through or other book sites. We need you in Vanity.

Marvelle Ahab

May 27, 2003 - 03:19 pm
I've been thinking as I read along that this book can be read on different levels; and it fits the various categories of our lives: social, personal and professional. So much is about writing and it's not just Margaret -- about the wannabes, authors stealing people's lives, betraying friends to get the work done, lying, fixating on the one object, needing to play the role of Author rather than being driven to Write -- that taking on a persona in the discussion could be fun.

It'll be a great discussion with or without the persona thing. This is a smashing book!


May 28, 2003 - 08:23 am
I agree, Marvelle, and it I just love it. The personna thing is an interesting idea and I knew when I saw that post you had something scintillating behind it, and behold! You obviously have read the whole book, I think we really ought to get up a list of the different things people get from this book, all the different perspectives and ideas people took from it, I have a feeling we will have a million different ones!! My gosh, just choosing an opening topic as we look at the first 115 pages is mind boggling: it's almost impossible to pick just one, we may need to ask our readers for what YOU want to deal with first and get up a list. I feel like a child at Christmas anticipating your individual takes on this book. How good it is to have intelligent readers to share this one with!

I will say this, this book has changed the way I look at my own relationships and it's funny, but the people I know who have read it, (it's actually hilarious and quite marked), are suddely much kinder to each other hahaahah and there's a lot of apologizing for small slights, hahahaah Friendship is a tough thing, isn't it? I love all the relationship dynamics in the book.

Some people have mentioned the pacing of the book. I think the author herself addresses pace beautifully here:

The story moved forward, not with the inexorable, crude pull of a thriller, but with a steady accretion of carefully observed moments.
The pace of the entire book reminds me in some ways of a roller coaster ride, you know those old parks with the wooden coasters? And how you begin your journey by climbing up a very steep hill excitedly, and if you've ever noticed, it's up that first hill very deliciously drawing out every nuance how people will giddily and excitedly share the strangest things about themselves as the car rachets upwards? It's funny and exciting: a new adventure.

You're on a journey of revelation? I would say the first 200 pages or so of Vanity are that climb, but what's being revealed under the sparkly quicksilver writing is just stunning, to me, I want to try to catch some of that silver and watch and see IF I can tell when we get to the top and start down, what the top WAS, where it occurred , and, more importantly, who sent it there, and why, and the choices made, both by the characters and the author. Oh gosh and we can even ASK the author, ourselves!! What a gift!

Oh and the writing, the writing:
I wanted people to meet me and think, "Ah, someone worth my notice."

(page 113) and

"I suppose I, unlike my mother, would never be quite sure that I was someone to be reckoned with until someone else told me so." (page 114).

There is a smashing interview with the author in the heading from The Atlantic Monthly Magazine and I recommend that you don't read it till you're 3/4 of the way thru or almost finished the book, for reasons you will understand then, you'll laugh at me for my reactions to the article, want to hear yours, but don't read it till you're nearly thru?

Seat belts buckled? Are you the right height for this ride? hahaha On Sunday morning we will start and see if we can finish the All is Vanity Ride in one piece!!

Ella Gibbons
May 28, 2003 - 08:58 am
Good metaphor, Ginny. I'll be here Sunday sometime as we start the climb, the author writes so very well, clever, funny. I can certainly relate to the "urge" to write a book, can't any reader? CS is so amusing in the ways she invents to avoid sitting at the keyboard, knowing exactly what she is doing.

This will be a fun discussion and so appropriate for all of us who do emailing prodigiously.

May 28, 2003 - 09:49 am
Hi, I just started the book yesterday and i love it. This is my first book by Christina Schwarz and i love the way she writes-you really get to know the people and what they are feeling. Can't wait to discuss it with everyone.


May 28, 2003 - 02:51 pm
I'm in! I'm in! My book has arived after my major set-to with the librarian. Our county networks their books but the reason mine hadn't been "dropped off" is because the transporter of the books is ill. The job description, along with being "courier" includes cleaning toilets. Cleaning toilets, say I? You've got to be kidding. The reason I do not have my bloody book which comes from 8 miles away is because noone wishes to clean toilets! I continued to grumble, gripe and raise my voice In irony. I offered to be their courier, sans latrine duty. She called me last night, personally to tell me my book had arrived.

I'm in!!

the clean Latrine

Joan Pearson
May 28, 2003 - 05:16 pm
Oh, Ella, isn't it fun! I will take the word of others that there will be a pick-up in the action later on, but right now I'm content to be reading, savoring, chuckling, chortling, (reading parts aloud to my poor husband)...who smiles in spite of the interuption - he recognizes the way his little honey approaches a big project.

See you on Monday, or I might start getting into the story right now!

er, Andy, I always appreciate clean facilities at the library.

May 29, 2003 - 02:05 am

I know it, Ella, I wonder if there is anybody who has not wanted to write a book, but I never stopped to think WHY they want to??

Joan P, you, too? I am reading snatches, too, to my husband, my children, my friends, I simply must stop saying I love the thing, that IS the cardinal rule of book discussions, remember that? Remember Dr. Mickey Pearlman? “Avoid at the outset any thought of how you liked (!!??) the book. This is not a popularity contest...”

I tell you what, I will try to get it all out before Sunday: LOVE IT!

There, that's better! ahahaha

Andrea, honestly, only you, I have a feeling you will see yourself in this book!!!! Only you would get in a latrine argument over trying to get the book, hahahahaah THANK you for persevering!

HOWEVER a LOT of people have really had problems getting the book, so it must be selling well, and it should.

Vanessa, this is my first book by her too, it comes again....LOVE IT. I am really looking forward to having you in the discussion, is this your first with us? Firsts all around!!

ginny Is anybody looking? LOVE IT!@

May 29, 2003 - 08:47 am
Okay, I just started it, and already I'm absorbed by one of the characters.

Ginny, you hit the nail on the head. As a battered veteran of many Creative Writing courses, including ours elswhere here on SeniorNet, I can attest to the fact that for years I had the idea of writing The Great American Novel, but for the life of me I can't tell you why. Fame and fortune? Perhaps. Recognition by intellectuals? Perhaps. Anyway, the reason is moot, because when I learned the difficulties and expenses, not to mention the time consumption, of getting a book published, I gave up in dismay.

Besides, in those days I had no computer, and the work of typing up twenty-five or thirty chapters of text, with carbons, can be daunting.


Malryn (Mal)
May 30, 2003 - 02:51 pm

Thought someone might be interested to know that this book is available on eBay.


May 30, 2003 - 03:04 pm
Thank you for that, Malryn, a lot of people are finding it sold out, appreciate that!!

Am looking forward to Sunday, although am getting dizzy trying to choose just one topic to start us off: (it's like Lay's potato chips: bet you can't eat/ choose just one). hahahaa


May 30, 2003 - 04:17 pm
I always try a library first for a free book read; or I try a new bookstore to quickly read a few pages to see if the book excites me enough to buy it. If I want to buy a copy, I haunt used bookstores online looking for a copy and then I share -- if a book is shared between friends that keeps the overall cost down and I'm able to read more current books than I could afford to do if just using my own limited funds.


B&N sells All Is Vanity as an ebook for $17.50. There are some restrictions besides cost: you need a computer, the computer has to have the capability to download a big text, and you'll need good eyes to read the text online. I don't meet any of those -- no computer; eyes hurt if I read online any length of time; little money. The great advantage to an ebook is AVAILABILITY & SPEED. Plus you won't have to worry about finding a place on your shelf to squeeze in one more book!


If money is a consideration -- which it always is for me -- you can order a used book from various online services such as which currently has some Vanity copies available for $4.95 on up plus shipping. That's a good deal. You can order by phone or email and request priority shipping, usually just for the cost of an extra dollar.

Searching online used bookstores was how I found an advance proof copy (softcover) of a Margaret Drabble book for a recent discussion and it was quite cheap. My kind of book!


There are many ways to find All Is Vanity -- including buying a brand spanking new copy! -- and even if you have to wait for delivery of the book, please sign on and join in. I hope to see lots and lots of friends here on June 1st.


May 30, 2003 - 08:41 pm
I've passed the point of no return and had to-- I just had to read on. This is a wonderful intriguing and penetrating story. I love these characters and feel like I've "been there," myself, in many aspects.

June 1, 2003 - 04:58 am
Wow wow, well after a totally sleepless night resulting in 2 hours sleep trying to isolate a couple of the million and one topics I guess I need to say Welcome to our discussion of All is Vanity!! hahahaa

In the heading you will find 6 hopefully coherent Topics for your Consideration to start us off, we welcome your own topics or questions, both for the group and the author, and we'll put them up as we go.

As you know this week we're only looking at the first 115 pages, and we hope to get a real conversation going on the issues in the book.

We are thrilled to have the author, Christina Schwarz, part of our group!!! Welcome, Christina!! This is soo exciting!

I literally did not know where to start, so I would like to lead off focusing on Margaret. It struck me the other day that it's been a long time since somebody came up to me and said, "I was a precocious child." If somebody came up to you this morning and said "I was a promising child, I was precocious, I built temples of Ur at 8, rendered a map of Asia as experienced by Marco Polo, hand mixed inks to do illuminated pages, and at seven built a Temple of Athena because everybody knows what the Parthenon looks like, " what would YOU say to that person?

But this is exactly the way the book begins, with the protagonist speaking directly to the reader confidentially about (and in many flashbacks recounting) her stellar childhood. In her new found decline, however, she says:

I think my point is clear. I was precocious. I was enthusiastic, unswerving, creative. I had imagination. It took me only twenty years to realize that none of this mattered.

What you find out in your thirties is that clever children are a dime a dozen. It's what you do later that counts, and do far I had done nothing. (page 2)

This person, this point of view, fascinates me. What does she mean "I had done nothing?" In relation to what? Why are comparisons such a big part of her life? What does she want from others? How does an 8 year old build cities of Ur? If you had to lay out a city of Ur this morning or lose a million dollars, could you? Where does an 8 year old learn what the city of Ur looked like?

Is it true that imagination, enthusiasm and creativity mean nothing?

What does "precocious" mean? Who is it done for and for what purpose?

If you had been a precocious child, shouldn't you have retained a sense of confidence? Note the superiority which Margaret clearly continually reiterates in a million places, how superior she is, "I was not everyone." (Page 42), BUT at the same time, she continually compares herself to everybody on earth, and...with the exception of Letty (!!??) and maybe Ted (!!??) always comes out the loser.

Margaret is probably one of the most fascinating characters I've come across in a long time, she feels superior: when she contemplates even taking a writing class she sees herself immediately successful, star of the class, having finished in a flash of glory before she even starts: yes, the instructor will of course see her brilliance and have to be fair to the others. Yet in comparison to, it would seem, every other person on earth, in real life, she's lacking, somehow, and is in "decline." "Swiftly and incessantly, college life chipped away at my sense of myself as a high achiever. Until those years, I admit, I had, as quietly and modestly as possible [is this true?] considered myself to be exceptional Even brilliant. I now realized that I, like a million other people, was merely smart." (Page 111)

What has happened to Margaret that she goes from "feeling contempt" (page 112) to her fellow high school students to feeling a decline, and that "all of those people who, by their very existence, made me feel like a dull penny under their shoes..." (page 75), and

" I admire you," she said. She did not admire me. If she was kind, she pitied me, and if, instead, she was like most people, she felt superior." (page 78).

There's something going on here, I can't get a handle on it, notice I've completely left out the humor, possible social satire, the relationships, the wanting to write a book, but it's really is, trying to grab mercury, remember those old thermometers? If you broke one you couldn't catch it? It broke up into a million balls (which we were warned would kill us?)

I can't wait to hear what you all think, I'm so glad to have you all to talk with about it, maybe we can trap the quicksilver together.

What do you think about anything in the first 115 pages?


June 1, 2003 - 06:07 am
Good morning, Ginny et. al.    You're right, Margaret is some piece of "work", isn't she?
Reading the first  section we meet a "whirl wind" soul , an over achiever, a typical first born child.  She's an idealist!  (Perhaps in my next life I will be so blessed.)

She's a cock-eyed optimist, who envisions herself capable of anything she sets her sights on starting at an early age. UR?  Heck , I still don't know where UR is, much less build it out of clay.
Our Margaret is a fraud and she is beginning to see that in herself as  we, too, identify it.

Interestingly enough her mother forbade anyone to shorten her name; to corrupt Margaret would be unthinkable.   Why? If the kid wished to clip her name  would that somehow reduce her stature in mama's eyes?  Good grief, no wonder the child was so-o-oo driven.  When Margaret told her mother about her best friend joining Brownies, she scoffed and said "she'd wasted enough hours for the both of them striving for inconsequential badges." (pg 52) In today's world this kid would most likely be diagnosed with Bulemia by the time she hit adolescence.

There are so many thoughts that I could present here, as I understand Margaret.  It is not what she has, nor what she says -it is what she lacks.  Margaret lacks FOCUS!
She's reasonably bright, she knows she needs to center herself to begin her "great novel."  But, painfully , she can not even lay the plot nor centralize her protoganist.  She tries, she makes out her schedule aware that organization IS imperative and then she is distracted ; she plays with her colored pencils,ponders the life styles of people she knows and even  paints the apartment.  She can not pin point anything as she shifts from one thought to the next.  She is unable to knuckle-down and sharpen her well acquired skills.  She eats, shops, whatever she can find to  distract her own thoughts.
She can not focus!

More later....

June 1, 2003 - 06:49 am
Exactly, Ginny… Where do you begin reacting to All is Vanity??? I must say that I read “through my fingers” the whole way… The foreshadowing was wonderful! I had to read, in fact I was on page 150 before I knew it! But, oh, my gosh, where is this author taking us??? The child in me couldn’t not read, but at the same time I didn’t want “it” to happen.. where ever this book was going, it wasn’t going to be “happily ever aftering”. Did any of you feel this “love--- hate”???? or maybe it was “have to know vs dread”???


June 1, 2003 - 07:06 am
I have no clue what you are referring to Lou. If it is past our assigned pages, it's "taboo."

June 1, 2003 - 07:20 am
So, ALF, you didn't get that feeling from page one??? I don't have the book here, it was a library copy...


Joan Pearson
June 1, 2003 - 08:52 am
Let's not be too quick to put poor Margaret down - as a fraud. I feel empathy for her in these early chapters. Especially the way she is narrating - putting herself down, knowing she is telling a funny story at her own expense. I do that. Will make myself look ridiculous by relating the comic aspects of what happened - without any attempt to explain the circumstances that brought about the result. I'm not explaining this well, but I think Margaret is putting herself down, hoping that someone who knows her, (her mother perhaps...or best friend, Letty) will step in and explain for her - putting her in a better light.

I think she lacks confidence in her own ability and is searching for an outlet. She wants to create something - something tangible, so that people will give her respect - attention. If she can do this, she will finally achieve self-respect. Where does this come from?

I feel badly for her...she doesn't seem to recognize that there are different ways to achieve self respect - integrity. Yet she recognizes it in Letty.

Andy, you mention that Margaret is a first-born - I forget, is she also an only child? I've looked back over the "projects" she considers "precocious"...and don't see how any of them would occur to an eight-year old - without an adult's suggestion and support.

I do remember one of my sons spending the summer mapping out the Civil War on a huge chart, pasting silver and blue stars where each squirmish and bettle took place. I remember having it laminated for him at the end of the summer. He knew I was pleased with it, he got a lot out of it, but it came from his own interest in the subject.

Margaret's projects all seem to be instigated by an an effort to get attention, to please.

I don't think she ever outgrew this. Were any of the early projects she describes especially creative, or was she simply illustrating, presenting the work of others. I'll agree with you, Andy, she IS unfocused...but I think it is because she still doesn't understand her strengths. So how can she focus? She choses to write a book, but has no knowledge of the theme or characters she chooses to write about. She wants to create something, but has never been one to create. Too bad she didn't run into a good guidance counselor along the way. Or take a Kuder Preference test...anything that would have objectively presented to her a realistic picture of her abilities...and interests. Letty is her best friend. She doesn't tell her the truth, I don't think. What's with Letty?

Perhaps her parents meant to encourage her to try a lot of things, but I see a strong controlling mother and a father she was trying to please.

Is it too late for her to find herself? Lou, I've got the same fear that formidable looms on the horizon, that our girl will get into some big trouble, but have fingers crossed that she will learn something about herself when all is said and done...

June 1, 2003 - 09:23 am
Welcome to Christina Schwarz. We are glad to have you here.

Alf, I am glad you brought up Margaret's mother. I dreaded bringing up the mother because mothers so often get the bad end of the stick when children do not live up to society's standards.

In this instance, each time the mother was mentioned, I could not get her out of my mind. I felt that Christina Schwarz had a very good reason for mentioning her.

There are two children in the household, Warren and Margaret. It is my impression that Warren is allowed to live the life of a normal little boy. He drives his Hot Wheels. Every little boy's dream is to drive a big wheel and make those funny engine noises. Unfortunately, he drives through the middle of Margaret's temple.

My point is that Margaret's mother is not worried about Warren. Margaret's mother knows Warren will face the usual setbacks that every young man will face as he goes out into the world. Margaret is different. Margaret is a girl.

Margaret's mother probably lived through the forties and/or fifties. This is when a little girl's role model was Lucille Ball on 'I Love Lucy.' Girls were suppose to be perfect wives and mothers wearing an apron and waiting for the father to come home from work. If you looked at Leave it to Beaver, you were suppose to wear pearls along with the apron.

Anyway, I do not think this is what Margaret's mother wants for her daughter. She wants Margaret to live outside the box. I came to this conclusion after reading this quote in the book.

"My mother was less pleased with the Lakota costume than she'd been with the temple. Architecture, yes. Sewing, no."

In Margaret's mother's eyes, sewing would have been for girls. Playing at Architecture would have been playing in a man's world or a boy's world. I think Margaret's mother had high hopes for her daughter. Maybe Margaret's mother did not become the person she wanted to be in her community. She wanted more for her daughter. Sadly, her way of leading her daughter out of the box led to a psychlogically distraught individual.

June 1, 2003 - 11:01 am
I liked the author's style of prefacing pages of content by the character's name.This engaged me as a reader and made me feel that the character was speaking aloud directly to me the reader/ listener. The introduction to Margaret's voice and self assessment/ attitudes made me curious about how her chilhood persona would influence her persona as an adult. My assessment: A very effective introduction to Margaret. My belief was that her feelings of worthiness would sharply influence her attitude in adulthood. Letty's motivation: feel like a "loser" we deserve the best, we're not where we should be. Fullfillment of status needs. Expressed in consumerism and advancement from middle class to high income status class. Margaret's motivation: high achiever: fullfillment of ambition, recognition by others in society. Expressed emotionally by need to rise from obscurity to recognition through attainment as a published author. Both women feel deserving to obtain fullfillment of their needs. Their friendship was based on mutual support emotionally . Margaret the leader. Letty, the follower.Letty more easily influenced by Margaret. Typical of female friendships especially long term relationships.

June 1, 2003 - 11:12 am
I wondered as I read the book how much of the content was based on the author's own life experiences?

Ella Gibbons
June 1, 2003 - 12:24 pm
What fascinating comments! And a hearty welcome to Christina, thank you so much for joining us!

Having read DROWNING RUTH and l/4th of this book, it appears to me that Christina prefers to write about the female character, painting her to be a complex personality, a dreamer, with strange desires; whereas the male character is predictable and practical.

The voice in the book so far belongs to Margaret with Letty in the background; however, I noted that when the emails begin Letty dominates with 4 emails to Margaret's one. Is this a subtle hint by our author?

One has to read very carefully in this book because there is subtlety throughout. Note that as early as p.57 Margaret states: If only we'd stuck with the phone and kept Letty's words off the page, I don't believe I would have done what I did.

Margaret learned an important lesson in the first grade after realizing that Letty made better pictures -"I promised myself that from that moment forward I would strain to the as never to be in a position to feel such chagrin again."

She is striving to be better than Letty. Is it jealousy?

Margaret is constantly seeking attention, needing praise, and when she doesn't receive what she thinks she deserves she's off on another race with herself to achieve and to be noticed.

Some people would have been contented with a good husband and a good job, not our discontented Margaret.

June 1, 2003 - 01:15 pm
Ella we were posting together, so glad to see you here, more on your provocative post later on!!

> Wow great start and we’re all over the map so far on Margaret AND Letty, love it.

Or could it be, Andrea, (ALF) that she's very focused? But maybe what she's focused on is not what she says it is? Is that possible? That is how I saw her, actually. What do you mean by "piece of work?" What does that phrase mean in Margaret's case? How does that relate to her? Wonderful point on her Mother's rejection of the Scouts, I found that very interesting, it's not mom who was going to get the badge, was it?

Lou, I agree, I was surprised in this third reading to find the foreshadowing all over the place, in fact, in the very first sentence Letty utters to us, for example, she says "Why did I listen to her?" That tells me something is coming and it may not be good. I'm not sure which one, Letty or Margaret, does the most foreshadowing, what would you say? Which one seems to indicate the most that something turned out not quite the way we might expect? I’m glad you’ve taken your book back and now have to go on memory, I think sometimes what we recall is very telling too, I like that aspect as well in a discussion!

Joan P, super points. I don’t think of Margaret as a fraud, at all. I think she thinks, like all of us do, that she's totally honest, and she says so: who of us does not consider ourselves a pillar of honesty and rectitude? But if you look at who Margaret is honest with and when she's honest (and not, and for what reason) it's very interesting, and when you step back and look at it, it seems like it might apply in a broader sense to all of us: who of us is always 100 percent honest every minute of every day? We like to THINK we are. I think it's the little betrayals in this thing which, to me, are going to make the biggest difference, and you can see quite a few of them in this first section. Does she betray herself?

I appreciate your bringing that out because as part of a normal book discussion it's necessary to look very closely at the behavior of each character. I hope it’s possible for us to look closely at what she does without labeling her in any way, hahaha, because for better or worse, I really didn't want to say this, but one of the things which surprised me the most about this book is my own personal total identification (talk about empathy!) with Margaret!

Am I the only one who sees herself in this book? Let's be "honest," here ourselves, hahaha dare to be honest. Did any of you identify with Margaret? Are any of US Margaret in some way? Or Letty?? Which one are you the most like? Are you like either one? I found it incredible that I, a 60 year old woman, so totally identified with Margaret in every way, they are both real to me. (I haven’t written my great book yet, but I have no doubt when I do it will be a cause celebre. Ahahahah) I AM Margaret, it was like meeting my own self on the page, and I'm fascinated by how that could be so? Are there aspects of Margaret's personality that might pertain to everybody? Is there any trait she has that YOU can identify with?? (Wouldn't it be a hoot if we all thought we were Margaret??) hahahaha

Joan P: this was really good, too: now you think she's deliberately putting herself down so that "someone who knows her, (her mother perhaps...or best friend, Letty) will step in and explain for her - putting her in a better light. " Now that's interesting!! I missed that! What causes that in children? We all know people who want reassurance and who try to get respect in that way, but then she also, how can we explain the number of times she tells us negative things about herself where nobody can hear, but us, do you think in this way she's reaching out to the reader, then??

I liked this, "Letty is her best friend. She doesn't tell her the truth, I don't think. What's with Letty?"

Which one of the two do you see as the strongest? What do you mean, "What's with Letty?"

And I loved your take on were her childhood projects really good? Ur? Nefertiti? I don’t know how good they were, but I know I can’t draw a city plan of Ur today much less at 8 years of age. I liked your pointing out the difference in your own son’s projects and Margaret’sl, too.

I’m going to put your Margaret Motivation and Frugal’s Margaret/ Letty Moltivations in the heading, so we can compare all of them. Super stuff!

What do the rest of you think motivates either Margaret or Letty?

Hats, I liked your take on the influence of Margaret's mother, I agree on the sewing; do you find it interesting that the only time she mentions her parents is in telling us of her childhood? Do they seem to play a part in her current life? I'm not seeing Sunday dinners with Mom here.

I know what you mean about the Mother always gets the blame, what did you make of the green/ brown stem pumpkin story and her parents's reaction? What did she learn from each parent in that instance? Did her father's attitude help her there?

Frugal, thank you for the two motivations of Margaret and Letty, you think (I found this fascinating) that they BOTH feel "entitled" to succeed, but you see Letty as having status needs because her own life is not what she thinks she should have, but it was Margaret’s own self worth which would be mended by success, and recognition, right ? If so that's a big difference. It implies that Letty feels secure in herself, which is the way I first saw her, would you say that's true at first?

Do we have any instances of Letty showing lack of confidence like Margaret does?

Do we see Letty as having any self worth needs ? What is status/ class anyway ?

I love your take on the friendship ! So Margaret was the leader and influenced Letty and they both provided emotional support to each other ? Oh I love the possibilities in what you’ve said. Don’t you find this pair of friends fascinating ? Are you saying that all friends of long standing work out some sort of relationship like this ?

Your question on how much of this came from real experience is a good one for the author and will put it on a special page for her, too. It seems so real, doesn't it? I wondered, after reading her marvelous description of the writing class, if she had ever attended a writing class, herself.

We have a lot of people reading along , and writing they are still trying to get the book and we also have our Pedln going out of town for a week today, we will miss her and look forward to her return and comments.

I think there is a LOT here and we're off to a grand start and on Sunday too when typically we have NOBODY! Great work!!


June 1, 2003 - 04:21 pm
Joan, Ginny, really? You don't see Margaret as a fraud? A fraud to herself? She dupes herself by shuffling around without focusing on her mission-- the writing of her novel. Heck, yes, I see myself in Margaret. To find Focus myself, I had to go out and buy a Focus a yellow one! I'm not putting her down Joan by saying that, I'm stating my opinion as to how I envision her. She's involved, she's busy, she paints, she cooks, she bamboozles her husband, yadda, yadda, BUT is she focused? I don't see it. How so?

Lou- no, I honestly see no foreshadowing of anything but a very insecure married woman just trying to "find her goove."

I am sure that Letty will come through loud and clear later but at this point I only see her as a confidante, a buddy (since forever) and an ear , as well as a portal, into another world, for her friend Margaret.

Christina Schwarz
June 1, 2003 - 07:58 pm
Hello and thank you all for your careful and enthusiastic readings--as an author, I can imagine no greater compliment. As far as I'm concerned, you're on to some of the crucial issues of the book here and I'm not sure how much I should say about my intentions. I hope, after all, that the novel has a life of its own, apart from what I "meant." Plus, I have no sense of what's clear by page 115 and what isn't--at some point, for instance, Margaret explains the difference between her early childhood projects and her adult ambition, although this is something I'd dearly love to discuss right now! I will say, though, that I didn't envision these projects to be suggested by an adult--I imagined them as pure Margaret.

I'm thrilled that you're identifying with the characters--or at least with Margaret, so far. That was very much my goal. Even though the characters, like Margaret's early projects, are exaggerated for comic effect, I was hoping people would catch a hint of their own feelings in each of them. Originally, in fact, I didn't want to set the novel in New York and Los Angeles, because I feared readers would then dismiss these women as types that could only be found in those cities.

I can't wait to read what comes up next.

June 1, 2003 - 08:33 pm
I see both Margaret and Letty as lacking self-esteem and feeling envy for others. Margaret wishes to be seen as having achieved something noteworthy; Letty wants the material/social trappings of success.


Margaret says she became a teacher because she's 'too independent, too artistic and too much the overachiever' to work for a corporation or consulting firm. (29) Yet she's probably none of those things.

Margaret hasn't achieved. Like many of us, she suffers from the fear of failure. (I find the initial trying -- taking the first step -- is the most difficult step because that means I'm facing possible failure or success. It's the unknown that's scary to me.) Margaret hasn't progressed in writing her novel yet she hasn't made a 'name' for herself and she so desperately wants to be known; her artistry even as a child is questionable; and independence means not following through a "tedious and humiliating apprenticeship" such as putting one's time into learning a specialization. (She never got that education degree to qualify beyond her current position and thinks teaching is a stop-gap to her 'real' life.)

I think Margaret's artistry is definitely in question. True, she said as a child she'd made a model of the city of Ur and a bust of Nefertiti but were they artistic or wonderfully creative? Did she make them for the fun of it, or to impress?

Letty about the bust: "... Margaret made her mother something she said was the bust of Nefertiti .... It looked like a ball with a blue cylinder on top. Miss Betty, the teacher's aide, frowned, 'Wouldn't your mother like a nice bracelet,' she asked, 'like everyone else is making?' .... Margaret told me my bracelet was the best. I didn't say anything about Nefertiti. I didn't know what a Nefertiti was. Maybe she'd made a good one." (58) Is this a teacher stifling a child's creativity or merely honesty? Was this one of the roadblocks to achieving in later life? Letty's perspective seems generous and kind but her remarks also shows Letty's desire not to be excluded. She was unsure who/what Nefertiti was so she said nothing.

Margaret likes having the authority over her students; of being the final word about classics in a classroom. She was fond of those who looked up to her, trusted her, and needed her.

What Margaret didn't like was "... that sense of myself, for instance, as an earnest, gray lump, unfit to interest as an equal in the society for which my education had prepared me, far below even all of those "Moms" ... My colleagues and I were pitiable -- we were intelligent people who weren't bold enough to use our smarts to earn real money .... [We] were condescended to as failures, glorified servants to those who'd worked the world better then we had, those who understood that an annual rereading of Leaves of Grass got you nowhere." (29)

We don't know if people really condescended to Margaret as a teacher. I do know from having been in positions sans social prestige or money, that society can be pretty judgemental about your worth and it's hard to maintain self-esteem in such cases.

Margaret wants to be somebody to others, rather than being happy with herself as a person and doing what makes her happy. She doesn't stick to educational requirements for professional occupations, teaching isn't socially important enough for her and she thinks if she writes a novel it'll make her a success (to society? to herself?) She has no idea what to write and doesn't have a passion to write. Her passion is to be seen as having written, especially since, she wants to believe, it'll be a lasting work.

I think many of us have a vague wish for professional success. We live in a competitive society that ranks us according to our type of occupation and the money we earn or have. The trick is to not let that ranking matter to us, and that trick can be a hard thing to accomplish. Margaret is intelligent, perhaps she was drawn to literature because she liked it, she's a good person and I hope she finds happiness within.


June 1, 2003 - 08:51 pm
Hello, Christine!

How absolutely wonderful to see you in here! I wanted so much to tell you what a revelation it was to me to first meet up with Margaret. This woman is me, so Ginny you are not alone. She reminds me too much of my own "lack of focus", as Alf says, my same self-delusion, my same procrastination. I really can relate to this woman, and I am fascinated. Thank you so much for introducing these two remarkable characters; I can't wait to learn more about Letty.

Just as an aside: What part of Wisconsin was your home? I grew up and went to school in Madison.


June 1, 2003 - 10:00 pm
I posted as Christina was posting. What fun this is! Thanks Christina for being a part of the SN discussion. I guess I'll have to be patient to see if my guesses about Margaret and Letty's motivations are correct.


She shows at a young age her preoccupation with things, and not just things but the 'right' things; name-brands if 'right'. Letty remembers how "Margaret wore her wavy hair in a ponytail secured with interlocking translucent plastic balls in colors like yellow, hot pink, and lime green. I begged my mother to buy me some like them .... She came home with ... a pitiful example of what I'd requested .. the balls were small, white, and opaque. 'How can there be a wrong kind?' she [her mother] asked. 'These are tasteful.' (17)

When she and Margaret sneak across the tracks, so to speak, to play tennis on a locked tennis court, Letty says: "The idea of sneaking someplace where we weren't allowed made my breathing shallow. Nevertheless, I was a little bit thrilled. I liked the idea of me, Letty Larue, sauntering onto the well-kept courts at East Mountain School for Girls, casually swinging my Cris Evert racquet by its handle. I liked the idea that we'd be doing something daring. And I trusted world-wise Margaret to make it all right." (19)

When a car pulls up in the parking lot of the tennis court, Letty and Margaret know they've been caught. Letty remembers the specific things -- an orange BMW, the girl their age getting out of the BMW "mattered ... It was nothing she said, only the way she held herself, sure of her place.... She glanced at my [tennis] dress, which was, I saw now, entirely wrong." (21) Letty says she may have been wrong about the girl's smugness:

"Still, it was inevitable that I would see her the way I did, being as I was and as I would remain.." (22)

Letty wanting to learning Spanish rather then Margaret's choice of Latin (Letty caved and took Latin): "I was attracted to Spaish because its speakers seemed to occupy a mysterious, and, therefore, romantic world behind an invisible but nevertheless impenetrable curtain." (59)

In nursery school where Margaret made the bust of Nefretiti, Letty made the assigned bracelet for her mother. And Letty remembers the specifics of things, right and wrong things: "My memories of nursery school are a jumble of unconnected details -- penny loafers with a confusing dime in the penny slot, a dress in a Mondrian pattern of red, white, and blue rectangles, swinging around white tights, a boy's bristly brush cut, and the teacher with a bindi -- although then I thought of it as a dot...." (58)

And as an adult Letty finds herself involved in a contest of oneupmanship with Alex Prescott, the "Mother Who Works Outside Home". Alex says she's preparing tuiles for a school party(!) and so Letty says she's doing petit fours. She tells Margaret that Alex had an exquisite manicure: "I think I'd like a manicure, Margaret. Is that a terrible thing to admit? ... But here is the important part. Alex is wearing the same watch I am." (34)

Then Letty's husband Michael is offered a prestige position and they visit a home as part of the 'vetting process' which suddenly makes Letty hate her own home. The hosts' home is gorgeous Letty thinks and "it's not the stuff so much as the graciousness that seems to go with it ... If I were the kind of person that lived in that house, I wouldn't have pained my toenails in the car on the way to the party ...I would not have hemmed my trousers with Scotch tape. I would be serene; I would be respectable; I would be a better Letty.... The reason I most hate my house now is that [if we reciprocate and invite our hosts over] ... they will see that we are not as good as they are." (85-6)

Letty and Michael fall in love with the possibility of the 'wonderful' life the company dangles in front of them and Michael accepts the job offer. They dream of blond office furniture, new appliances, and "Michael can't take donors to lunch in a 1980 Honda CVC, so we're test driving a Saab convertible, his 'dream car'...." (109)

Thus far into the reading I'd say that what Margaret and Letty want are similar but their path -- to have and to shine -- for reaching their desires are slightly different. The similar desire is expressed by Margaret:

"I wanted people to meet me and think, 'Ah, someone worth my notice.' I wanted them when speaking to me to stop gazing absently over my shoulder, hoping someone more interesting would arrive. Simply, I wanted them to recognize me for the person I believed I truly was." (113-114)


June 2, 2003 - 04:40 am
Welcome Christina Schwarz. How wonderful to read your post! I'm so excited that you're visiting with us all and I appreciate it very much.

I didn't like Margaret much when I first began reading, but as I progressed in the first 115 pages of the book, she definitely gained my sympathy. Margaret keeps running into her true self a million times in her daily life. She still never succeeds in digesting her own self image clearly. Her delusions about herself are so complete that she seldom recognizes the discrepancy between who she thinks she is and who she really is.

Well, I'm not sure exactly who Margaret IS either, but clearly she's NOT the person she wants to be at this point. Who might she be then? She's cheerful and optimistic with a surface confidence and charisma...but all that fades when she meets someone who is more accomplished, or more chic and moneyed. She's at her most likeable and open with Letty because she doesn't perceive any threats from that direction. She can be aggressive when someone who doesn't hold any power over her shakes up her delusions.

Maybe her friendship with Letty is based strongly on the idea that each of them agrees on their mutual image of who they are and how they relate to each other and the world. They share insecurities. Maybe BOTH need to rethink who they are?

Yet there are a lot of hints that Letty is not as bland as Margaret thinks she is. Letty is creative...look at the collage tree she formulated in the first grade. It was better than Margaret's, but of course both saw this as a coincidence. Letty can write with facility: she created a "clever, pithy and light" college application essay in one afternoon...and strange to say, Margaret felt it was better than her own essay, which had been labored over at much greater length. And practical Letty sticks to projects. She turned her love of "precise, elegant" Latin into a life-changing force that led to meeting her future husband and sharing a combined interest with him.

It's fascinating, Ms. Schwarz. Your book paints a complex, multifaceted picture of people with marvelous layers in their personalities. We have to untangle who they think they are, as opposed to who they really are and how they function.

I love it!


Joan Pearson
June 2, 2003 - 04:58 am
I love it too, Harriet! Christina, we are so happy to have you with us...but at the same time recognize the position we will put you in from time to time. Remember that you are free to comment ONLY on what you feel comfortable with. You will see interpretations that you never intended. We will all respect the position we are putting you in.

It was most helpful to learn that "your" Margaret was not urged by adults to create her projects, in which case, she was a MOST precocious child. But as others have noted, her interests are so diverse that she is unable to narrow them down, to channel them as she grows older. She continues on an uncharted course.

Yes, it is easy to identify with Margaret...(was she a Gemini? hahaha, that's always MY excuse.) I too ended up teaching, not because I had a true vocation to do was just because I hadn't figured out what else to do with my life yet. (Still haven't!) Not very edifying. Teaching is really a noble profession and so important. I'll bet Margaret wasn't a bad teacher either. She just didn't believe that what she was doing was important she most likely was not a good teacher either. (The same seems to be true of her Richard Martin plot and character.)

It was Hats I think, who wondered how much of this was "autobiographical" ...(now THAT we certainly would not ask you to reveal, Christina!)...I was beginning to wonder the same thing, UNTIL I met Letty. (What a wonderful sketch you provided of the two girls, Marvelle!) Yes, Margaret does ...often grudgingly admit that Letty IS creative...but no, I don't see her recognizing the fact that Letty IS the person she really wants to be. But that's it, isn't it?

Margaret WANTS to be the creative person Letty really is. She just doesn't know how to get there so she continues her attempt with the strangest schemes imaginable. So far out that even Letty doesn't recognize what Margaret really needs. Letty continues to be awed by Margaret's imagination ..

June 2, 2003 - 05:21 am
Hi Joan,

No, Joan. Sorry. I did not ask whether the story was autobiographical. I can not remember who posted the question. I do not want to take credit for something I did not post.

Joan Pearson
June 2, 2003 - 06:15 am
There you are, Hats! Your fiends, er, friends are missing you in the Inferno...

Perhaps it was Frugal or Lou who questioned how closely Margaret resembles the author's own experience...

After reading the early chapters on the two "girls"...I wondered why Letty wasn't more straightforward with her friend...why didn't Letty help Margaret understand that she was not dealing effectively with reality. After reading your posts, and thinking more about it, I now see Letty more in awe of Margaret, and UNABLE to see her in an objectively at all. She is still the kid who doesn't know who Nefertiti was...

June 2, 2003 - 07:17 am
WOW!!! You all have made such wonderful comments, analysis of the characters... I'm blown away!!! And yes, I wonder how in the world, Christina, did you get into the heads of so many of us to write our story??? LOL I can't decide which of these 2 is most like me! Maybe they are the two halves of the split personality??


Ella Gibbons
June 2, 2003 - 10:14 am
HELLO CHRISTINA! You found us and what a treat to have you in our midst.

Oh, gosh, I must go back to the book as I had it in my mind that the story was set in NY city - at least when she was married, but I will clarify that. You are right, there definitely are "types" on both coasts, but I wouldn't have minded that at all.

I identified with Margaret as a child in several ways. All children want attention, want to be praised in some aspects and a good parent will find something in the child's behavior to compliment. I remember being in the second grade and somehow learning to spell the word "circumstances" which I thought was quite an accomplishment. I bragged about it to everyone who would look at me that day - I'm sure most of them thought I was a brat; much as adults would have thought of Margaret - wanting to be precocious, thinking she was.

Who knows what those projects looked like, but to her mother, particularly, she was a promising architect.

I also cheated a few times and am sorry to say that I felt "no chagrin." I was a very shy child, a mousy type, and it was in some grade (what, sixth?) that we had to write book reports. Now this was something I excelled in and always got a top grade, but the popular fellow sitting behind me (alphabetically our names coincided), hated them and asked me to write his. I did, I loved the little attentions I got from him (pathetic isn't it?) and soon I was writing book reports for 2-3 of his friends. I was clever at it, writing them simply as the teacher must have known they hated reading.

I'm sure most of you reading about Margaret identify with her in some aspects.

June 2, 2003 - 05:05 pm
GOSH!! What a day what a day, a “Letty” Day, dog and pony “show” here at the farm, I was beginning to think I would never see you all again! Hahahaha

Doggone laptop won’t print! My favorite thing is to come in and print out what you all have said and retire to a good chair and revel in all the super points, no PRINT!! It’s kind of hard to revel sitting at a desk, doggone it!

I agree, Lou, this is wonderful, and Welcome, Christina!! Golly this is exciting, isn’t it?

THIS is going to be wonderful! How MANY times in our book discussions have we argued (cheerfully) over the nuances of a character, how many times have we tried to get the others to SEE just SEE what we see in a character’s motivation? THIS time, we have the author!! THIS time we’ll know for sure, very exciting!! Poor Christina is having to bite her tongue I bet, but as somebody pointed out here, we’re only in the first 115 pages, and we really can’t “know” Margaret yet, we need to wait. But we can say what we see NOW.

OH and LOOK, what a joy, Harriet!! Is that you? Welcome!! Harriet taught First Grade for 40 years I guarantee you she knows precocious children!!

This is very exciting, especially since we don’t agree on much of anything! Hahahaha The best kind of discussion!!

OK first off, some general thoughts on what we’re doing here and then on to your incredible posts!!

(I almost wished, Saturday night, that I had Margaret’s colored pencils and her strategy to use in preparing our first day here). Remember that? I loved that! If I had used green ink for the laugh out loud humor and red for the foreshadowing, and blue for the motivations and purple for the self worth, and others for the plot, themes, etc., etc., I’d have it made. As it IS every page in my book is underlined many times in black that I can’t tell one thing from another. I really am going to have to go back and use some kind of colors, no joke, that seems very organized to me. And precise. That’s why Margaret the failed Latin student confuses me.

What we’re doing here in our discussion is reading and discussing only the first 115 pages as one giant brain, so the process is different from normal book discussions. When you read a book for the first time alone, your mind goes everywhere with every new image. Here we’re doing that process together, expressing out loud our first impressions, and that’s all they can BE at this point, we’re only dealing with first impressions, looking closely at what’s written, trying to figure out the characters. They might change? The characters might change? But when we get to the end we’ll see the change so much better because we took the time to look now.

So now, onward!!! I solicit each of your own thoughts on the following points made by the others or the questions in the heading!!


Andrea, no, to me fraud means the intent to deceive. The willful intent to deceive others, for the purpose of gain?(I have not looked this up). I don’t think that’s what Margaret is doing, In fact she thinks she’s honest, where do you see her deliberately setting out to deceive anybody? Could you give an example in the firsts 115 pages of where she deliberately tried to deceive others for her own gain? Thank you for always throwing an original twist into the mix, makes us think. A lot!


Now again, I have not looked up foreshadowing but I think the book is full of it, IF what I think is foreshadowing actually IS? How many instances struck YOU all, did you notice any when you were reading? Ella mentioned this one on page 57 "If only we'd stuck with the phone and kept Letty's words off the page, I don't believe I would have done what I did." And I mentioned Letty’s "Why did I listen to her?" on page 16, now those are what I think of as “foreshadowing,” a hint/ warning to the reader, kind of that something is going to happen later on? I think if this IS foreshadowing, maybe it isn’t! can somebody clarify that for us? It might be interesting to get up a list of them, whatever they are.

Why are they there, do you think? I mean, why alert the reader that something is coming? In contemplating these things you suddenly realize there’s a delicious shifting back and forth in time in addition to the flashbacks to childhood. There’s a LOT to this book you don’t notice when you’re laughing out loud at the fabulous humor (we’ll get to that) and just reveling in the incredible lightness of its being. There’s a LOT here, and it’s there ( I think) on purpose.

It seems that both of the characters tell the reader something is coming up that didn’t work out well.

So the presence of these little sentences, scattered around as they are …perhaps not so carelessly, indicate to us something is coming and it’s not good and who is the most rueful? We will need to ask later on what effect that has on the lightness and tone of the story and what the tone IS? We'll get to that, too.

I’m interested to know, Christina, if the instances of "foreshadowing" or whatever they are just came along as you wrote or if you went back and pieced them in later? (IF in fact they ARE foreshadowing!@) I guess I wonder if you had the end of the book in mind from the beginning. I will put that pitiful question in our brand new Our Questions for the Author which you can see on the bottom of the Topics for Consideration in the heading here along with Christina’s photo. (Isn’t she gorgeous?) Anyway, er… hahahaa And every question you have we’ll add to the list, some of them she may want to wait on till later on, she's answered a lot of questions in the interview in the heading, but reading it if you've not finished the book might spoil the book for you, so just ask away, and we'll put them up, and if we find out at the end that they're already answered we will have NO lack of new ones, that's for sure!

Focus: I think Margaret is extremely focused: on herself. She can’t encounter any person without mentally comparing them to herself (and coming out the loser). She’s in an agony of self focus. It doesn’t matter who she meets, she can’t help comparing herself to them. Her imagination is on hyper drive, she imagines people saying or thinking things they are not, even in the way the guy in the library turned the page, "obviously meant to show that he was getting some writing done." It’s funny, because it’s over the top, and we’ve already learned Christina exaggerated Margaret for a reason: it’s self depreciating, and charming and instantly recognizable, but I really don’t think people like Margaret (who are often screamingly clever and funny) (and that’s another thing we need to take up later on: who is the funny one in this story) are funny in their approach to life. I’m trying to say that some of the brightest comedians with the funniest bon mots are, because of their ability to see through everybody and everything else, often …well, if not miserable, certainly not the happiest most contented people you ever meet: Look at the difference in Letty and Margaret, can we get up a sort of chart? Let’s do. Let’s get up a chart and everybody describe, since we’re talking about childhoods, in a Slam Book kind of thing (remember those things?) their various characteristics as we see them here in the first 115 pages) and see what they are now and watch and see if they stay that way?

Let’s do, let’s start with this:

Who is happier and more content as the book opens, Letty or Margaret? Why? That might not be as simplistic as it looks!

I believe she is friends with Letty because she senses that Letty is superior. In other ways. Letty seemed to me, when I read this the first time, to be like my own friends, smart, loyal, kind, just a better more grounded person all around, not materialistic ("we don’t really care about money that much." (Page 51). Seemed to have her head on straight? She, in turn, admired Margaret’s audacity and verve. That's how she initially seemed to me but I may read too much of my own friendships in it.

What kind of friends are you attracted to? Do you have friends who are exactly like you or who compliment you?

Now, having gotten the olive antipasto out of the way, let’s go for what we came for: the main course: YOUR posts!!!!


June 2, 2003 - 05:53 pm
Hi All and Welcome Christina Schwartz. Sorry to come in late to the discussion -- have been computerless due to travel and am now competing with five others for the use of the one household computer. I had to relinquish it for homework at Post 77, so am currently using my non-online laptop and hope to get my chance at the family machine before heading to Virginia tomorrow.

It was hard to do, but I forced myself to stop at p. 115. These women are fascinating characters, one is tempted to peek to find out what happens. Lou, yes I agree with you about foreshadowing. Margaret has done something to Letty, for which she needs a lawyer and everyone wonders why she listened to her. But Letty’s been listening to Margaret all her life. She let Margaret talk her into breaking into the tennis court, she let Margaret talk her into taking Latin .

And then there’s Margaret’s relationship with her husband Ted. When he gives her the pen she saysurple>, Though one can hardly blame Ted if he didn’t agree with her, or if he decided to either leave or throw her out. So far the man has been a saint. Margaret listens to him and then does exactly what she pleases, doubly so. She paints the walls, then proceeds to the bookcases. She calls long distance to California after he tells of his concern about the phone bill.

So, Margaret is selfish? Yes, what Margaret wants, Margaret gets, and that alone makes me think she’ll get her book – by whatever means. She’s also immature – her whole attitude towards life is that if she wants something badly enough, she’ll get it. Not that she knows how to get it – or plans or works at it. As for being a fraud, Alf, only to herself, Ted, and Letty. Those who see her from a distance must see her as pathetic.

Lastly, I agree with those who are laying all this on Mom. “What do you care what other people think?” Hard words to live up to. Margaret’s still trying to show Mom that she’s an independent woman, who doesn’t care what others think. Mmmm.

One more thought – Ted seems to think pretty highly of Sally Stenforth. Is there more there than we know of? Looking forward to seeing you Friday and reading more of your takes on Margaret and Letty.

June 2, 2003 - 06:39 pm
PEDLN!! Hello there on the road!! We are posting together, more later on, but we are so glad you could come by and look forward to hearing more from you when you get back!! THAT'S dedication! hahahaa

Christina, what an interesting point you raise about the novel having a life of its own, and your own intentions. We’ve been saying that here constantly in our discussions as we argue about a book and you’re the first author I’ve ever heard to talk about the difference.

Many times we’ve had a book that we did not agree with what somebody brought forward as evidence of the author’s own stated reason for writing and his intentions! And we have said in the past that he may have INTENDED XXX but we really are hearing YYY, and some have argued that’s not possible. THANK you for that! We will be fascinated by anything on this order you care to say, including at the end, if it seems that we’ve NOT gotten "it," (and we may well not!) what you intended. Actually, we WILL get it because you’re here! Hahahaah YAY for us, and you, we can relax for once!

Some of you may not know that Christina writes Book Reviews for The Atlantic Monthly Magazine? And very fine erudite reviews they are, too. We can learn a lot from her, and I’m very excited about and grateful for this opportunity to talk with her (and argue about UR!! Hahaha)

I don’t think we’re to the point where Margaret explains the difference between her early childhood projects and ambition but anything you would love to discuss goes immediately up on a back burner in the heading to wait till it comes. So you are saying it’s pure Margaret and the map of Ur…er…. where did she hear about Ur? Hahahaahah (that’s a grown Margaret whining that even I can’t draw a map of Ur!!! ) hahahaahaha

No seriously now, when we get to this, we’ll have a good time with it. She had to hear about it somewhere? I forget what professions her mother and father were, I hope to get that clear in the next section, she….heard them discussing it? I would dearly love to discuss this too, something to look forward to!

Now Marvelle, insightful as always, you see Letty also lacking self esteem.! How CAN we get these things somehow on a chart!! Now that I had NOT seen!

Now this is a super question: Is this a teacher stifling a child's creativity or merely honesty?

There are several teachers in this thing and I wondered about all of them: and of course the pumpkin incident (I am glad I’m not the only one who had to color pumpkins, we had to draw them first and I can still do a very good one, will scan one in if I ever get my computer back).

This is a good point, Marvelle: We don't know if people really condescended to Margaret as a teacher. I do know from having been in positions sans social prestige or money, that society can be pretty judgmental about your worth and it's hard to maintain self-esteem in such cases.

How do those of you who were teachers feel you were treated by society? (I understand the teaching profession has changed considerably in the last few years, too.)

Good question! I was lucky, I taught Latin, which, once the listener finished doing a double take, ensured me enough respect for two Margarets, (she should have majored in Latin). (But not nearly as much as writing a book would give you!)

OK and Marvelle, this is an answer to the new question, so will put it up, too!

Margaret wants to be somebody to others, rather than being happy with herself as a person and doing what makes her happy.

Why do you think she can’t she be happy with herself??

Lorrie, do you really see her as lacking focus? I agree the characters are remarkable. So do you see her elaborate preparations as procrastination?

There’s something about the way Margaret tries….some intangible thing….something important…but I can NOT get a grip on it. IS she procrastinating with the preparations and excuses as some have said?

OH good point Marvelle on Letty and things, but the hair balls were not just “things” to Letty, right?

On things in Nursery school, When you think of nursery school? What do YOU remember most??

Now the tuiles and the new job at the Otis to me indicate something new, here’s a woman who hems her trousers with scotch tape (I thought I was the only person who did that, talk about stiff and rattle) hahahaah…and you’re RIGHT, Letty says they will see that we are not as good as they are! Well done, because of the house or something else, tho?

Scotch tape, this woman hems her trousers with scotch tape: why?? Is she too busy to sew? Or to take them to a seamstress? Or even after the event when she’s hemmed with tape, does she just leave them in the closet for the next time? What does it indicate when a person hems with scotch tape?

I think you have put your finger on a key quote: "I wanted people to meet me and think, 'Ah, someone worth my notice.' I wanted them when speaking to me to stop gazing absently over my shoulder, hoping someone more interesting would arrive. Simply, I wanted them to recognize me for the person I believed I truly was." (113-114) Note note note “the person I truly was.”

Who doesn’t want to be recognized as a person of worth? Doesn’t everybody? What sort of people is she around who gaze absently over her shoulder for others? What is it Ted does, again? Does she come in contact with these people through him? Why do they bother her so? She takes everything to heart.

Harriet, why did you NOT like Margaret at first? Those of you who did not like her, initially, can you say why?

Oh Harriet oh Harriet!

Margaret keeps running into her true self a million times in her daily life. She still never succeeds in digesting her own self image clearly. Her delusions about herself are so complete that she seldom recognizes the discrepancy between who she thinks she is and who she really is.

Wow!! Do you mean that she does encounter her true self but can’t admit it? Or won’t admit it? Is this part of growing up and she can’t make the step? She’s still telling us about her childhood projects?

Oh super point on what holds that friendship together, gotta put taht in the heading, loved the both need to rethink!

Lou, what an interesting statement, two halves of the split personality, did you find their voices different? Maybe the spilt halves compliment each other?

Pearson, do you see yourself in either of these characters? I see you in one!

Now do you really think that Letty is the person Margaret wants to be? What aspect of Letty’s life does Margaret covet, do you think??

So you see Letty as the really creative one! Was it the tuiles? Or the childhood tree and the application easily as Harriet pointed out??

What IS creativity?

You know that’s a good question, which of the two friends is the most creative?

When you say Letty is more in awe of Margaret, didn’t you get the feeling that they were from slightly different backgrounds, as well? I did.. Not sure why.

Now the question IS can you all pick thru and get out all of the new questions from these posts and respond to them, I’ll try to get them up but we may need a new page for them! Please feel free to address anything anybody says or any question asked, they’re for all of you?

Actually, when you think about it, Margaret’s right? There are very few things which confer status as quickly as being an author does? We know Letty is talking about status, which is an outside...would you say it’s an outside trapping of society? But is Margaret?


June 2, 2003 - 07:40 pm
About Letty I have to disagree about with you, Ginny (already! so early into the discussion!) Letty is absolutely a materialist which is possibly an ominous trait since she doesn't care for money.

From my dictionary: materialist: a person who is markedly more concerned with material things than with spiritual values.

Margaret is the reverse. She doesn't care for things, she doesn't need the in-style and she scrounges furniture from sidewalk discards. Margaret and hubby live on a budget and her occasional guilty splurges are for a tin of gourmet food(?) or other relatively low priced treats.

There are people who want things and spend money they don't have (credit card, putting off paying a bill that's due) in order to have those things. That could be Letty. Even as a little girl she knows BRANDS; she's into THINGS. She remembers the BMW, the penny loafers with the stylistically jarring dimes in the leather slots, the much-desired specific colors of interlocking plastic balls used to secure a ponytail. She used her birthday money to buy a tennis dress and only wore it once (an impractical spending of money) since it wasn't suitable for her neighborhood .... until a year later when she finally thinks her super outfit is perfect to wear when she and Margaret crash the gate of the tony East Mountain Tennis Court.

And because Letty already had dreams of wearing her tennis dress somewhere sometime somehow, I think Letty is right in finally admitting that Margaret didn't push her into crashing the tennis courts.



-- low self-esteem
-- materialistic
-- needs all the social trappings
-- creative
-- judgmental
-- personable
-- nurturing (of children and ??)
-- self-effacing


-- low self-esteem
-- self-critical (she lays bare her weaknesses in her book)
-- not materialistic
-- self-conscious = self-absorbed
-- melancholic or perhaps manic-depressive
-- sense of humor


I feel like there's so much more that could be said. As Ginny notes, our opinions frequently change as we further into the book and the discussion so I don't know how my views of Letty and Margaret will stand a few weeks from now. And like Lou I see a bit of myself in both Letty and Margaret.


Joan Pearson
June 3, 2003 - 06:10 am
Do you get the feeling that Margaret has a good marriage? The two seem to compliment one another in a number of ways...and yet, I feel a bit sorry for Margaret. She needs a real confidante...someone who understands her. Someone she can be completely honest with. Yet, if she is not honest with herself, it is too much to hope that she can be up front with him. I'm looking at this book as a work in progress, a learning process for Margaret. I have fingers crossed that Ted will still be around after "it" happens (no, haven't read too far ahead) and that they can build on whatever they have going for them now. I can't believe that he married her without knowing that she was a "perpetual 10 year old"...maybe there is something about her attitude - the sky is the limit - that attracts him to her. I hope so. I can relate to both of them...but more so right now to Margaret. I have often wondered what attracted steady, conventional Bruce to me - but he's still here after 36 years...I think he thinks he can save me from myself, can organize me. Maybe that's Ted's role too.

BUT, to answer the to describe the first 115 pages, I'd say it is uproaringly (is that a word?) FUNNY...that there is so much painful truth in it, that I relate and can laugh at Margaret - laugh at myself. Do you think that the reason we ALL relate is that we are all basically unsure of ourselves, and wonder if we would have chosen different paths more suited to our abilities and talents, had we only been more focused? I always envied one of my friends who wanted to be a doctor since she was eight years old, and then became one! She was an exception to the rest of us. That's why she stands out in memory.

Ella Gibbons
June 3, 2003 - 06:44 am
Questions for Christina:

How many hours a day do you write and when do you write? Where do you write? Was the second book easier than the first, in other words, does it get easier as you write more?

June 3, 2003 - 07:10 am
Hi Everyone, This is my first time here with you all and i must say you are really helping me see the book in differnt ways. I feel like Margarets writing the book to get the respect she feels she does not get as a teacher. I seem to identify more with Letty-I seem to always want what i don't have.


betty gregory
June 3, 2003 - 07:14 am
Ok, here I go, right down to the deep end, line up every life guard. First, awkwardly enough, I need a sizable blanket apology to spread under my first impressions. What an awful way to begin!! Arrrggghhh. Agonizing over how to ask questions of these characters in the same breath with welcoming our author.....that was causing me enough grief.....then, oh, mercy, I came to the posts of Ginny and Lorrie identifying with Margaret!!! Oh, dear, oh, dear! (HOWEVER, I have to agree that there's a wealth of tugs of universal 'somethings' mixed in with my questions. I'm famous for rearranging furniture to prepare to begin a critical writing project. I don't have to have order in my environment, so much as I have to have a specifically ordered environment. I know. I know.)

If I had less faith in this (discussion) process that we've worked so hard and long to establish, I think I'd just politely not show up, but we've had much success with earnest disagreement and, more importantly, have seen how a discussion can evolve week after week as first impressions and different views meld into the gestalt or whole discussion. That's my hope.

Besides, my initial impressions are both positive and negative, and are mostly a jumble of questions. Also, I'm convinced that the purposeful "exaggeration" mentioned by the author critically affects everything, everything.....and may be at the heart of some of my questions/impressions. I don't have much experience thinking about how humor, satire (is this?), and exaggeration fit with reality in characters/story, so I'm really excited about learning.

So, here I am. Was it Harriet who didn't warm to Margaret at first? Neither did I. And I know why. Something didn't add up, so her character didn't feel authentic to me. I hope I can explain. She is at least "smart" and, maybe, even, by her own report, extraordinarily smart. At a young age, she also wanted to outshine others. No ordinary art project for her.....I can see her, as a child, wandering the aisles of the library for hours, seeking the extraordinary.....that's how I imagine her discovery of Ur. So, she is a bright woman and her experience of the world has not been kept within traditional (female gender) boundaries, thanks to mom.

So, how is it that this intelligent woman seems not to know the first thing about being a writer. How could she not know that many writers write short stories, get them rejected, write more stories, get them accepted, attend summer writing seminars, read books about writing written by writers, read, read, read (because good writers are, among other things, great readers, compulsive readers), experiment with style, begin to hear a unique writing voice, and on and on..... Even people outside the world of literature have a general concept of a writer's life, but not Margaret?

Margaret's decision to write a novel sounds to me like a new attorney who did not attend law school, but memorized enough to pass the bar exam (to practice, a degree isn't required, just the passing grade on the bar) and then opened a law office specializing in capital murder cases. No summer clerking in a law office, no experience writing briefs, never been in a courtroom.

And where is the passion to write? Surely it has occurred to this smart woman that a publisher will notice that the printed words were not written by someone in love with her art/craft. It doesn't add up.

My first impression of Letty is the polar opposite and is all about her letters. I'm crazy about her incredible writing. I love, love those letters!! They are hilarious and wonderful! Now, here's a writer!!

After reading several of Letty's letters, the deeper irony of this book begins to dawn on me, which feels like a spell being woven. Several posts have mentioned the different layers of this book. Setting aside the personal and social development of Margaret and Letty, I love the irony of Margaret's odd choice to "write" or produce a novel and Letty's natural gift and charming writing "voice" of her letters.

This deeper irony or layer I'm in makes me grin.....because it's our one author who produced this Margaret who frustrates me and Letty who charms me.

I do have responses to the interesting posts on Margaret and Letty....all the comments on their value as people, their development, etc., but in this post I've limited my thoughts to Margaret's decision to write and Letty's natural writing voice.


June 3, 2003 - 09:29 am
Vanessa!! So glad to see you here! And Betty!! How marvelous to see you here, too, what a GROUP we are!!

And LOOK LOOK we're all over the place on Margaret, AND Letty! I started to get up a chart and you guys are sooo diverse it got as long as a kite tail, so will YOU each remember where YOU are on your first impressions of Margaret and Letty right now, and in a couple of weeks we'll ask again? And we'll see what we see!! (And how we came to that).

Betty, thank you for saying that you came on ahead in anyway, despite people identifying perhaps with the character that you didn't!! As you say (surely it wasn't MOI's presence that deterred you? Asks Margaret? hahaahha) Anyway, as you say our wonderful discussions here are famous for all kinds of views, we do NOT seek a consensus and we're very happy to find people at opposite ends of the spectrum, it makes for a better discussion and we can all learn something. Besides, it would be boring if we all said what we thought continuallly: it's a fabulous book.

WHAT? You don't like Margaret? How can that BE?

Here we are in the head, the inmost thoughts of a character who is explaining herself to us. How many of US, if somebody occupied our inmost thoughts would come off a saint? I sure wouldn't! Here's that honesty thing again, let's be honest. If what runs thru my own mind were revealed on my face, people would run in horror and I'm not the only one! But then I've always been honest, it's a fault, really? hahahahaa

Ella, you are a hoot, is it "Confessions of Childhood time?" hahahaha OK well then in the 4th and 5th grades I wrote book reports? Only I went a little further than normal, since I was a voracious reader and read hundreds of books, anyway, just not in the "chosen category" that month, I would make up the book, the author, and the plot and gave a stunning report, or so I recall them to be, and more than once. And got A's. Not sure what that says about my character, here, but it seemed "smart" to me at the time. hahahahaa

What we do need to get in the heading is all the stuff we still need to talk about this week so you all can be preparing, and I'll do that if the storms stop long enough.

Betty, what I really really want to know from you is what causes a person to go around always comparing themselves to others, always?

What was it about Margaret that you did not like initially? You and Harriet, how about you, Vanessa? You and Vanessa are the first people to identify with Letty we've seen, more than Margaret, and I loved this of yours:

My first impression of Letty is the polar opposite and is all about her letters. I'm crazy about her incredible writing. I love, love those letters!! They are hilarious and wonderful! Now, here's a writer!!

You find LETTY funny?

Do you all find Letty funny? Who is the funniest to you, Letty or Margaret?

Now Betty you're hovering around Question #3 in tne heading and I think it's important, for all of us, could we look at:

Do you see a difference between Letty speaking to us, Letty speaking to Margaret on the phone and Letty writing? Does Letty have a different voice than Margaret does? Could you recognize her without her name on the chapter titles?

It may interest you to know that the span in age of our group here is 48 years, I'm hoping for lots of strange differences in opinions!

Marvelle, WHAT? hahah You disagree already? hahahaa GOOD!! Letty is absolutely a materialist which is possibly an ominous trait since she doesn't care for money.

How can you be a materialist if you don't care for money? That picking up stuff of the street in NYC, everybody does that? That's not necessarily a sign of....I don't know the word but everybody does that you can get some really super bargains that way.

The hair balls? I think it wasn't that a special materialistic ball was needed, but that Letty wanted to be like Margaret, in every way, including, even tho her hair was thin and not suited to hair balls on rubber bands (I assume) she wanted the "RIGHT" ones, like all children, she wanted to look like the friend she admired!

And Betty, how could Margaret be smart and not know about what it takes to be a writer? I don't know what it takes? Had no idea, in fact, just because you're smart and literate does not mean you know what it takes, I bet very few people know, you don't have to start out with short stories (do you, Christina??)

And on the childhood thing, being precocious means...what does it mean? It means that the child is more developed for his years than another? That's all it means. Sooner or later the other kids catch up pretty much.

I saw a stunning study which asserted that the mother of a newborn baby has XX number of seconds SECONDS in the early days of his development, (they gave the days) in which to respond to his little burblings, if ignored, the part of the baby's developing brain which would have taken off, does not, and his development in the areas of speech, reading etc., facility in verbalization, is slower than others (but he does catch up, later on, like in the 3rd grade). Scary. Reminds me of those Make Your Baby a Genius books? Remember them? They now also have found that early instruction in instruments develops part of the brain earlier, just heard something on it on NPR, so I'm SAYING that an early start does not a continual genius make!

Betty, WHY do you think Margaret wants to write a book? What's her motivation?

I kind of keep coming back to Harriet's thought that she doesn't really know her, I am not sure any of us do, either. Isn't she fascinating, tho?

But it was the character of Letty and a remark made in the Interview in the heading by the author that just shattered me, believe it or not.

Joan, I loved the dynamics of Margaret's marriage, Letty's husband, was it Michael, was more of a shadowy figure. When Ted asked Margaret "Are you insane," I nearly fell out of the chair laughing. hahahaha Even now it's funny. They are super together, loved the give and take we need to look at them, too.

DO you see her as a perennial 10 year old?

I heard an interesting sermon Sunday concerning the part of us which never grows old, which never dies, the one spark in each person that continues unchanged: who we are: throughout all our lives.

I think we are being let into Margaret's soul and I think she's being honest with us as to how she feels about things, very few people would say what she's telling US to even their best friends, note that she sometimes resents Letty's bids for attention, she thinks that she should have the floor.

(Joan, do you think Letty is NOT a good friend to her , then?? They do confide!) but she's saying it to us.

How about the outline on the wallpaper of the apartment? Margaret puts up the outline and excitedly tells Letty. What happens? What does that say about Letty? What are friends supposed to do for each other? Who was being honest there?

I feel a vulnerablilty in her. I feel protective of her, I want her to succeed. I think Joan P is right, somehow the author has captured in very few pages an entire person with traits which are in all of us?? This is really good, Joan: Do you think that the reason we ALL relate is that we are all basically unsure of ourselves, and wonder if we would have chosen different paths more suited to our abilities and talents, had we only been more focused?

I love that, what do the rest of you think? The path not taken, do you all feel that you are focused??

Lots of new things to think on today, will get them all up in the heading, WOW did you see that lightning? hahahaha CREACK!!!

Let's hear from all of you on any one of the many topics brought up in the posts here, penny for your thoughts!!!


June 3, 2003 - 09:54 am
Pedln!! Wow and wow, you are hitting all burners there on your vacation, now this that you said made me sit up: . But Letty’s been listening to Margaret all her life.

All right, now here, can we look at the dynamics of this friendship, first in childhood and then in adult hood? Childhood friends fall away, don't they? People move, etc....if they don't, then they fill a need as adults as well.

Do you have any friends from childhood? I would think that would be a precious gift: in a way a childhood friend who has always known you is like family, and as you age, sometimes they can become the family that you outlive, has the relationship between them as childhood friends changed as they've become adults?

So, Margaret is selfish? Yes, what Margaret wants, Margaret gets, and that alone makes me think she’ll get her book – by whatever means. She’s also immature – her whole attitude towards life is that if she wants something badly enough, she’ll get it. Not that she knows how to get it – or plans or works at it.

Wait wait, SELFISH? Is there a difference in selfish and self centered? What's the difference? (This heading is going to be 8 miles long with this good stuff!)

As for being a fraud, Alf, only to herself, Ted, and Letty. Those who see her from a distance must see her as pathetic.

WHAT ? hahahaha no no, they're the only ones she's honest with?? PATHETIC? What what?? hahahaha

Boy this is great, how do the rest of you see these issue??


Malryn (Mal)
June 3, 2003 - 10:27 am

Hi, everybody. The book I ordered is supposed to come this week or early next, if the weekend intervenes. All I've read of it is an excerpt online and posts I've found here. I'll try to catch up quickly when the book arrives.

I want to say something about writing, if I may. People come in to the writing group I lead here in SeniorNet once in a while and say, "I have this terrific idea for a book, and this is what it is, blah blah blah. The title is 'This Extraordinary Book by Me', and I know it will be a best-seller!" I welcome them to WREX, invite them to submit a chapter or two for exchange and critique, but I know they're not writers. Do you know how? When I ask, they tell me they don't do any writing!

Even if the person who wants to be a writer doesn't feel like pushing hard to do it and has to move all the furniture, dust under the refrigerator, straighten the pictures on the walls and cook a five course dinner for 25 people and wash all the dishes afterwards by hand in order to get his or her life in order so there's time for writing, this person must write at least 1000 words a day, if only for practice. There have been plenty of times I haven't felt like writing when I go into my word processor. I write one sentence, and I'm off.

From what you say, Margaret doesn't sound like a writer to me. When I was a very small child I made up stories, and from the time I learned to hold a pencil and write, I have been writing them down. Somebody talked about book reports in here, I think. Instead of writing book reports when I was a kid, I wrote books. It's something I have had to do, not a choice I make.

There's something else to consider: Is Margaret dedicated enough to work as hard as a writer must? Does she even realize what a job writing is and how lonely it can be?

For me, the writing is easy because I've practiced so much, and I write quickly. It is the hours and hours and days and days and months of editing, revising and rewriting I have to do, before I ever feel satisfied with what I've done, that take energy and time.

Is Margaret willing to do this? Is she willing to give up lunches and dinners out, shopping trips, card parties, movies, the theater, concerts, watching TV, chatting with her husband, playing with her cat, painting her toenails and creaming her face, so she can stay up almost all night, night after night, editing and revising one little short story and get up half-exhausted the next morning to rewrite it again? Then, of course, the writer has to try and sell it. Is Margaret ready for 300 rejection slips before a publisher even shows signs of taking a nibble at her work? It's not easy.

The only advice I ever give writers in the group I mentioned is "Sit down and write! Then when you finish, write it again and again and again and again. Writers Write! If you're not willing to do this, you're not a writer."


June 3, 2003 - 10:50 am
Ginny, You asked if anyone had a friend now that they have had since childhood. My bestfriend Todd and i have been friends since we were seven going into the 1st grade-30 years-People always laugh and ask us why we never got married-we always say it would be like getting married to your sibling. We are totally differnt people-he is very outgoing and i'm shy-but he is always someone i can talk too.


June 3, 2003 - 11:32 am
Foreshadowing: In the early chapters Letty tells the reader that "Margaret directed, I acted, but who wrote the script? " Describing Margaret's influence but asking the question: who bears the responsibility? A provocative question and an important literary thread in the story. What about the husbands of these two women? Margaret's husband is described as patient, kind, caring but very frugal. " never spend more than you have to", recording every expenditure in a ledger. This could be taxing in a relationship on a daily basis. How does Margaret's personality mesh with his? Letty describes her husband as an academic, a theorist, and wonders if he will be happy (chap.6) taking a new job at the art museum. The focus will be to bring art to the public, public relations to court present and future financial donors. The decision to accept the job is based upon the higher salary and perks. The family of 6 members are currently in need of a higher income. However, he will not receive his entire salary for 9 months. " budget approval and taxes". This factor becomes a key element in the story which influences Letty's spending behavior and affects the relationship with Margaret (chap6) Another important literary thread here.

June 3, 2003 - 11:33 am
Welcome, Malryn! We're very glad to see you here, too, thank you for those thoughts on writing, I must admit I thought it looked pretty easy too! I have a feeling a lot of people who don't write think like Margaret, thank you for that contrast.


NOW APPEARING in the heading for only a short time, Choose From Doors # 1-19 (why do I keep thinking of Shrek? hahaha) There are some great thought provokers there, penny for yours?

We (many of us) are struggling with the heading here. CAN YOU SEE Question #2?? Door #2?) If not are you using Netscape by any chance?

Vanessa, I am jealous of your long friendship with Todd!!! Do you all live near each other? That's the trouble with moving around a lot, you do lose childhood friends.

Marilyn Getz of Eddington PA, if you're out there, WRITE!! They say the internet can do anything, I'd sure like to hear from her again not to mention Pat Williams, are you there??

Which Door will you choose? Grab one and let's discuss!!


June 3, 2003 - 11:36 am
Frugal, we were posting together, thank you for those two important threads in the story, I especially like your "responsiblity" question, let's get up a list of threads in the story to watch.

Well done!


June 3, 2003 - 04:29 pm
I think Margaret liked being a teacher. I also think Letty enjoyed motherhood and being a wife. However, by age thirty, I feel that they became afraid that life was passing them by. Both women felt a need to achieve something better than their present positions. While reading about both women, Margaret and Letty, you can feel this rush to move forward, change, take on another character.

I think this feeling to change at age thirty is not odd but normal. By then, we have married and had children, maybe chosen a career. Now there is time to look at alternatives or a different and more exciting way of living our lives. If we continue where we are, there is the fear that we won't make a difference in the world.

As grownups, they were still the same little girls. Each one, in her own way, striving to prove to teacher and parents that they were intelligent and worthy of notice. I don't think their motivations are wrong.

June 3, 2003 - 04:55 pm
Hi Ginny, I'm really enjoying this-Yes we still live in the same town we always have.He moved once for about a year then moved back. It's nice to have a friend that is a guy-you learn so much. I think i remember people more from school-i can remember all of my teachers names and what they looked like- Vanessa

Ella Gibbons
June 3, 2003 - 05:20 pm
Yes, Ginny, childhood confessions, they are so good for the soul! I still remember that one time I cheated so I must confess it to someone and get forgiveness; and perhaps Christina can use it for her next book - hahahaha

At age 30, most of us here were busy raising children, as Letty is, who had time to do anything else?

Possibly, at age 45 or 50, maybe the midlife crisis hit. Thankfully, I'm well past the age of crises, and contented with life.

Christina, we petition you to write a book about seniors next! We'll all love it, read it, learn what crisis is all over again - we may be getting dull here??? Hahahaha

Margaret wanted to learn Latin, petitioned the school to take it elsewhere and talked Letty into going with her. And it turned out Letty learned Latin - "the neatness of translation," the "puzzle of the line," and the "elegance of Tacitus, the slyness of Catullus," - and Margaret dropped out.

Okay, Ginny, are you still sure you are a Margaret? And why did you become a Latin teacher?

Christina Schwarz
June 3, 2003 - 11:03 pm
This is very frustrating--I don't know whether I just accidentally posted the message I was in the midst of writing or if I (horrors!) accidentally deleted it. I fear the latter but will go on, just in case. Please let me know if if you don't see anything about autobiography and "funny" and I'll try to reproduce it another time.

Nope, the baby's crying. I'll start all over tomorrow.

betty gregory
June 4, 2003 - 01:52 am
Christina, you're truly one of us now, as we've all lost long posts....nothing is more frustrating.


Ginny, I think about that all the time....your question about constant comparison to others. There are numerous, wonderful quotes in the book about Margaret's need to be seen a certain way in others' eyes. I was particularly touched with Margaret's shame when her pumpkin looked different than all the others displayed on the wall. Then there is a quote from Marvelle's post....

"She has no idea what to write and doesn't have a passion to write. Her passion is to be seen as having written."

So, being seen as a success is important. That rings a symphony of bells, doesn't it? Every part of our society is steeped in how important success is. No explanation needed. Our education systems, business world, national sports, every facet of life, almost, is about comparison to others and expectations/needs for success.

As you can guess, I'm thinking of the dangers found in such success rankings. Think of our recent concerns about anorexia and bulimia and body image in general for mostly young girls.

What I've been thinking about recently is not about the standard dangers inherent in striving for success, however, but about our need to be known. That human need to be counted as having been here. I'm not certain if the character Margaret in this story is yearning to be known....or if her run-of-the-mill wish for success has triggered my recent, personal mullings about how we need each other to help us know who we are.

I learn about myself by how you respond to me and how you respond changes who I am, gradually, over time. That's easy to think about in young children, but it remains true throughout life. In thinking about comparisons, a problem child in a 2nd grade class is easy enough to identify by comparison to the norm of behavior of the rest of the class. In a healthy way, we learn values and beliefs by a constant interaction with the rest of the world.

At a certain point, who I am to myself should rely less and less on comparisons to others, but on comparisons to an inner voice or belief system. That can be really difficult for me, sometimes.

Who we choose to have around us, I also have been thinking, is another way to support that inner voice. There's an enormous amount of power in choosing who should be tuned out or made irrelevent. No comparisons.


June 4, 2003 - 03:16 am
I didn't like Margaret at first because of the superficial confidence and conceit she projected, bordering on arrogance. Yet, the more I knew her, the more it became plain that her confidence was false and her conceit was not justified...BUT...the arrogance was a very real part of her personality anyway.

She's a flawed human being? Oddly that was when I began to like her. Her flaws made her vulnerable and that same vulnerability made me feel tenderly toward her. I began to root for her out of sympathy for her immaturity.

Margaret DID make a try at giving reality a chance in her life. In college, BEFORE she perfected her protective shell, (in a poignant chapter 7) she made discoveries about her true capabilities that she couldn't endure. Is that when her supreme self-confidence became underlayered with all of that anxiety? Is that when she regressed back into the happy confidence of her childhood and refused to move onward?

The adult Margaret that we meet in the beginning of the book has now protected her conscious mind from the pain and disappointment in herself that evolved during college. Armor clad, she goes forth into the world, but the pain boils beneath the protective mechanisms.

Our grown-up Margaret collides with herself again and again and is made uncomfortable by the experience. Yet her protective shell is now too perfect to allow much self awareness though. At the NY Public Library, chosen for its quiet atmosphere of concentration, she still can't get rolling with her writing...but she's aware of Simon writing industriously, filling page after page with his ballpoint pen. Wouldn't we think that HIS prolific output compared to her own creative difficulties might be enough to make Margaret question her own career as the Great American Novelist?

Margaret dismisses it. She comforts herself that Simon is an ostentatious scribbler! All work and no play makes him a dull guy! She protects her own self image as a writer by silently ridiculing Simon even though he just might be the REAL thing.

At a dinner party with chic New Yorkers, Margaret becomes intensely uncomfortable by the questions Sally Sternforth asks about her writing. Those questions point up some of the fallacies in her own brilliant, creative self image. This time it's harder for Margaret to triumph over reality and emerge with her illusions intact. Malice is her protective mechanism. She can only wish Sally a heartburn and wriggle in misery. Yet this is a determined gal! She hangs on to her illusions through thick and thin.

Margaret knocks me for a loop in her writing class. The arrogant side of her personality assumes she'll be the shining star of the group. After all, she DID get a few usable sentences for her novel out of a whole SUMMER of work. Is that why she, with all of her writing output problems, volunteers to provide twenty pages, NOT YET WRITTEN, for the class to critique?

Oh, oh, OH! How hard it is to set goals appropriate for the person you WISH you were...and have only yourself with which to complete them. My heart goes out to Margaret.

I guess I'm identifying with her because now I'M wriggling with embarrassment for her, and with sympathy also.


Edit: Betty, just saw your post. I'm so impressed by your comments about our inner voice and our ability to choose those who we should allow to impact us.

June 4, 2003 - 04:48 am
Harriet said:

I guess I'm identifying with her because now I'M wriggling with embarrassment for her, and with sympathy also.

Harriet, I think you have just identified my problem with reading this book.... My "reading through my fingers" might have been embarrassment for her... or dread of her failure that I felt/saw coming... What I called foreshadowing included the feelings you described so well.

Mercy, Betty, it's awful early in the morning for me to take in such profound thoughts! So wonderfully expressed! Amen.


June 4, 2003 - 05:13 am
Along with Lou, I am grateful and enlightened by your post, Betty.

First of all, I like Margaret. She is not a person who would purposely hurt anyone. If she does hurt a friend, it is not a premeditated action on her part.

One thing about Margaret is that she is very, very intelligent. Even as a young child, Margaret enjoys learning. Her thoughts about others are very insightful for a child. Margaret makes observations about Letty's family and about Letty.

"Letty was never so driven, which was at least in part the fault of her family. I think her parents must have had big plans for when they named her Letitia, but there was never all that much get-up-and-go in the Larue household...."

I do not remember thinking of my friends as driven or not driven. I knew who was smart and the one who always had an excuse for not doing their homework. I do wonder does Margaret feel that she is driven and intelligent because of the help of her mom and dad.

I think it is good that her dad takes her to the supermarket to establish the color of a pumpkin stem. It proves that the mom and dad are interested in their child's education.

June 4, 2003 - 06:45 am

Christina, so sorry you lost the post, it IS frustrating!! One thing I have found that might help others, too, is that once you start to post a message you can't go back and look at the posts of others to remember who said what, if you leave the window, either by using the back button or the previous button, you're dead. I don't know if that's what happened. I hate we can't see it! Thank you for trying, anyway, we appreciate it! As Betty says we're all in that club, unfortunately!

Golly talk about blown away! Betty what a marvelous post, and reflections on the inner self and need for the approval of others, wonderful. I have been thinking about both Letty and Margaret, and I really don't know any person on earth totally oblivious to the opinions of others, do you? But as you say a process should happen, I loved the way you put that. For some people it doesn't complete. And in order, really, as Harriet pointed out, to deal with it, some people resort to putting down others. And we can see she learned this at Dad's knee:

On the pumpkin incident (page 44)

"Still," he said, turning into our drivway, "we can take comfort in the fact that we know better. We can gleefuly sneer at those mjisguided fools...That's what I recommend. A hearty dose of gleerful sneering. You may begin now."

Gleeful sneering, we know better, those misguided fools.

Do you all think this advice helped Margaret or hurt her??

Vanessa, I am so glad you're enjoying this, as this is your first discussion with us, isn't it? I'm anxious to hear how the discussion seems, and am enjoying your comments, as well. This is great!

Harriet, what a beautiful explanation of Margaret's outer shell of protection, arrogance, and then this: "How hard it is to set goals appropriate for the person you WISH you were...and have only yourself with which to complete them." That is just beautiful!

Lou I agree, both Betty's and Harriet's posts helped me to see the compexities of the character too and I, too, was rooting anxiously, I think that the "exaggeration" that we heard the author say is really to say these qualities are in all of us, they're just more in these characters so we can recognize them. And so far I don't see anybody saying that they don't recognize something here.

Amazing to sit here and talk about "liking" or rooting for a character who seems so real and is yet only somebody's imagination and type print, just wait till we get to the Interview above, I was shattered!

Wonderful point, Hats, on the "driven" thing, and I liked very much your pointing out the fact that Margaret seems very observant for a child; that's an excellent point.

Ella, I think Margaret only took Latin so she could say that she took it at Occidental College and they would be able to converse with each other in a language that no one understood. She found that did not work, (rendered in hilarious examples of what they did learn to say) and so it did not fit her needs. It's just a question of motivation, really. It may be that her entire story is motivation. If she had received what she wanted from the study, she'd have continued, I think. I did. Letty was right, there!

Why do you all think we spend so much time in Margaret's childhood? What's the purpose of that device?

Notice anything different this morning? Read on!!


June 4, 2003 - 06:55 am
This morning I'd like to try something different. IS IT WEDNESDAY already? Week half gone, 19 questions in the heading, 3 items on the back burner, and we have several things we have not yet even touched: for one the examples of the absolutely beautiful writing and one very, or so I thought, startling example of Letty changing shown in her writing on page 104.

We need to look closely at Letty, how she explains herself? How she is different in the various ways she writes?

Many thanks to Marjorie and Jane who helped with the heading, Netscape could not see Question #2 in the black so we've changed it.

Let's try something completely new?? Are you game?? As you know each of our discussions is itself different, depending on who is in the discussion, the discussion itself becomes an act of mini-creation. So let's try this:

1. Will you each look back thru the last 20 or so posts and reread what the others have said and find ONE thing and remark on it TO that person? Just one? One thing that somebody said you'd like to comment on or ask about or add to? In essence, you all become the Discussion Leader for a Day? I'd like to see what happens, will you try?

2. Will you please choose ONE of the questions by number in the heading, just ONE which you would like to address tomorrow and say I choose #17 or whatever, and at 9 pm tonight we'll see which one got the most votes and we'll clear the heading tomorrow and look only at that one?

Let's try these two things and see what happens? It's new, it's different, I'd like to try!

What do you think?


June 4, 2003 - 07:16 am
I did not disagree with Margaret's father about the pumpkin. In my view, the teacher stifled Margaret's imagination. I think the father showed an important lesson. In our society it is better to conform than not to conform. If everyone sees the stem as green, then that is the correct answer. If you do not go along with the crowd, you will be penalized.

This is such a wrong view. I think this is what the father is saying to Margaret. He is saying that no one should be penalized because they have a different opinion. The father says,

"Objective reality counts less than what people say. How do we know what green and brown are anyway? They're just those colors because we, as a society, say so. Your class, as a socity, agrees that stems on pumpkins colored by children should be green." "I don't." "Well, that's a common problem Especially if the society is led by a cliche-dependent despot."

Well, he should never have called Martha's teacher a "despot." That was wrong. Still, I think he is striving to teach his daughter to be an individual. Simply, because she thinks differently from the crowd, builds the city of Ur instead of playing with a doll, does not make her wrong or punishable.

Maybe, it is this individuality that Margaret is straining for during the rest of her life. To be different from the crowd is never wrong. It only becomes wrong when we lose our moral values.

June 4, 2003 - 07:57 am
Hats said:

First of all, I like Margaret. She is not a person who would purposely hurt anyone. If she does hurt a friend, it is not a premeditated action on her part.

Hats, I agree... and I that is the hard part for me... she uses such bad judgement... when she quit her job, announcing to the world she's off to write the GAN I cringed... oh, no!!! you didn't do that to yourself?????? and it just went on from there... I agree, she's not intentionally hurtful...

And Ginny, I know, it is crazy for us to be so caught up in these characters... no, not crazy... I don't know what the word is... but I used to talk about my soap opera characters like they were my family!!! (Thanks goodness I've broken the soap opera habit!) But I do feel passionate about characters in books I read....

You all have been "out doing" yourselves with your insights!


June 4, 2003 - 08:05 am
OK... after much mulling... I think I choose #13... Do we have a right to change our minds until 9PM??? LOL

Love the new look... love the experiment!! Way to go, Ginny... oh, fearless leader of us all!!!


June 4, 2003 - 08:17 am
Ginny you asked me to be more specific in regards to my statement that Margaret was a Fraud!  As much as I love her, she's a fraud who deceives - mostly herself .  Perhaps a better word would be a deceiver, a hoodwinker,even.  She bamboozles her way thru life by flitting from issue to issue.   Isn't that what she's done when she  encourges her husband and her parents to believe she is half way thru the novel, where indeed she had barely completed  the first page? (pg   ""I might be too far into my story by then.  I may not want another narrative intruding."  (I love that line, Christina.)
pg 9- "I'd been careful to turn off my laptop."
pg. 24 "I made a mental note to start with a good breakfast, as well-- maybe sardines and tomatoes.... I love that!
pg. 64 - "therefore, that was where I would begin.  As soon as I found a place to work."
pg. 72-"..I adapted Mrs. Larson's technique to my book... I wrote whatever came into my head about them in 45 minute intervals, punctuated by the bright beeping of my watch alarm"   I love that one, as I've done this myself!
pg. 109-  "we need capers"  and away she goes.
Margaret defeats her own purposes as she moves along.  Can't you feel her flitting and fluttering, skimming thru life without a purpose?  She can not get a grip on who she is or what she wants to do next.  You're right, fraud is a bit harsh,.  I remain with UNFOCUSED however.
It tickles me to follow her thru a day of frustration.  I know what I want -I just don't know how to go about getting there, so I chase my proverbial tail. I understand that.
  The green eyed monster shows its ugly head here. HMMMMM?  I can't find it now but didn't she say something about "I never would have put it on paper had I known?"  Or something like that.  A foreshadowing of trouble to come.

June 4, 2003 - 08:17 am
Harriet, I too felt bad for Margaret at the part-I have been in that situation before-I'm a stay at home mom so when i go to part with my husband the wives of the men he works with always ask me what i do-when i tell them i always get that look-i guess thats why i felt so for her. I would like to dicuss #4.


June 4, 2003 - 08:21 am
Hi Lou,

Betty's post #92 caught my eyes. Betty posts "My first impression of Letty is the polar opposite and is all about her letters. I am crazy about her incredible writing. I love, love those letters!! They are hilarious and wonderful! Now, here's a writer."

Betty, I enjoyed and loved Letty's letters too. I laughed aloud many times. I could feel her love for her children. I think she is truly having fun being a mother. Even her picking a house, buying furniture is just a joy to read about.

I think Letty's letters gave us a lift and a release after reading about Margaret and her inability to write. Reading about Margaret left me with a feeling of heaviness. You can feel her lack of confidence, her lack of identity and of course, her dishonesty. Really, Margaret is very talented. Sadly, she does not know this about herself.

I think someone already posted this. There is the possibility that a little bit of Margaret lives in all of us. I think Joan P called it the "perpetual ten year old."

I also liked Harriet's comment in #105. "Armor clad, she goes forth into the world, but the pain boils beneath the protective mechanisms." Wow! I think this is what we identify with too. I have protective mechanisms. I bet everyone else uses these devices as well.

Ginny, like Lou, I love the heading and your new and creative ideas to move us through this wonderful book.

June 4, 2003 - 08:31 am
Like Vanessa, I would like to discuss question #4.

June 4, 2003 - 11:23 am
Response to post#65 Lou 2 Yes, I agree. This technique by the author really gets the reader's attention from the very early chapters in the book. It motivates the reader to find out what is the danger or problem ahead and how this may influence the outcome. The key statement forshadowing a bad outcome, to me, as the reader, was Letty's voice "Margaret directed-Letty acted-who wrote the script?

Who is responsible for the outcome? Especially, if it turns out badly? The person who influences or the person who acts because of being influenced? Did you get a similar impression? Did this forshadowing technique stimulate your interest and make you ask yourself the question of responsibility in influencing a friend's decisions?

June 4, 2003 - 11:26 am
Vanassa, I was a stay at home mom for almost 20 years... and then went to work. It's amazing but true... the folks who give you "that look"... the one that makes you wish you were somewhere else... the "uh hummmm" that lets you know they aren't listening... it's the same with those folks when you have a job... And then there are the folks that 1) can't imagine being a housewife... if that's what you want to call yourself... that's the term I used back in the dark ages. and then the other group 2) They are trying to be super-person and have a family and career and envy you the time with your family. I have experienced the "looking over my shoulder for someone more interesting" look... And I found I really didn't have much in common with those folks, and was so glad I didn't!!! Hurray for Mom's raising their children and for wives care taking their homes.

I had to laugh at Letty leaving her treats, what did she make?, on the top of the car.... there is a trail of pottery along our road... I'd set the coffee cup on the top of the car loading it.... and they always feel off in the same area... Kids, cats, sacks, etc... so much when the kids are all little... Grandkids are the best!!!


June 4, 2003 - 11:35 am
You know what, Frugal???? I raced through this book... putting it down frequently, because I was about to hypervenalate... I didn't think about responsibility, I just wanted to prevent whatever was about to happen!! Ole' Mother Earth... caretaker of even the characters Christina worked so hard on!! I had to return the book, so I'm trying to go on memory here (what little memory I own!), and at such a disadvantage not being able to look back over it...

Boy, have you asked a million dollar question... who is responsibile? the one who does it? or the one who influenced it? [My lips are sealed. I will not mention the ending of this book, I will not, I will not...LOL] I don't know about legally... morally, when we don't warn a friend when we see them heading for trouble, are we being a true friend? I would hope my friends would warn me... and you would think a life long friend would do that, I mean, they knew each other "warts and all"....

I have a friend that I influenced in her decision making process... it worked out in the end, but as a result of her decision her life was in such a mess for a long time... and I decided right then, I would be much more cautious (how do you spell this word??) in my advice giving. Watching what happens can be very scary....


June 4, 2003 - 11:55 am
Gosh, there are so many of you with thought-provoking ideas in this discussion.

Alf, thanks for your insight about the emails that Letty and Margaret exchange in the book. I agree, that has GOT to foreshadow future problems. Especially if we combine it with the previous scenario of the college application essays (p 52) where it was established that Letty writes easily with a charming style while Margaret often has to struggle to get her ideas onto the page. I feel that Christina Schwarz must surely have put these scenes into her book for a purpose? Thanks so much for bringing it into the forefront, Alf.

"That was my first mistake. If only we'd stuck with the phone and kept Letty's words off the page, I don't believe I'd have done what I did." (p 57)

When Margaret and Letty decide to talk to each other by email instead of using the phone, there are lots of good reasons to justify this change. Less expensive than the phone? It gives Margaret a chance to practice writing her ideas? It deludes Ted into thinking she's getting a lot done on her book?

But what might happen if Letty, with her knack for writing, unguardedly and loyally writes excellent ideas and commentary about Margaret's book? Margaret wants sooo passionately to be acknowledged as a writer, to be SOMEONE. I don't get good vibes about this...

Reading your comment, Alf, made me look at the cover illustration of the book for the first time. A crumpled printed page is impaled, as if on a spindle, by an expensive looking fountain pen. Maybe it's Margaret's new Mont Blanc pen? The illustration has a lot of negative symbolic overtones, doesn't it?

Hi, Vanessa. I think it was Ginny who said that maybe we ALL have some Margaret in us. Particularly me, and particularly at parties. I identified with Margaret also in that party scene, because I don't always have confidence to spare.

You know, I've worked for a lot of years and talked to a lot of co-workers, and if you scratch a women with a job deep enough to find her truth-telling genes, you might find quite a few who would have been glad to trade places with you and stay at home. Maybe the "funny look" was envy! The competitive workplace is not EVERYBODY'S cup of tea.

Perhaps in the end all that matters is each person's relative happiness in their chosen life path and our willingness to be kind to each other.

So glad you're joining us in this discussion, Vanessa.

Betty, you said:

We need each other to help us know who we are. I learn about myself by how you respond to me and how you respond changes who I am, gradually, over time.

Gosh! You do have a gift for saying the most marvelous, thoughtful things. It's wonderful to have you in the discussion. You make me think and there's hardly a situation, literary or personal where that comment wouldn't be valuable to consider.

In this book Letty and Margaret interrelate and "help each other know who they are." I wonder if they'll help each positively or negatively?

I'm running on too much. Ginny, I'll vote for question #4.


June 4, 2003 - 12:39 pm
Harriet, your post #100:

I felt exactly the same way about Margaret at first, with the arrogance and the conceit. But like you, when I saw that underneath all that supreme self-confidence there lay insecurities and vulnerability. I began to root for her out of sympathy for her immaturity. Yes!

I would like looking into question #4.


June 4, 2003 - 01:47 pm
Harriet, you hit the nail on the head when you commented on  Betty's post with this  response:   You make me think and there's hardly a situation, literary or personal where that comment wouldn't be valuable to consider.
That's what we do here at SeniorNet/books - we learn about one another and we respond in kind.

thanks aslo for your comment on the book cover.  I removed the white paper that our library wraps the cover in for interlibrary loan.  You have a good eye.

June 4, 2003 - 01:59 pm
Hello. May a "newbie" jump in at this point? I have read the entire book and have spent all afternoon carefully re-reading Chapters 1-7 while consulting a print-out of the topics for consideration. I love this book!
I live in a community of Letties, most of whom are about the same age as the book Letty- and have somewhat of a Margaret/Letty relationship with a friend I've known since we were three months old. The younger Letties I know are all extremely Nice and extremely Earnest About Life. My friend will remain my friend forever. However, the words that come to mind as I observe all of them are usually: "Presumptuous", "Arrogant" and "Falsely Humble". A Young Letty once chirped to me, "Better Nouveau Riche than no riche at all!" Hmmm!

Oh, how I relate to Margaret's comment on page 111 when she says, " life chipped away at my sense of myself..."
At class reunions in my small rural hometown, I still hear "You always were so smart". However, I met my match, academically and socially, in college and did not distinguish myself in either way. Nor did I attract an Up and Coming Young Businessman or Academic. Since then, every attempt to use some of the talents I might have developed has been squelched by the choices I made regarding marriage and career (or lack thereof).
Following Ginny's excellent suggestions today, I will respond to Betty's post commenting on who we choose to have around us.
Betty, I think we also react to those around us, chosen or not - and we can't always control those choices without creating problems in personal relationships.

and I choose #4 for more discussion. _________________________________________________________________

Question for Christina: Do you do background sketches for the characters in your books? I'm curious about Ted and Michael and why they were attracted to Margaret and Letty? Too many threads to put in this story, of course, but....maybe a prequel????


June 4, 2003 - 02:23 pm
I don't have the book yet; it's being sent over from one library branch to the one I go to.

But PenLady will tell you that the pen on the cover is for sure a MontBlanc. I don't know who chose the pen or if that person knew anything about fountain pens, but in the fountain pen community, the MontBlanc is often looked down upon as a mere status symbol. They have wonderful advertising and somehow have convinced the Upwardly Mobile and Earnest that this is the pen to have to sign correspondence and whatever else needs to be signed.

I am a fountain pen accumulator, and can testify to the presence of many pens that write better, last longer, and in all ways are preferable to the modern Mont Blanc.

The vintage MontBlanc, on the other hand, say before 1960, is a camel of another color. These can be wonderful pens. Excellent even.

You now know more than you ever wanted to about MontBlancs.

June 4, 2003 - 02:25 pm
Welcome, Callie!

I think people are invited to join a discussion whenever they want.

June 4, 2003 - 03:20 pm
Thank you for the welcome, Maryal.

I have spent some more time examining Margaret's relationship with her husband and am seeing another thread in the story....which may or may not be relevant, but it's interesting to me.

June 4, 2003 - 03:46 pm
WELCOME, Callie !!

I hope you'll decide to share what you noticed about Margaret and her husband, Callie.

Andy, thanks for YOUR post.


June 4, 2003 - 04:06 pm
Well I can't STAND it I have to post yet again ....I hate to interrupt this wonderful magic flow of the conversation here, but I do have to say Welcome Callie!! and Welcome, Maryal!!

What a thrill to look in here and see such great conversations, AND two new Readers!! I just love it!!

Callie I have put your questions for Christina in the Our Questions for Christina page above and we would love to hear the thread you have found in the relationship between Ted and Margaret, we'll add it to our growing list of themes in the heading. I was quite struck by the parallels you cite in your own life, welcome!!

Maryal That was fascinating on the Mont Blanc! Thank you for that! You'll love that part in the book, I thought of you when I read it, you'll love those sections. And I wonder now, too, when we finish the book if we will see some symbolism in that cover??!!??

What intriguing things you've all found to comment on, I MUST make this printer work! I think this IS the way to go, don't you? I love it.

Well!! An hour and a half to go, wonderful dialogues here, what a joy to see and still time to vote on which question you'd like to address tomorrow, I like this!!


June 4, 2003 - 06:08 pm
Talk about vexation of spirit, there's nothing more frustrating than this modern wonder, the computer, when you mess up, is there? We'll end up living the book if we don't watch out! hahahaha

OK the witching hour has come and it looks like you want to look more closely at #4 tomoorrow. When you come in you'll find #4 has pride of place in the heading and the other 18 questions are only a click away.This means we're going to Focus ahahhah on #4 but you can also add any point you like in addition and ask your own questions as well and bring up new things. We want your opinions on ALL the questions and I love what you're doing here!!

Question #4 has to do with honesty, how about let's include Letty and Ted and Michael in this one?

Betty asked in her first post what Vanity WAS? Maybe that might fit in our discussion of honesty, too. I sure know what vexation is hahaahha.

Looking forward to what you all come up with, I just love this new way of doing things and I recommend we keep it!!

In Edit: I just reread all your new posts today... I do hate to gush, but by gum, that's about as fine as they come. Well done!


betty gregory
June 4, 2003 - 06:11 pm
Harriet, you asked, "She's a flawed human being?"

I think Margaret's beliefs are flawed. I haven't read much past the first week's 115 pages, but I think it's pretty safe to say that, among other things, her goal is flawed. EVEN if she were to write a fantastic first novel on her own, using her own ideas (not the ones talked about in the book reviews that we all know are coming), she would find out soon enough that the equation for deep happiness isn't quite as simple as she thought.

This is reminding me of all those "then I'll be happy" things we all tell ourselves. I've got a whole list of them myself right now....those things I think will make me so happy, if I'd just get busy and do them. Even though I know better. Being happy only happens today, the only day available. And it's the journey, not the destination that has all those "todays." I'm better at remembering that.

Question 10 looks interesting.


June 4, 2003 - 06:57 pm
These observations are in reponse to those suggesting I post my impression of Ted. I'm not the best interpreter of stories, but here goes.....

Methodical, practical, organized Ted marries Margaret, a drifter and a dreamer who needs nothing more material than household items scrounged from the street and a twenty dollar dinner with cheap wine. She earns her keep and is always there when he needs a break from his methodical, practical,organized career.

Now she not only talks about her dreams, she actually has a plan - which will considerably disrupt Ted's comfortable, somewhat lackadaisical home life. Although he seems supportive (the gift of the pen, telling her she is a good writer, saying he's sure she can get in the class), it seems to me that he is trying to sabotage her efforts by questioning her motives (are you sure you want to write? why don't you try poetry?) and thwarting everything she wants to do (why don't you write part-time...and keep your job? why can't you ask Simon to read your work without taking the class? and, of course, the old "when are you coming to bed?" ploy!). Although this can be seen as understanding she never finishes what she starts, I wonder if he is actually trying to manipulate her into remaining the "perpetual ten-year-old" he married?

Yes, his opinion matters to Margaret and, yes, she loves him and wants to be a good wife to him - but how much does she use his doubting comments as an excuse not to buckle down to the work she must do in order to write even a small piece which would probably be published - much as she used Letty's classroom successes as an excuse for skittering off in another direction when she was not the Best of the Best?

As I said in an earlier post, I'm not sure this particular "Ted Thread" <smile> is pertinent to this discussion, but it interested me....because of a personal "Margaret" experience. I haven't taken this kind of notes and tried to organize them into something resembling intelligent comments in a very long time. My brain is weary! Good night.

Joan Pearson
June 4, 2003 - 06:59 pm
Callie, you did a great job with your portrayal of practical Ted's frustration with his wanna-be-author of a wife! With an interesting twist! I seem to remember his asking her at one point...wouldn't she know by now if she had what it took to be a writer? I'm not so sure I see him as manipulative - he has given her the year she tells him she needs. But you make a point...he gives her the pen to write the book he doesn't believe she can write...

Betty, Margaret just wants that finished copy in her hand...she sees the finished product in her mind. She is willing to put in the time and energy. If she can accomplish the publication of her own book, she will prove that she is the creative person she grew up believing she is. If she can write the book, she will make a name for herself and will not have to prove herself to others. If she fails?

Margaret seems to frustrate you, because you think she should know better about the process, about whether or not she can write. The point is...she really doesn't know what you think she should know. She thinks she can imitate the process...with the index cards, colored pencils, baby name book, carrel in the library...voilà, the book will just flow forth!

She frustrates you, but Letty doesn't. That's interesting. Letty, who wants nothing but a better house, a better car, better schools, better school snacks...for the kids - or to impress others? Alright, Margaret is flawed, but so is Letty. (aren't we all?) I believe we have an interesting turn of events in store. In the very beginning, Letty asks, "Why did I listen to her."...Margaret had described her with one word in the sixth grade - integrity. Ït seems she was wrong," says Letty.

Oh, I know what you were really prefer Letty's written expression over Margaret's. I agree - our author is presenting each girl with a different voice - I think we are going to have to look beyond Letty's facility with words and Margaret's inability to get in touch with reality before we understand the dynamic between the two.

As Margaret had promised when she persuaded Letty to take Latin, they would have a secret language in which to communicate with one another...I get the feeling they are communicating now. We just haven't learned the code yet.

Christina Schwarz
June 4, 2003 - 07:19 pm
OK--I'm going to try to reproduce the message I lost, although of course you may all assume that the one we'll never see is much, much the better. First, I know I said something about how impressed I am with your comments, and also apologized for not being able to respond as personally as I'd like, because I don't have a printer, so I have to try (and will probably fail) to remember what specific people have said.

I'm asked often how autobiographical this novel is. (One woman even asked me "if I was still friends with that girl." The answer is not very, certainly not in any important way. However, some superficial bits--large and small--are true. I've lived in both LA and NY. I have, I admit, been an English teacher at a fancy private school. And I've painted more than one apartment when I should have been writing. Also, my husband and I picked up a lot of our furniture off the sidewalks in New York. Oh, yes, and the fourth grade classroom and teacher are also true to life--I've been waiting for years to write about that teacher with the timer and the spindle. Margaret and Letty are very much their own people--not me--and, of course, the plot (which I won't reveal!) is entirely fictional.

I did want to throw one comment into your discussion of how the book is funny: When I submitted the manuscript to my editor, she called to say how funny it was. "Thank you," I said. "I didn't intend it to be humorous at first, but I think Margaret turned to be really funny." "Margaret?" she said. "Margaret isn't funny. Letty's funny." So there you go.

About a third of the way into the book, I knew the ending wasn't going to be pretty, and though I had written some of the Letty bits, I hadn't yet figured out how to introduce them into the novel. Every time I tried to have her speak, she seemed to want to begin her story with something about how things had turned out. I agonized over whether to let her do that--it seemed to be cheating, sort of a gimmick, in a way--but then I decided to give it a try. The foreshadowing in other places came out of that. I felt like I needed to give that dimension to the book throughout--to give you the sense that the character's were looking back at this experience. I think I slipped most of the instances in as I went along and maybe added a couple others after I'd finished--it's surprisingly hard to remember now, and I did a lot of that just by "feel."

Speaking of "feel"--thank you, Marvelle, for pointing out that the hair thingies fit with Letty's interest in material goods and their meaning--the right things and the wrong things. I didn't even think of that! (Can you believe it?! this is partly what I mean when I say intention isn't everything--I think a writer's subconscious and the reader's do a lot of the work). Anyway, I was just trying to pin down Letty and Margaret's relationship with that scene, so I'm very happy for the bonus depth.

The hours I write vary hugely--very few now that I have this nineteen-month-old, I'm afraid. I should, for instance, be writing now. (By the way, I'm in central time at the moment and my computer is set for eastern time, so yesterday's post wasn't quite as late as you think it was.) The second book did go much faster than the first, in part because it's a simpler book in many ways, in part because I'm scared of authority and I had a deadline from my publisher, and in part because I wasted less time wallowing in doubts, feeling like I'd never be able to write a book, who was I kidding, etc. (my personality is quite different from Margaret's). Also, I feel like I taught myself how to write with the first book, so that took a substantial amount of time. Where I write varies, too. I use a laptop and a notebook mostly because I hate being chained to one table.

I'm going to save the other questions for next time--I don't want this to get too long and lose it again. Thank you, Ginny, for recognizing that Letty has several voices.

Aside to Lorrie--I grew up in Pewaukee and Hartland, WI. You might be interested to learn that the book I'm working on now is set in Madison and we're spending the summer there so I can get that sense of place I seem to need.

Thanks again for all your great reading.

Malryn (Mal)
June 4, 2003 - 07:57 pm

The book reached my hands early this evening, and I've just finished reading 115 pages. The first thing I have to say is that Christina Schwarz is a writer, and I don't say that about just any writer who comes along. People in WREX will tell you that. Christina, I envy the fact that Bernard Schwarz is in your life to make suggestions and keep you on the straight and narrow when it comes to phrases, words, polishing, rhythm and whatever else he does.

I don't identify with either of these women, but I have known them. Margaret made me laugh out loud with her grandiose, unrealistic goals and procrastination ploys. Paint the walls of her apartment so she could write? Come on.

Not that I haven't heard similar excuses before, and not that I ever use them. When there's a job to be done I do it, and people like Margaret exasperate me a little. She's going to write twenty pages in four days for her class when all she's accomplished on her book all summer is a few pages of random notes and a schedule? That's like Letty's volunteering to make petit fours she'd never made before, which actually turned out okay if she'd only remembered to put them in the car.

Letty's a harried housewife and mother. The only thing I have in common with her is that I drove by two houses on a residential street one time with my pocketbook on the roof of my car before someone stopped me and told me. Letty's new washer and dryer and the Saab convertible will make her happy? I doubt it.

There were times reading these chapters when I thought Margaret qualifies as a first class snob without any reason for being that way. I also thought early on that she was competing with Letty. Margaret says Letty is inferior to her but doesn't believe it. Margaret needs Letty; she needs her feedback. Letty always says the right thing. That says something to me.

Margaret's realist husband, Ted, doesn't. I'll politely disagree with Callie and say I truly think Ted has Margaret's best interests at heart. He wants her to quit fooling around and work, now that she's made that decision. I have reasons for saying what I do about Ted, but I really don't want to go into how I was stifled creatively during my marriage.

About Betty's post I'll say that I've often thought most of us need recognition of some kind or other. There were 6,340,733,724 people on this earth when I accessed that figure, and it goes up every second. I am only one of that number, one infinitesimal speck on this earth, and it would be nice if someone remembered I had been around after I die.


June 5, 2003 - 12:40 am
Christina, you made me laugh! First, thanks for your generous acceptance of my interpretation of the hair thingies even though it hadn't been your intention to relate to Letty's materialism. As I was reading your post I wondered if you were more like Letty? Especially after you commented that you finished this book in shorter time than the first

"in part because I'm afraid of authority, and I had a deadline from my publisher"

LOL! I laughed in recognition of myself, as mostly a Letty with some bits of Margaret thrown into the mix! And I rarely laugh that hard at Letty; I get uncomfortable with it being too close to home. Are you more like Letty too? (On second thought, this may be too personal a question.) You thought Margaret was funny from the get-go, but didn't think that of Letty. I think we generally find to be funny that person we least resemble. Because we wince at the idiosyncracies of our dopplegangers?

CallieK, did Margaret really have a plan or was it a dream? She didn't have any idea what she was going to write; she just envisioned having written which to me is a dream and not a plan or process of writing. I was intrigued by your mention of Ted's not supporting, perhaps sabotaging, Margaret's writing which may be what Letty does in critiquing the 'doctor exam' idea. It brings up some questions to mind for which I have no answers:

What is the difference between advice and subversion? What is the duty of friend/family towards a person's dream? How should one support another? Should they support unquestioning or should they comment on deterrents to the dream so that these hazards can be considered and overcome?

Betty, love the list of "then I'll be happy things." I have such a list even though I know I ought be happy in the here and now. I do feel the need to have goals (ever-changing though they are) as well as steps to reach those goals. Mal, I'm glad you have the book now. Christina does write beautifully. I laughed hardest at Margaret's writing philosophy and as I read I kept a list of her bon mots.


betty gregory
June 5, 2003 - 02:57 am
Oh, my goodness, how interesting. I'm completely thrown, Christina, by the revelation that you didn't intend the book/characters to be funny. But I'm fascinated/tickled that you eventually saw Margaret as funny...and isn't THIS funny....that your editor thought LETTY was funny!!! That's very close to the exchange between Ginny and me....I thought Letty was hilarious and she wrote something like, "You did??," because it was Margaret that made her laugh.

Maybe I'm in trouble here (thrown) because without the obvious (so I assumed) winking to the side by the author every time there is something so completely ridiculous/childish/shallow coming out of these two female characters.....without that, I'm left feeling offended that women are written this way.

What I've been doing is holding my breath, sort of, waiting to learn more about the affect of humor on writing (and, therefore, on readers and interpretations). In other words, what is there to forgive in these characters/characterizations because of a different style of writing, is what I've been waiting to understand.

See, I don't identify with either of the female characters and none of the hundreds of women I've known have been this clueless, can I say this stupid? (Oh, of course, bits and pieces here and there that are universal human frailties, but not the over-the-top totals.) I've thought Letty's story-telling so delightful and her incredible letter-writing facility so funny, funny because I've heard her as making fun of herself. WITH AWARENESS. Meant to be funny, meant to charm!! Was I wrong?

I've heard Letty as AWARE of how inept and human and ridiculous are her attempts to keep readjusting to the upwardly mobile social climate she's been forced to contend with, as her husband's job changed.

Am I explaining this well enough? There are people we all know who are so much fun to listen to, because they are telling us something with the sparkle in their eyes as well as with their words as they relate a catastrophe.....we get it that it was not a real catastrophe and we admire the ability to make fun of oneself. Is this Letty's voice (I thought it was), or, how do I ask this, is this Christina's natural voice that she is finding out from her editor (and us) that is instantly, naturally funny?


June 5, 2003 - 04:43 am
I felt that Ted's ideas about writing were based on reality. I did not feel that he in any way meant to hurt Margaret. I think he wanted her to reach her goal, but he could see the correct way in which to get there. I think Ted was very tactful.

betty gregory
June 5, 2003 - 05:39 am
I think Ted meant to be helpful, too, but one thing he did that struck me as thoughtless was his repeated mention of the writer Sally Sternforth as a model for Margaret. Pg. 48. Ted says, "Sally Sternforth wouldn't even do the dishes when she was working on her book. She didn't want any task other than writing to satisfy her drive to be productive." Then, the readers get to meet Sally at a gathering attended by Margaret and Ted. We find that she is pretty full of herself and, in fact, is not someone Margaret likes. So, it makes me wonder about Ted continuing to use her as an example for Margaret.


June 5, 2003 - 05:57 am
Hi, I feel that Margarets self -worth is very fragile and is based totally on what others think of her. After she had spent all that time on the story about the women who was going to help her husband cheat to become a doctor she threw it out after Letty made one comment about it. I also agree with Joan and Callie about Ted. He seems to support her by giving her the nice pen and encouring her but then at every turn he makes comments like-her use of time. Don't get me wrong i do agree with him-they seem to be on a tight budget even though Margaret doesn't want to believe it so he wants her to spend her time and there money wisely. I guess i kinda feel for him.


June 5, 2003 - 06:01 am
OK!! We have up our Question Number 4, just as you asked, and we've extended it to Letty, I love all your comments and am on FIRE to address them, on FIRE!!

First thank you, Christina, for answering some of our questions on our Questions for the Author page, I am relieved to learn you are not up at 2 am, (it's just 1 am then? hahaha) We do appreciate this!

I loved our experience yesterday and love the result, could you continue forever? I like this way of doing it the best, it's much richer.

Let's look at the marriage tomorrow or if you like in connection with the "honesty" issue, let's look at it today.

Tomorrow can you recall one line or instance in the book that made you laugh? If you'll relate it here, I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud in many places.

Pearson, I love this: "As Margaret had promised when she persuaded Letty to take Latin, they would have a secret language in which to communicate with one another...I get the feeling they are communicating now. We just haven't learned the code yet."

I love that. This whole book is written in a secret code, I think, the secret code of the soul talking (Margaret) but not to another one, not to another soul, do you think? I'm seeing something in Letty I didn't and I don't think....I don't find Letty funny? In fact I don't find...well, let's go forward and see.

Now Callie asked a very fine question and as soon as I can I'll get it up, any time you have a question please ask it, I like Frugal's answering #12 yesterday because it just adds to the richness of the entire conversation. Frugal has asked a super question, too,
"Who is responsible for the outcome? Especially, if it turns out badly? The person who influences or the person who acts because of being influenced? Did you get a similar impression? Did this foreshadowing technique stimulate your interest and make you ask yourself the question of responsibility in influencing a friend's decisions?"
and I want to get that in the heading also, I think the questions in the heading MAY contain the key to the secret code Pearson talked about! But that's just MY opinion, let's hear yours!!

Honesty is the question of the day, personal honesty, honesty in relationships, thank you Andrea for those examples of where you think Margaret is not telling the truth. I'll just take one, this one, "Isn't that what she's done when she encourages her husband and her parents to believe she is half way thru the novel, where indeed she had barely completed the first page?" and say that no she's not intending to deceive, her motivation is to get her thru it.

I do the same thing, I call it hopefulness or optimism not deception. When I entered graduate school, I began to fear I could not finish, I taught all day , and picked up my little boys at school and went to school at night, an hour and a half drive round trip. After the second course, to encourage myself I'd tell people I was half way thru. REALLY? They said. For some reason that kept me going, I FELT half way thru. Then after 5 courses I breezily said I was 3/4 of the way thru and finally, the last longgg period hahaahha I was "right at the end." It was just a mental boost, when people would ask, that's what I would say. Otherwise you're kinda stuck, like being 9 months pregnant and having some person say, you STILL have not had that baby? er...yes I had the baby and look like this because I am expecting an elephant? really.

It's not....I'm glad you brought this up, we're talking Point of View here Margaret the only one doing it? That's the $10,000 question!

Vanessa and Lou, wonderful discussion of the stay at home mom!

Hats, I had missed that statement of Margaret's father, but I agree the teacher could have said what Margaret's mother did, that the pumpkin stem is actually two colors as it progresses and the children would have learned something.

What an interesting quote you gave about Margaret's father and Objective Reality, I think it's fine to think you're the only one with objective reality but it's not fine to say if others don't get it, they're misguided fools and they should be sneered at gleefully.

To teach the child he's intelligent is fine, for him to think others are inferior and he should sneer if they don't agree is definitely not. Poor Margaret, she knows she's different and the only way she can deal with it, thanks to Dad, where she learned it at his knee, is to sneer.,

We'd be in a fine place here in our book discussions if we had a bunch of DADS. In the first place, in literary criticism, (I want to be clear on this part I fear I was not) YOUR own opinion is what counts AS LONG AS YOU CAN BACK IT UP with facts from the book? So that means that there's no right or wrong. (Maryal will kill me here but I mean it. If you can back it up, if the words support your theory, then you're entitled to it). \ We are incredibly lucky to have the chance to talk TO the author and find out what she was thinking, and that makes the entire experience one of a kind! Electric!

However if you don't see Margaret the way I do, you can be sure I won't be sneering gleefully at your misguided foolishness. Good thing Dad is not a member here, he'd have his ears pinned back!

June 5, 2003 - 06:03 am

Harriet, always on the beam, you said, "When Margaret and Letty decide to talk to each other by email ..."

Do you see any difference in Letty by phone and Letty by email? Do Letty's email letters change? Letty's Letters. We need to watch Letty.

You can't run on too much, Harriet, I revel in every word you and the others write, you can only write more, it's all super!

Lorrie, how do you feel about Letty? Do you want to root for her, too? If not, why not??

Callie, so glad to see you, "better nouveau riche than no riche at all" hahaha HAHAHAHAAH, love that, we'll see what it does to Letty here before long. Loved your post!

Many thanks to Jane for helping with the HTML page of the 21+ (soon to be) questions in the heading!!

I'm still pondering Christina's thoughts from earlier on setting the book in LA and NYC, have thought about that all day, it's true we tend to stereotype certain cities and areas of the country, and we all do it, I have only been to LA once but I'd say that was the perfect place for Letty to go wild with the accoutrements of success. Trying to picture her in the Midwest.

And wow, isn't it interesting to know that Christina and her husband are spending time in the midwest so she can get the setting right for her next book! Love that kind of thing.

"OK--I'm going to try to reproduce the message I lost, although of course you may all assume that the one we'll never see is much, much the better." hahahaa, love it, the one we see is good enough for me!!

Miss Callie!! I was coming in here to say I loved TEd and they had a wonderful marriage, when your post made me think again. And I recall a sermon I once heard on the subject of money. The gist was that whoever in the family handled the money and how they handled it showed where the power base in the marriage was? And we know who handles it in Ted and Margaret's marriage! Is that just since she quit teaching? I do see her surprised, I LOVED the sequence where she says oho now it's YOUR money? But this thought of yours, "I wonder if he is actually trying to manipulate her into remaining the "perpetual ten-year-old" he married?" I wonder if the money thing conferring the power in the marriage supports your theory?

Loved this, " haven't taken this kind of notes and tried to organize them into something resembling intelligent comments in a very long time. My brain is weary!"

LOVED that, Callie. Use it or lose it! hahaha We're very glad you're with us and that you find it worthy of thought!

And Joan P, now that Maryal has explained what the Mont Blanc pen stands for, does that make a difference, how did you see that pen? I had thought they had a marvelous marriage, loved the dynamics and that scene where they are walking was pure magic and wonderful writing.

LOVED this "I think we are going to have to look beyond Letty's facility with words and Margaret's inability to get in touch with reality before we understand the dynamic between the two.'

Love it!

hahaha Christina, "I've been waiting for years to write about that teacher with the timer and the spindle." ahhahah, hopefully she's gone and won't sue! hahahaah Wonder if she would recognize herself, did you do pumpkins, too? My pumpkins did not suit, I remember that. Neither did my potholders.

I can't believe your editor thought Letty was funny, but some of us do, too. Let's look tomorrow at what we found funny here and see who it's coming from!

LOVED this, we need to plaster it all over the Books:

intention isn't everything--I think a writer's subconscious and the reader's do a lot of the work

Uh oh, WE'VE become the "painting," Christina is supposed to be working on another book!!! Thank you for taking your time, Christina you don't know how much we appreciate it!

Malryn, so glad you got the book! You mention her husband, have you read any of his articles in The Atlantic Monthy? He's the Literary Editor there and they are incredible, there was one on "midlist" books that was just out of this world, he's on another higher plane, like the old hymns used to sing of, a higher plane than I have found (at least he's one a higher one than I am) in my opinion, actually, they're quite a team.

If you read her interview, a lot of her writing is her, the interview is funny, she's funny, the way she writes is just...what would you call it, liquid, I laughed out loud at Margaret, too. Good point!! on the parallels between Margaret and writing and Letty and the petit fours. I blame Martha Stewart for a lot of that kind of stuff.

You're a writer, you're the best person to address the TONE issue, what would you say is the tone of the piece so far, if you'd like to say?

Marvelle, a wonderful question for our Questions:

"What is the difference between advice and subversion? What is the duty of friend/family towards a person's dream? How should one support another? Should they support unquestioning or should they comment on deterrents to the dream so that these hazards can be considered and overcome?"

Margaret asks that too, I think friends should support friends, that's what they're for, you can get enough criticism from the world: regardless of the stupidity of the project unless it hurts the friend? Then a good friend/partner would speak up. Why should a friend limit your horizons??

Betty, what a provocative question. I know you are a great advocate of women, so let me play Devil's Advocate and say to your "without that, I'm left feeling offended that women are written this way>" Why would you be offended that women are characterized in this way? Do you deny that such women exist, in fact that most of us see "Margaret" in ourselves? That we and they are real? And it does happen? Does every book about a "woman" need to be one in which the woman is Carry Nation or Joan of Arc in compensation?

Is it possible that thru a book such as this that a person who is like Margaret might finally learn why and actually find some release?

"In other words, what is there to forgive in these characters/characterizations because of a different style of writing, is what I've been waiting to understand." I don't understand that question but I like it and will put it up too. Why are we worrying about forgiving a character, they haven't offended us, have they? When I read this book I felt more forgiving of everybody on earth and as I said earlier, I find my friends who read it are much more...careful of little things.

Now this one, "sparkle in their eyes as well as with their words as they relate a catastrophe.....we get it that it was not a real catastrophe "

but isn't that........that's a good question. There are levels of catastrophe. Driving off with your petit fours on the hood is a lot lighter than some of the burdens some of the people in this group bear, why NOT laugh it off? Why not make it an amusing story if it IS your life and that's all you have to relate? OR IS IT??!!?? ? One of the reasons I was so thrown by the interview above is that I saw Letty as real? Because the woman who does drive around in an un air conditioned pick up truck in July with a many days old chicken carcass in her car in a a tizzy over where to dispose of the body KNOWS strange minor crazy catastrophes and when you look back on it, you KNOW it's funny, otherwise....hmmm...otherwise.....If you're going to relate what happened and ....I mean, if that's YOUR life, then...OR is Letty herself...GOOD POINT!! hahahaah

Hats, I like your take on Ted, let's all see today how we see him: support or not? Fascinating points here today, wonderful, let's look hard at Letty, let's talk about honesty in all of the characters, Letty, Margaret, Michael and TED!!

Let's go for it!! Nothing better than to stretch our minds as Callie says over a good book with intelligent readers (AND unheard of, the author, too).

"Oh that a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?"-- ...Robert Browning...


June 5, 2003 - 09:03 am
When we think of honesty (free from fraud)… and vanity (devoid of worth)… Are we addressing Worth? Value? Somehow, realizing there is more than one”A” to be earned, more than one “wonderful house” , more than one “novel” to be written can free you to just be yourself. Each marriage can be valued though it’s much different from all others. If I see I have a problem does the fact that your problem is a worse one mean mine is not a problem? Are honesty and vanity relative? Or absolute?

Is Margaret’s real problem that she has “tunnel vision”??? Everything revolves around her??? Can we think about Margaret being honest without including self-centeredness? And if that is the same thing as selfishness? And I’ve just talked myself around to Ginny’s point, if Margaret has such tunnel vision that she only sees anything as it relates to her, then from her point of view, isn’t she being honest, as she sees whatever?????

Letty is caught up… I visited the LA area for several years…(My sister lived there…) It is an amazing place… I bought things there that seemed so necessary, brought them home and said, WHAT was I thinking??? I paid triple for things I found here… but surely they are different, more exclusive, How could they be the same… I paid so much more for them.??? We drove hours to restaurants, to shop… here it’s too much trouble to drive around the block! But I also found an area in the city near here that has exactly that LA atmosphere.


Malryn (Mal)
June 5, 2003 - 09:11 am

From what Margaret says about herself, it appears she had a tendency not to finish what she started. A lot of her dreams were way out of sight and the realm of possibility, it seems to me.

On Page 110 she says,"I planned during the course of my career ( at the university ) to explain the extinction of the Neanderthals, as well as trace the influence of the ancient Assyrians on the Archaic Greeks." ( !! )

On Page 29 she says, "In the end, I'd applied for the teaching job because it was the only one I could think of that sounded challenging but did not involve the aforementioned tedious and humiliating apprenticeship -- private schools did not even require an education degree -- which I quite reasonably could not resign myself to until I'd decided on my true career."

Ted knew about Margaret's high-flown dreams, and he also knew she didn't want to go up the first step to the second one, on and on, until she reached a goal; she wanted to start at the top, and she didn't know what she wanted to do when she grew up.

He says on Page 54 when Margaret's procrastinating by painting walls, "Listen, it was your plan. I liked the plan. I agreed to the plan. Now you have to do the plan! Not whatever you want."

He also says at some point I can't find that Margaret must sit and think in order to write this book, and "you know you don't like to do that."

Ted knows Margaret very well, and he knows without some prodding she'll never do what she says she wants to do. Perhaps he mentioned how Sally Sternforth wrote her book because Sternforth was the only living writer he knew and was his only standard of comparison?

I think he was trying to keep Margaret on track, not criticizing her. I also can see every reason in the world why he didn't want her to do their finance job. I don't think his doing it indicates any kind of hold he wants to keep on her.

New York and LA stereotypes: Margaret feels as if she has to keep up with all the intellectuals in New York.

Like, man, what intellectuals? I've never lived in the city. ( That's what it's called: "The City". ) But I lived in a NYC suburb in the 70's and went there often. One of my sons owned an apartment on W 57th later, and I went there, too. What I saw were a bunch of hard-working stiffs who got up in the morning and rushed off to work, came home late, threw together some food when they got home, watched a little TV and went to bed, only to get up the next morning and do the same thing over again.

It costs big money to live in New York. Of course, you pick up magazines people throw out and discarded furniture. After all, there has to be some way to save enough to go out to dinner and the theater once in a while, doesn't there?

LA is just as expensive and worse when it comes to status and status symbols, but not all of LA is swimming pool territory and Beverly Hills. Remember Watts?

Honesty. I think it's extremely difficult for people to be honest with themselves, and the fact is that if they can't, they can't be honest in their relationships with other people.

How can a person be honest with himself or herself if he or she doesn't know what other people think of him or her? Listening to what someone says honestly about you can be extremely painful, so we don't listen, and most of the time people are not honest when they tell us what they think we are, anyway.

This reminds me of a time when I complained about a major decision adults made when I was a child. I complained about this to one of my sisters once. She said, "Mal, they did the best they could." What I'll say about Margaret and Letty is: As far as honesty is concerned is that they're doing the best they can with what they have.


June 5, 2003 - 09:44 am
Mal says:

How can a person be honest with himself or herself if he or she doesn't know what other people think of him or her? Listening to what someone says honestly about you can be extremely painful, so we don't listen, and most of the time people are not honest when they tell us what they think we are, anyway.

I can agree, Mal, that listening to other folks' opinions can potentially help us clarify things, but I don't agree that to be honest with yourself you have to know what other folks think about you. In fact, I wonder if knowing about what others think of you clouds your honesty???? at least to yourself????


June 5, 2003 - 09:50 am
GINNY asked what were the line(s) that made us laugh out loud. This book's hilarity, partly in answer to Betty's wondering at the humor, comes from our being deeply involved in the earnest, seriousness of our lives and how, to get by, we have to learn to laugh at ourselves. It's a healthy escape valve, I believe, to be serious and to laugh at our seriousness.

As a writer, I find writer Margaret hilarious. Writers are creative and assume the Id when actually writing freely. A writer's critical editor (CE), the Superego, comes in later to clean up the sentences, place a metaphor or allusion, fine tune the plot and characters, revise, revise, revise -- making order out of the Id's playtime. Margaret hasn't found that balance in dancing between Writer and Editor. And she's so innocent of how to write; and she procrastinates as most writers do for at least a short period before taking the plunge into a work.

Some of my fav Margaret lines I love as a writer, rather then judging as a CE (CEs are notoriously humorless):

"That I had not submitted for publication a single line since ... I was twelve only meant that I had reservoirs of untapped talent." (4)

"I needed a plan, a sense of what I wanted to say. What did I want to say?" (9)

"I would take notes first, sketch out my ideas in old-fashioned ballpoint on solid paper. I noticed, as I bend to pick my pen off the floor where it had rolled, that the rug badly needed vacuuming." (9)

Margaret is hilarious! I really sympathize with her, and Letty too. Yes, these two people are exaggerations but there are certain traits that we (or I) identify with and laughter is great medicine.


June 5, 2003 - 11:09 am
I laughed out loud at the presumption that "Perhaps Zelda, after she read my chapter, woud be interested in forming such a group with me. We could meet in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel ....... The Algonquin- she puts herself in a class of writers such as Dorothy Parker, Benchely and Truman Capote. How funny is that? Well she at least gets to the lobby, I wonder if she'll bring her own "round table."

June 5, 2003 - 11:15 am
Here’s kind of what I’m thinking about Margaret and Letty? We’re really talking when we talk about honesty, about two different things? Character and the way the character expresses herself?

What shocked me, let me start with that, in the Interview above ( and please don’t read it till you’re thru, it may spoil the ending for you) but just to say that in it Christina reveals that she deliberately manipulated the character of Letty for a reason and it (you’ll laugh at me) shocked me to death because to me, Letty is real and she functions in her own world without outside interference from authors. hahaahah I know that’s crazy, but I had to do some appreciative mental adjustment when I read that?

Heck yeah I’ve driven off with my purse on the hood, as well as sodas, groceries, flats of flowers, the hose from the gas pump still attached, and without the gas cap. I’ve driven up to McDonalds, paid, and driven on without the food. I’ve thrown, once, in entering the NC State Fair, an entire tray with the food in a fast food restaurant into the trash bin and argued with my friend Letty that I did it. Just this morning I threw my credit card by mistake in the trash at the gas station, had to run and and scream how can I get the top off of your trash I need to get in it (to the ohmigod face of the man behind the counter)…(you’ll be happy to learn that those things that look like metal tables with the circle on top of the trash cans? That keep large bags from being put in? Are not welded but lift off and are chained.) I know we’re in a recession, but it’s not every day you see a woman in a car even Letty would recognize as upscale rooting thru a trash bin in a gas station (apparently it was very interesting to the crowd who stopped and gazed in wonder).

I’m trying to say there ARE people whose lives are like this: zany. What happens when they try to tell somebody else? Why shouldn’t they tell somebody else, especially their close friends, (who are probably used to it and expect it and may even look forward to their “stories.” If that were YOUR life, would you dead pan the facts, or would you try to explain some of the humor in it? Would you, even, EMBELLISH?

Why does this type of thing happen to some people and not others?

Because, according to my husband, they aren’t paying attention. Margaret pays attention to Margaret, and how Margaret is seen by the world. She’s what psychologists used to call “Other Directed.” (Remember that?)

I believe Letty is the opposite, she’s not focused on herself but on others and so she drives off with stuff falling out, she’s mentally on the next rung of the ladder, and in character she’s….or is she….she WAS at the beginning? Inner Directed? Letty is going to be our hardest nut to crack, because we can already see something in these first chapters happening to her, let’s see if we can spot a change, not only in the way she acts, but in the way she chooses to tell Margaret about it.

More later, got to run out and plant these plants I just thought of that,


June 5, 2003 - 11:48 am
Margaret's husband Ted: Here was a patient,kind, supportive guy.The downside was his extreme frugality "never spend more than you have to" and the need to track every expenditure, even "chewing gum" in a ledger and insisting that Margaret do like wise. His concern about finances was even more acute because now only one salary was supporting two due to Margaret's one year work vacation to write her novel. His ongoing concern (financial) about reaching her time frame to complete the novel and Margaret's deceptions to make him believe she is making progress tells the reader something about their relationship. They seemed to be an effective team despite Ted's penuriousness.

Margaret's voice" I too laughed frequently but felt her "voice" reflected satire ( a literary style holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn).

The Midwest setting: The author's first book "Drowning Ruth" is set in the midwest. I think Wisconsin. That book really held my attention. An excellent suspensful novel . The author is adept at exploring family relationship especially the women in the story and family secrets.

Micheal and Letty: They too were a good team. Letty understands her husband well and describes him as an academic and a theorist . She asks if her wll be happy in the new position he is considering at the Art museum since this involves public relations to court present and future financial donors for museum funding. She tells him he doesn't like people. He responds he likes his family. She apparently maintains the bookkeeping in their family. Both partners in this marriage become very materialistic chaps.6 &7 .

June 5, 2003 - 11:51 am
MARVELLE: I should have put quotes around "plan". I meant she had come up with a concrete suggestion (quit work and write a novel) rather than just talking about what she would like to do or might do. I didn't mean to imply she would actually complete the action. And I think Ted does understand her and is trying to be helpful. But I kept picking up on little things he said or did (or didn't the chores) that indicated his concern for having his home life disrupted. These are not really important to the main thread of the story

One of the trickiest (is that a word?) things in a loving relationship is questioning or criticizing the loved one without seeming to be against the person. I think Ted struggles with that, particularly because Margaret is so defensive with her reasons (excuses) for not writing.. In Letty's e-mail at the end of Chapter 6, I see her struggle with this, also, when she is telling about the newly discovered limits of Michael's new job.

I think Margaret and Letty both have good marriages. (I must remember the age difference between them and me!!)

Margaret is becoming honest with herself, but I don't think she wants it to show. She is self-centered, but not selfish. She wants to be seen as a worthy individual in her own right - not a reflection of someone else. (Oh, how I relate to that!!!) Margaret has opinions and ideas and plunges ahead with both without considering the effect on others. Then she gets defensive when her efforts aren't rewarded as she thinks they will be/should be. She realizes as early as First Grade that Letty is more accepted and liked than she is and I think she would like to emulate the qualities she thinks cause this. But her temperament and personality just won't allow her to compromise that much. Fortunately, she marries a man who can put a damper on her outbursts without making her want to get revenge (as she does with everyone else....except Letty )

Letty waits to find out what is expected of her and molds her actions to fit. Letty would like more of Margaret's boldness, but her concern about the good opinion of others undermines her ability to plunge ahead on her own. She is content to be Somebody's good wife, Somebody's good mother, Somebody's good friend. She reinforces these definitions of herself by always trying to please others. She seems to feel ashamed when she criticizes or doubts (especially her husband) and charmingly scolds herself with her self-deprecating humor. So far, she has only questioned one thing Margaret is doing (having her character, Anna, help her husband cheat on his exams) and she has not responded to any of Margaret's rantings about how badly others are treating her. Letty hasn't told us as much about Michael as Margaret has about Ted, but I see hints of how he wants the glory of a prestige job and the material things that go with it like she does.

The Margaret side of me is still trying to conquer my tendency to outspoken, opinionated outbursts. Following the admonition of my high school algebra teacher to avoid saying "I can't", I will say, as he would want me to say, "I haven't yet been able to, but I'm trying" - I'm trying. My mother had apparently learned to substitute a hearty "Sniff" when she was tempted; I am working on a non-commital "humm". Sometimes it works!

The Letty side of me has not only driven away with the gas cap on top of the car - or, now that I have one that's attached, dangling open, but has also brought home the tube from the bank drive-up window and shown up at parties wearing one black shoe and one blue shoe (they were the same pattern!). This always happens, as I think it does to Letty, when I am on mental over-load. Isn't this supposed to get better by my age????


betty gregory
June 5, 2003 - 12:54 pm
I'm so lost, I'm not sure I know how to answer your questions, Ginny. There are general references in posts to what happens in the rest of the book....maybe I need to go read through to the end. That's almost always what I do, anyway, but didn't this time because my book arrived on the 2nd and I read up to pg. 115 that afternoon. Also, I've put off reading the interview, as suggested, but maybe that, too, will help. I knew I couldn't hold off much longer, anyway.

Self-deprecating humor, such as yours, Ginny, which makes your stories so dear (and from others here, too, when we've admitted the otherwise embarrassing and crazy things that have happened to us, but, to my ear, nobody can tell a tale on herself like Ginny).....there is something wholly forgiving about a humorous tale told on oneself.

That's close to what I thought would happen with deliberately humorous characters.... that they would be forgiven almost anything.

That's what I need help understanding, because we're looking closely at Margaret and Letty and talking seriously about who they are and haven't talked as much (yet?) about their funny predicaments. I haven't been tempted (while laughing at those petit fours and at the real estate woman calling the back yard "the grounds" and at Letty saying she wouldn't paint her toenails in the car if she lived in a better house, nor would she use Scotch tape to hem her pants....incredibly funny images) I haven't been tempted to raise an eyebrow at, what, Letty's collapsing values?

Still going down your list of questions to's a good point and I strongly agree that there are all kinds of things to be gleaned from funny people stories, not a bit less than from "serious" tales. I wonder if there is a kind of freedom to introduce some subjects that otherwise would be difficult to slip into a serious scene. Is that true? I also wonder if there is a specific part of the brain engaged when humor says something profound to us. In the last 10 years or so, studies have found all kinds of interesting locations in our brains that have remarkably specific learning/understanding functions.

Good question about what I expect from female fictional characters. I've had to think about that. No, of course they don't have to be fully enlightened, strong women out there trying to save the world. Thinking back over the last few years of books, the fictional women I've read about have been all over the map. I think what catches my attention and might lead to my putting a book aside has to do with old stereotypes (false limits) and that usually happens (for me) with male characters and, once during this last year, a 2nd comment about Jewish people made me give up on a book. So, it's not just a character, per se, but an undercurrent or old, stereotyped way of thinking that can get to me.

This book is really a joy to read and I have laughed and laughed at some of the funniest passages/images I've ever read. And have hurt for Margaret and remembered my moving-furniture days. I can't quite imagine a transformation of these two women into flat, deadly serious characters. They wouldn't be Christina Schwarz characters as written. What would bother me, however, if it could be done, and to answer your question about it, Ginny, is what would seem like shallowness to me, close to that stereotype of powerless one-dimension. It's interesting that both wives happen to be in a marriage where the money is earned and governed, to an extent, by the husband. This part is closer to a familiar stereotype than real life because few women today have a choice to rely on a husband financially. The shallowness would bother me; the financial stuff would just register. (Having that financial choice is closer to the norm of our lives, age 50 and above. We've either done it or known women who have.)

Even with varied levels of self-confidence, with unanswered questions about self, with lists of doubts and an assortment of filled, half-filled, and unfilled dreams, women are extraordinarily complex and interesting creatures with abilities and life experiences that make it nearly impossible to be summed up easily. I didn't expect this post to get to this point, but I've been practicing being truthful, so I want to say that too many male authors still, without awareness, write women as simple, easily explainable people. We just need to keep our eyes open for this.....and, when possible, talk openly about it. Christina Schwarz writes complex characters. That's why we're so engaged with them. The wit of Letty's is sizable. There is even courage in Margaret at the beginning. And I'm not sure it's all that important that anyone agrees, or that someone sees something in Letty that doesn't register with me. Maybe that's part of human complexity. I need to go read what happens next.


June 5, 2003 - 01:14 pm
I think Margaret is very honest with herself. The problem is not her honesty. The problem is her arrogance or conceit. She truly believes she can write the great American novel. Our honesty with ourself is not always clear and true. So, I think this is why critcism from others, our true friends, is helpful. It brings our view of ourselves back into focus. Our friends help us lose our blurry vision.

With others, I think Margaret is capable of being less than honest. She does not tell the truth to Ted about where she is in her writing.

June 5, 2003 - 01:27 pm
Ginny, m'dear, Maryal will certainly NOT kill you. Way back in post (I think) 141, you said Maryal would kill you for saying that if you can back up your interpretation with facts from the novel, you are entitled to it. I completely agree. Facts must be used to substantiate opinion. We agree. Where is the difference?

A caveat---If your opinion of, say, a line of poetry has to do with a personal experience you had with your grandmother, then that's fine, but it is something you are putting into the poem that another reader would never see, even after you explained it. However, if there is a grandmother in the poem, and she reminds you of your own grandmother, that's fine, as long as you stick with the grandmother in the poem and don't get her all mixed up with your grandmother.


betty gregory
June 5, 2003 - 01:46 pm
HEY!!, right on cue, a whole paragraph of Ginny stories!! Aahhhahahaha, credit card in the trash can! You didn't happen to be wearing all white, did you? I think of gas stations as such dirty places....and TRASH at gas stations, oohhh, yuk, gag, horrors.

(I had to go back to read 6-8 posts that came before my post above, that I had missed while writing my post, so I had no idea that Ginny was serving up her funny stuff. But all is appreciated. The ESP is working.)


June 5, 2003 - 02:28 pm
Ginny, Maryal, Betty, et al: Please tell me if you see a comment of mine that should be backed up with a page reference or a quote. I do not always interpret a passage the way "everybody else" does and certainly do not want to interject something that no one else can see.

June 5, 2003 - 02:48 pm
Callie, yes you do, too! You DO want to interject something none of us can see!!

(Golly what a conversation you're having, it's breaking all my own rules about coming in once a day to give you all space to talk, wow wow wow and hahaha Callie, yes I forgot the bank tubes hahahaah Yes indeed, have driven off with many of them, sometimes before they even came back) hahahaha

But no, not going to comment now except to say, YES WE DO WANT to hear something none of the rest of us saw, that's why we're HERE?

We know what WE think each individually, we're hoping for a conversation in which we can hear what other readers thought about the same very same lines, so we can all learn something? Especially here in this very diverse group with so many different life experiences!

We're not writing papers of Literary Criticism, but if we were, (and the process is not that dissimilar so we like to use the same criteria), we want to know, and you see Maryal here reinforcing it with various humpfs hahahaa, that there IS no right or wrong as she says, if you can back it up. In other words you can say "Margaret is a Martian with purple hair" but you will probably be asked where you got that opinion, so you would want to be able to point to, if asked, what it was in the text that made you get that impression, that's it. Other than, for instance, your cousin once saw (I'm making this up) a flying saucer. You don't have to provide page numbers at all, OR you can say Maryal is a Martian?? hahaahah Just kidding! I hope this makes sense, was flying by just enjoying all the super just super comments when I saw your own post and wanted to reassure you that your own takes are what we're here to hear and I hope, personally, that all 20 of us will have 20 different ideas on each subject, AND talk to each other, THAT'S the finest thing you can hope for.

Wonderful wonderful points, you all, wonderful!


June 5, 2003 - 05:06 pm
Those of you who enjoy discussing books, have you seen this? Here's a poll with us in mind!! SeniorNet Home Page Poll on Fiction and Non Fiction Reading Preferences??

Let's let our voice be heard, might be fun!!


June 5, 2003 - 05:46 pm
Gin, I almost miss the demographic info survey thinking it was the same one that has been there about computer savey stuff... and now this one... grant time!!! Thanks for the heads up... would hate for this page/discussion forum to "fade away"!!!


June 5, 2003 - 05:56 pm
Oh no fear of that our Lou, the Books is here to stay!

What a trip to see us there, tho, hope everybody votes!


Joan Pearson
June 5, 2003 - 08:51 pm
Such interesting posts! I can't believe that I am changing my views of the relationship between these two friends after reading through your posts. I asked earlier what kind of a friend could Letty be to Margaret, not being truthful with her. A good number of you see that Margaret has no special talent for writing - and you have no trouble expressing it here. Why doesn't her close friend Letty set her straight? Because she doesn't want to hurt her? Because she still doesn't know it? Or because she knows Margaret already knows...

And she being honest with herself? Does she really think she can write a book without a subject? There is nothing that she is burning to write about, is there? She has to know that. I'm with you, Hats, Callie. I think she knows. Which is why she puts it off...vacuuming, painting...roaming the WaWa. She's waiting for inspiritation and keeping busy until it hits her. Haven't you done that? I mean, you can't sit in a quiet room waiting for inspiration, if you have no idea what it is you want to say. So you hope that something will come to you if you don't think about it too long and hard. If you do it this way, MAYBE something will occur...and that will be something you already know something about. You write what you know! (Not a Robert Martin's war experience....)

She needs to write five pages a day to get the assignment finished for her next class. "I'll do that", I promised. (end of chapter 6.)

First words of chapter 7 - "Of course I could not do it. Three days later, I had written two paragraphs." Of course, she says, of course. She knows she can't do it. Isn't that about as honest as she can be? What more do you want from her?

So off she goes seeking inspiration in the WaWa aisles...
One of you, I'm sorry now I don't remember who, has already pointed out why she is doing this book-writing thing. She realizes it in the WaWa. (see, this is inspiration)
"What did I want exactly?...I didn't want fortune....And not fame either. What I desired was far more fundamental and far less grand. I wanted people to meet me and think, "Ah, someone worth my notice.""
There...that's about as honest as you can get. Margaret is admitting that she has no self-worth. How can you fault her for wanting to try to reach back into her precocious childhood for some of the daring tools, the magic she once used - to dazzle. (I'm not sure whom it was she dazzled back then, however...could have been as narrow a field as her parents - and Letty.)

It's late, but I enjoyed staying up to see the "girls" through your eyes...

June 6, 2003 - 05:17 am
I LOVED reading all of your posts, some of them made me laugh out loud. They're truly an extension of Christina's wonderful book!

Both Callie and Frugal did a perceptive take on Margaret and Ted's marriage and it got me thinking. Wasn't Ted in an awful spot when his wife decided to quit teaching and become a writer? I mean, what was he to do? Initially he was wary and brought up practical considerations to Margaret.

"The thing about writing is that you've got to have a real gift for it. Lots of people can write really well---but they don't try to make a living at it. I think," he said cautiously, "that maybe if you did have a gift, we might have noticed it by now. I mean you haven't really written anything." p.13.

Now that was HONEST, I thought! Why didn't Ted stick to that?

I think he was trapped in a marital vise of love and loyalty. Maybe here are a few of the thoughts that went flitting through his head. He must have figured that the odds were overwhelming that Margaret was going to fail....but... what if HIS wife was the exception to the "gifted writer" rules? There are always a few exceptions to every rule?

Ted might have reasoned that after all, there are some people like Grandma Moses who began creative ventures late, late, late in life. Grandma Moses started painting somewhere in her 70's or 80's and SHE was magnificent! Moreover Ted apparently earned enough money for them to survive without Margaret's income for a while, so he couldn't plead that financial survival DEMANDED that his wife retain her job. What a tough spot!

So, if he took a firm stand against her... all the rest of their lives BOTH of them would secretly wonder if he had thwarted the next James Joyce or Grandma Moses.

Things like that can eventually erode a marriage-- with resentment on HER part...guilt on HIS? And Ted was no tyrant.

I thought that once he decided to back Margaret in her ambitions, Ted jumped in with his whole heart. He backed her up at parties to skeptics, he gifted her with a status fountain pen, he rooted for her. He actually became caught up in her fantasy?

Obviously Margaret didn't have enough self-awareness to back down when Ted was honest with her. Or, as Joan Pearson suggested, maybe she needed her self esteem sooo much that she just couldn't distinguish between what she wished for, and what REALLY was! I felt Ted took up the slack by being supportive of HER.

About Letty and Michael--

There was a sci-fi movie a loooong time ago about an alien invasion on Earth. It's screened on TV quite a bit, but I just can't remember the title. Maybe it was Invasion of the Body Snatchers? In the movie, the aliens produced exact duplicates of real humans by growing them in plant-like pods.

The intention was that each alien would murder and then take the place of the human that he resembled. Person by person, little by little, all the REAL humans would all be replaced by aliens and earth would be conquered.

One of the scary twists was that, as the alien invasion progressed in the movie, no human could be absolutely sure if his own spouse or loved one was human or alien. Was the person who lived with you a friend or foe? Brrr! Are YOU the next candidate to be murdered and replaced by a pod duplicate of yourself?

I remember what Letty wrote to Margaret about her husband when he fell in love with the "honey walnut" office in Otis. Letty was amazed that Michael was willing to give up his aspirations in theoretical art. Now he wanted status and the physical environment that went with it at prestigious Otis. "Who is this POD person?" Letty wondered about the new Michael. "WHERE is my real husband?"

Letty protests the personality changes of the old Michael only briefly. "They're clever, these pod people," she muses. Then she honestly concedes to Margaret that she loves the idea of upward mobility herself.

Now, for the first time, there are TWO materialists in Letty's family?


June 6, 2003 - 05:47 am
Hi, I am learning so much more about the book by reading your post everyday. I'm sorry i can't contribute more-i have a house full of kids this summer and its all i can do to get a few minutes to be online and i have to wait until everyone asleep at night to get any reading in. Ginny, Thank you for the laugh this morning-you are so funny. I think you are right about Letty being mentally on the next rung of the ladder-i feel the same way-always think of everyone else and what needs to done that you forget what you are doing at the moment. Vanessa

June 6, 2003 - 05:57 am
I feel like Lawrence Welk this morning, truly, WUNNERFUL WUNNERFUL WUNNERFUL hahaah and don't turn off the bubble machine. ahahahah Running late, still need your own questions and threads in the heading, love all your thoughts and am dying to comment!! Just put up one new focus (we WILL learn to focus here) topic for today in the heading, before we get to your truly insightful and marvelous thoughts, new schedule coming up today (in essence the next 100 pages for Sunday) and here's one just for you!

1. Many people have remarked that they laughed out loud reading the book. What one incident or turn of phrase struck you as particularly funny?

2. Could you also indicate a passage where the writing seemed particularly evocative or fine, (whether or not it was humorous?)

3. What characteristics, as people share their funniest lines, do these incidents have in common, if any, and what is the effect of these happy moments on the general tone of the book so far?

Back in a mo!! I have decided as a result of this book and this discussion my life is a mess and I'm going to get it under control, FOCUS!! so stand BACK!

Won't it be interesting to see what we all thought was funny and why? I have a feeling we're all over the map! And the super writing, yes yes, what fun, a fun day!


June 6, 2003 - 06:42 am

June 6, 2003 - 06:59 am
Oh how I wish, how much I regret my decision, my inaction that led me to use a library book!! Now I can’t find or quote any of Christina’s wonderful “passages”…. And I hate that. I did copy one section for another purpose and want to use it now… hope it’s within the correct chapters, I have no way of knowing….

"P.S. Also, am beginning to research private schools for Marlo. This will basically mean blowing the college fund on middle school, but she started to teach herself Latin this summer out of my old Wheelock, so it seems that now that we can afford to give her a really rigorous education, we probably should." page 115, All is Vanity....

Because I’m a crazy old lady, I decided I needed (shades of Margaret here???) to learn Latin… or at least take a stab at it… our resident Latin expert recommended Wheelock to me… and mine came just as I was reading this section. Surely, if this middle school child can do it, I can???? Have you all seen this thing??? Middle School??? I mean, my self image has been wrecked enough this spring… CS Lewis read Paradise Lost at 8 years old… yes, that’s what the books say…. But Wheelock in Middle School??? Christina, was this tongue in check??? Do you still have your old Wheelock???


Malryn (Mal)
June 6, 2003 - 07:24 am

Wheelock's Latin, text

Malryn (Mal)
June 6, 2003 - 07:55 am

I started Latin when I was just 14, but I was out of middle school, and as I recall, we didn't use a text until we started to read Caesar. The teacher taught us from what she knew, and she was good!

I've been wondering how much society influenced Margaret and Letty. I'm a lot older than the two women in the book, but I truly think things have not changed all that much.

In the 70's my freshman NYC executive husband, our family and I lived in a ten room house up on a hill at the end of a cul de sac in Westchester County, a rich county which adjoins The City. There were ten houses on lots of at least two acres on the street, which were occupied by 8 budding executives and 2 M.D.'s. We had over two acres, and our property was backed by a game preserve.

There was an enormous amount of one-upmanship going on among people like us in Westchester County, not just in that neighborhood. It seemed to be accepted that the higher up the ladder you went, the bigger, better houses and cars you had, and the fancier schools your kids attended.

There was much competition going on in the "valley" below our hill. My husband was a frugal New Englander, who, though he felt it was absolutely necessary to maintain a home that befitted his position in life, was not about to go overboard buying all the extras my neighbors and his colleagues thought they had to have. Consequently, I scrounged around yard sales and went to thrift shops picking up bargains. My house was furnished well enough, but it certainly didn't look like the others, some of which had been decorated by interior designers. It did have a Steinway grand piano, though, because my husband and I both played.

There were times when I was a little self-conscious about inviting people in. I remember we threw a dinner party for about 25 people -- some neighbors, some colleagues of my husband. I cleaned the entire house, scrubbing floors on my hands and knees; made extravagant canapés, cooked a paella with chicken and all kinds of expensive seafood in it, made a huge salad, served hot garlic bread made with bread I'd baked myself, and served some kind of glorious dessert I've forgotten by now, plus stocking in all kinds of liquor, wine and brandy. I thought if the food and drinks were good enough, people wouldn't scrutinize my house with a magnifying glass, and I did these things because it was "expected" of me. Luckily, I liked to cook.

What surprised me was that a woman came to me and said, "It's so nice to go into a house that doesn't look like everyone else's."

Most of the women at that party were "doing" something, either working at a job, or showing artwork in galleries that they'd done, or were trying to write. That was expected, too.

I wonder if the pressure of their peers and American society affected Margaret and Letty in the same way it did people like me?


June 6, 2003 - 08:44 am
Ok still running behind, but I do have the new schedule of reading up and we'll go to the bottom of page 227 starting Sunday, I think it is broken into logical places, and I believe you will, too, when you see the breaks, now am still working on your wonderful points raised and trying not to reproduce the entire book for today's question of a passage of good writing!

Back anon...

Malryn (Mal)
June 6, 2003 - 08:55 am

Since I think the whole book is good writing, I've chosen a random passage that to me is full of suspense.
"I looked under my notebook, then picked it up by the wire binding and shook it. Nothing fell out. My breathing quickened. My armpits prickled. Ted's pen. The pen Ted gave me. The pen that made me a writer. I pushed my chair back and crawled under the table, scanning the floor in all directions. How could I have left it? This was New York, for God's sake! True, it was the cleaner, safer New York, as compared with the last few decades, but this applied only if you were a person, better yet a man, on certain subway routes and downtown streets, not if you were a gold-nibbed Mont Blanc on a public library table."

June 6, 2003 - 05:54 pm
I apologize for the length of these posts but I had a lot to catch up with!!

Hats said, “To be different from the crowd is never wrong. It only becomes wrong when we lose our moral values.” So far, nobody has lost any moral values, let's see...or have they?? This is a super point for us to watch.

Hahah Lou with the trail of pottery from the car hood, hahahaa You asked, “I don't know about legally... morally, when we don't warn a friend when we see them heading for trouble, are we being a true friend? This is an excellent and troubling question, sins of omission or sins of commission, huh?

Lookit Harriet, now? Just look:

But what might happen if Letty, with her knack for writing, unguardedly and loyally writes excellent ideas and commentary about Margaret's book? Margaret wants sooo passionately to be acknowledged as a writer, to be SOMEONE. I don't get good vibes about this...
Whoo, Harriet, right on!!

What IS “VANITY?” What do YOU understand it to be? What is the Bibical interpretation? Let’s look at those two epigraphs too, tomorrow when we start to look at Letty.

We all think we know or sort of know what Margaret wants: she says so on page 114:

I wanted them to recognize me for the person I believed I truly was….

“Why do you care what others think?” This is what my mother would say. But I did care. I suppose because I, unlike my mother, would never be quite sure that I was someone to be reckoned ith, until someone else told me so.” (page 114).

I loved what Christina said about Letty:

"Every time I tried to have her speak, she seemed to want to begin her story with something about how things had turned out." Isn’t that marvelous, I TOLD you all Letty was a real person hahahaha.

Marvelle, what a super thought on humor: “I think we generally find to be funny that person we least resemble.” Now that's interesting, because I really am not seeing a great deal of humor in Letty!

Betty that is an interesting point about why Ted uses Sally as an example, maybe it’s the only author he knows?

Vanessa, this is really good, I missed this, “After she had spent all that time on the story about the women who was going to help her husband cheat to become a doctor she threw it out after Letty made one comment about it.” Good reinforcing of Margaret’s own statement on 114.

Lou, “When we think of honesty (free from fraud)… and vanity (devoid of worth)…” is that… Where does “vain” come into vanity, remember “You’re so vain?”

Lou, talking about LA and Letty being caught up, today’s Wall Street Journal has their entire Weekend Journal feature article on the $170 million dollar remodeling industry and how people are ripping out whole kitchens 5 months later, replacing slate with marble and that marble with French limestone, $135, 000 kitchens, Andersen “special collection” windows for $2,000 each (with mullions)…actually that sounds really neat, huh?, Sherwin Williams reports the number of their paint colors has reached 1,400, Kohler now makes “WinterHaven” showers ewith multiple showerheads and aromatherapy steam, the $12, 000 Aga stove manufacturers hope that their stove will become de rigeur ( I hate to say this but have you ever seen an Aga?

I would kill for one. They are NICE nice nice. All kinds of ovens, NICE NICE NICE, the only problem with an Aga, (besides the price) is they never turn off? You don’t turn the stove off, they’re hot all the time, you don’t adjust the thing, it’s an experience of its own and in South Carolina in the summer I think your air conditioning bill would be horrendous, but BOY they’re nice!! Hahahaha

The article says “Out: side by side fridge, pro stoves, year old granite.

In: marble with ‘more feeling’ to the stone.”

This is not just for movie stars, this IS the trend of today, reminiscent of the ‘80’s.

The article says “for some people, things just snowball.” Makers keep upping the ante with new ‘must haves’ which make even a newly renovated home feel out of date.”

I loved the image of Letty and Michael “braving” Circuit City and surviving, carrying the paperwork for their brand new Maytag Superwasher in their “trembling hands.” I loved the “rusty as our taste has become after years of avocado, harvest gold and almond.” Is that not the TRUTH? Is that not a hoot? Here I sit confidently in the Pantry with the 1967 avocado green GE fridge humming happily in the background, our first fridge, and no if it works it stays, hahahaha Its friend, the harvest gold side by side, is happily making ice cubes in the kitchen, it dates from 1980. The washer and dryer, in their tasteful avocado are singing songs of replacement, what’s the Color of the 03’s?

Love it.


June 6, 2003 - 06:02 pm
Christina? “Have never before made major purchases without consulting the Pennysaver.”

What’s the Pennysaver?

Malryn, super points on Margaret’s not finishing what she starts and Ted’s understanding of this. Oh I thought this was a very provocative question: “How can a person be honest with himself or herself if he or she doesn't know what other people think of him or her?”

Oh… would you care? Why would what a person thinks of you change how honest you were with yourself or others? I like that, will put it in the list of questions, too.

Marvelle, I agree and loved your choices of funny lines! I sympathize with both of them too, in fact all of them.

Andrea, good on the Algonquin, hahaha missed that entirely!!

Frugal, this is a good point: “His ongoing concern (financial) about reaching her time frame to complete the novel and Margaret's deceptions to make him believe she is making progress tells the reader something about their relationship.”

What does it tell any of you??

OK now Frugal has introduced the idea of “satire,” and this definition:

Margaret's voice" I too laughed frequently but felt her "voice" reflected satire ( a literary style holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn).

I know that some critics have called this satire, I think we will want to watch and see at the end if we felt it was or not?

Good good point on who manages the money in Letty’s marriage: Letty. That’s important, I think, both in the power in the relationship, and in other ways, as well.

Callie good good point here!
“One of the trickiest (is that a word?) things in a loving relationship is questioning or criticizing the loved one without seeming to be against the person. I think Ted struggles with that, particularly because Margaret is so defensive with her reasons (excuses) for not writing..” And Letty’s email!

And THIS: “Margaret has opinions and ideas and plunges ahead with both without considering the effect on others. Then she gets defensive when her efforts aren't rewarded as she thinks they will be/should be.”

Listen Callie I don’t know where you’ve been but please plan to read with us again, that is fabulous!

Oh more more?

Fortunately, she marries a man who can put a damper on her outbursts without making her want to get revenge (as she does with everyone else....except Letty)

And wow III: Letty: She reinforces these definitions of herself by always trying to please others.

ahahah Callie on the shoes, I JUST did that yesterday after dressing so carefully and you’re right, they were the same style! Hahahaha But they sure were one black and one blue, sometimes you wonder what people THINK? Is it time to wear purple??


Betty, I appreciate those kind words on the stories, and I do see where you’re going and as usual you have (don’t you always?) put your finger right ON what I think (and I have a million crazy theories, but I must say you all are pretty darn sharp) AH you say Letty’s collapsing values? Can you, or would you tell us one that you are seeing??

Oh I loved this, “I also wonder if there is a specific part of the brain engaged when humor says something profound to us.”

Oh good for you!

But Margaret is so serious, can’t anybody see Margaret under her shield of…hilarity, lists, colored pencils, painting, hilarious remarks?? Margaret, Betty, I contend, IS one of the most complex and serious characters we will probably ever come across. Now what she will metamorph into in this I don’t know, we’re only looking at a small part of her life, but boy I would love to see HER at 50. I would KILL to see her at 50. Letty I’m not so sure of.

I AM sure this is a super discussion, you’ve all outdone yourselves, I’m sorry I had another “Letty” day and it takes, as Callie said, thought to come in here and I was lacking same.


June 6, 2003 - 06:07 pm

Hats, what causes arrogance and/ or conceit?

I wish we could look at all of the terms and see where we stand on these: satire, arrogance, vanity, conceit.

I keep coming back to that Howells quote about why people want to “have and to shine,” and asking myself if GREED IS the motivation or if it’s something else? I think we feel we know Margaret pretty well, but we’ve barely scratched the Letty surface. Was it Frugal or Callie who said we know a lot more about Ted than we do Michael? Do we know more about Margaret than we do Letty? We’ve spent a week on Margaret, we need to look at Letty!!

Let’s do that tomorrow, let’s all look for the changes Betty said she saw, a loss of values and maybe other changes?

hahaha Betty no I was not wearing white, but the credit card story is one that you could tell in a number of ways, and that’s what I’m trying to say. About Letty. She has a zany life. She tells Margaret about it: on the phone and in email and as it goes on it seems to me that it changes a bit and she begins to ….embellish? It’s a real change and I think you sensed it earlier, I’d like to look at it tomorrow.

Joan, super question and I never thought of it:

A good number of you see that Margaret has no special talent for writing - and you have no trouble expressing it here. Why doesn't her close friend Letty set her straight? Because she doesn't want to hurt her? Because she still doesn't know it? Or because she knows Margaret already knows...

Why does everybody keep saying Margaret has no writing talent? How...would YOU tell your friend she had no talent? (We better find this out now!! Hahahaha)

Joan has asked a good question and it follows on Frugal’s responsibility question, ok let’s put you all in this spot, your best friend has taken leave of her job and she’s going to try to write a book. She reads you the outline which she has excitedly pasted up in the living room.

Now….let’s say you hate it. What would you do??

What would a real friend do??

What did Letty do that was so bad that Margaret tore down the papers to the extent that it pulled the paint off the walls?

Just your mentioning of the end of chapter 6 and the beginning of 7 made me laugh.

Harriet, GOOD point about Ted being in an awful spot: heck what would any spouse do if the other said, I am going to write the GAN and quit for a year? That takes real support from the spouse!

Harriet, I absolutely LOVE your description of Ted’s progress coping with Margaret’s decision, I think YOU should write!!

Great point on the Pod People, I had forgotten (how could anybody) the two movies on it, will never forget that last scene in the second one when the pod person points at the guy and does that awful scream, (anyway!!) super point on the two materialists, I loved the pod imagery!

Margaret uses a good bit of personification in this also, and that also adds to her...the all over personna that she is, she's really one of the most intriguing characters I think we've come across here in 7 years of reading.

Vanessa, I agree, I’m learning more too and really enjoying it!

Lou and Malryn, thank you for the Wheelock references, I see Letty says “my old Wheelock” which may mean the earlier editions, either way it’s a daunting thing, there’s no doubt that Marlo (is that a form of Margo/ Margaret?) is precocious, it’s hard enough for adults to master, (and adults are who it’s intended for).

When I first read this I kind of saw Letty being carried away by the needs of others, for instance it’s common for people to build shelves of brick and board until the kids come along suddenly then the children need private schools and everything changes, I’m not sure what caused Letty to begin this slide? Can you pinpoint it?

Have you noticed how seamlessly the flashbacks occur?

Malryn great point on society’s expectations, I enjoyed reading about the dinner party, I once fixed an entirely Italian meal for my in-laws, everything on the menu in Italian. The special (I no longer remember) lasagna did not cook, would not cook, we actually took a trip to the mountains and returned and the doggone mess was still uncooked so we ate uncooked and very testy lunch at 3 pm which was a soggy hideous mess and I lost my taste for pretentious lunches and insalata mista, (sp) I still remember looking up how to pronounce that.

I think pressure from society affects all of us!

  • “It means you do what you believe to be right.”

    “then I hope that all uf is in this class have ingtegrity.”

    “Well, we don’t. Letty does.” (page 18).

    In a flashback Margaret describes Letty to the world, that’s the word she chooses in the sixth grade.

    How would we describe the Letty we see?

  • Things that made me laugh out loud:

    ---“Was the patron being patronizing already?” (page 48) Hahahahaha, just as funny now as it was the first time.

    (I loved that whole dynamic about how now that Ted was paying the bills, did his opinion matter more? Boy you could get into THAT one!!)

    “If he said, ‘Reach for the rock on the right,’ did I owe it to him to obey? If I thought the left was better, should he trust me? What sort of a team were we exactly?”

    Is that not true? Anybody who has ever been in a marriage where one spouse was the wage earner KNOWS what’s being said there, and it’s true. I loved that!

    ---”Didion created an ominous mood and suggested an impending threat of suicide, divorce and murder with her description of the Santa Ana wind, but when I thought about that weather the words that came to mind were ‘dry hair’ and ‘allergic reactions’.” Hahahaha HAHAHAA (page 49)

    ---“I bent to my own page, lowering my own cheek somewhat.” (page 66).

    I don’t know what you CALL this type of writing, but it’s very dear and very funny.

  • *Hey, do any of you wipe up the public bathroom counters for the next person? Fess up!! Hahahahaa*

    ---”Left to their own devices, however, Robert and his mother would do nothing but eat.” (page 73) haahahah HAHAHAHA

    LOVE IT!!

    ---“And he shops for groceries. To support the cooking. “ (page 81) hahaaha

  • Oh it’s endless, it’s just endless the entire book is suffused with this type of…it’s an attitude and it’s dear, it’s not my idea of satire. Maybe I don't know what satire is. Maybe the satire is to come. It will be interesting to see who is satirized, too. Or is Margaret being satirized now? I truly don't know satire, can we discuss it?

    Really Evocative Passages? As Malryn said (great passage, Malryn) You’d have to write the whole book, how about this one on page 74:

    On such an evening the sense that I was a writer--and even that I was the kind of writer who might be considered an artist—was palpable. I had the giddy feeling that this city was both my home—which meant I could claim its attendant rich human drama as my own— and a piece of theater I would view at a remove, a spectacle from which I could borrow shade and tones and a succession of characters who would, if I listened closely enough, whisper to me their amusing or poignant narratives. It seems on such evenings that capturing life on paper would be almost as easy as observing it.

    And I loved this:

    My novel bubbled from me as we luxuriated in all New York had to offer. I would outline for Ted the various maneuvers I’d put Robert through each day, while we dodged Rollerbladers along the riverside promenade to Battery Park or walked block after block uptown. I proposed options for the next day's charge as we combed the bricks near the Metropolitan Museum for metal admission buttons casually discarded on the way out by those who’d paid the suggested amount….

    while we held hands perched on the balustrade under the trees in Bryant Park, waiting for the free movie to begin, or two-stepped under the stars at Lincoln Plaza to the open-air bands. On the Staten Island Ferry with our faces turned to the breeze, and strolling late at night past Korean groceries overflowing with plums and green onions and black-eyed Susans, we debated whether Mrs. Martin would have called her son “Bob,” or “Rob,” and bandied army nicknames about.” (74-75)

    THAT is wonderful!

    That is a gift.

    I’m going to put up in the heading now some of your thoughts for tomorrow with the Letty quote and let’s see if we can get a hold on Letty, her letters, her emails and her phone conversations!


    June 6, 2003 - 06:49 pm
    GINNY: Is it time to wear purple?? As soon as I learn to spit!!! (^_^)
    Off to see what I can learn about Letty.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 6, 2003 - 07:06 pm

    Ginny:- I don't know about anywhere else, but in Westchester County when I lived there the Pennysaver was a free weekly newspaper left in your mailbox which was full of garage and yard sale ads, thrift shop ads, and sales of used furniture.


    betty gregory
    June 6, 2003 - 08:59 pm
    Several of us have noticed the same passage of exquisite 74-75, which I named "NY August" in my notes. The content as well as the style give us much to enjoy/contemplate. Even though I'd noticed the terrific writing, it wasn't until the change of pace/style/something on pg. 74-75 that I thought, wow, what wonderful writing. Or, was it just that Margaret herself changed pace of thought. She relaxed and felt confident. With those certain New Yorkers out of town in August, Margaret and Ted claimed the city, walked the streets, and Margaret felt the absence of social pressure (and felt truly like a writer, as Ginny's quote from the same 2 pages show). Many questions about Margaret are answered in these 2 pages......

    "I believe I would have been content never to publish, only to work, if the limbo that was August had lasted forever. In August, when all of those people who, by their very existence, made me feel like a dull penny under their shoes were in places like Martha's vineyard, I was happy---in the deep way engrossing work makes one happy---simply to be dreaming scenes for Robert to play."

    A dull penny under their shoes. Wow, dull, worthless, under their shoes, stepped on??, at any rate, can't get any lower.

    I guess the question is, is this a developmental phase for Margaret, where how she feels about herself (and herself as a writer) is in slow transition. Or, will this "less than" perspective of herself remain constant? And, how is this affecting her ability to write? Is confidence a key ingredient?


    I keep thinking of the irony of Letty being able to do what Margaret wishes she could several of us have noticed Letty's ability to write. Enter....all those questions about what do friends say to friends, what truly is helpful? For poor's more complicated than just being truthful about Margaret's skill, since Letty herself writes so well!!

    Wishing you could see Margaret at, THAT screeched me to a stop, Ginny. That's what made me wonder (above) if this low confidence, this agony of social pressure and self-imposed deadlines, this feeling lesser all in process, is developmental, is what all new writers go through, to some extent.

    Thinking about what Margaret would be like at 50 takes the edge off my frustration with her that she plunged into something with so little preparation, not much insight, with decidedly faulty thinking about what brings happiness. She believes the publication of a novel will bring instant peace of mind, perfect happiness, etc. It hasn't occurred to her that people will say, "and what are you working on now?" AND how those words will make her feel!!

    But, anything is possible. As confident as I am on some things and on some days, I can still point to too-numerous-to-count instances of self doubt during my life. So, who knows what's possible for Margaret.


    AArrrgghhhh. Ginny, I wrote that I was NOT tempted to look upon Letty's shenanigans as indications of disintegrating values. Nope. Forgive. Forgive, I say, because of humorous tone. Her "confessions" are silliness, making fun of herself, are written to entertain, are about her struggles to adjust to the alien world of ridiculous competitions of greed and showing off. She finds herself PARTICIPATING and writing to Margaret in a tone of Can-you-believe-how-ridiculous-this-is-and-I-am-for-getting-caught-up-in-it!! She is making fun of herself....and, maybe in the process, hinting or wondering if she's in some kind of real danger. Her constant message is....isn't this ridiculous?!! But, I love her writing and find it endlessly funny!

    It would be just as interesting to see Letty at 50. Did she sell her soul? Did she finally become part of what she found so ridiculous?


    June 6, 2003 - 09:08 pm
    I have the book! Watch out, all. I am about to blurt out all my thoughts, interpretations and reactions.

    But first, I have to read assignment number 1.

    Hope I'm more focused than Margaret!

    I do have ONE thought though. Margaret doesn't really want to write; she wants to have written a novel already. Huge difference here. From some unknown place, she got the idea that writing is less work than various other careers she might pursue: law, medicine, etc.

    Back tomorrow if my eyes hold up. First I have to read our next assignment in The Little Friend. I'm so glad it is summer and I can keep two novels going without having to teach a play by Shakespeare tomorrow.

    Christina Schwarz
    June 6, 2003 - 09:26 pm
    I'd like to send a special "thank you" to Ginny, for appreciating Margaret the way I do; to Betty Gregory, for liking the line "a dull penny under their shoes" of which I'm particularly proud, and to Marvelle for recognizing that, yes, I'm less sure of Letty's funniness because her letter-writing style is quite close to mine (or so say friends). (Given its similarity to mine, it's interesting that Letty's letter-writing style was the hardest for me to pin down.) Oh, and I never meant to suggest that I didn't think the book funny as I was writing it, only that I didn't set out to write a funny book when I first came up with the idea.

    I'll tackle a couple more of your questions: I have my husband, Ben, to thank for the title. It was through conversations with him that I decided on Letty's problems with money, and specifically her house renovation--and very early on he suggested "All Is Vanity" as a title because of that. I'm sure he was thinking of "I builded me houses." He also suggested using the Ecclesiastes quotation as an epigraph when the book was finished. The biblical use of "vanity," by the way, is the main one I mean by the title--futility, I guess, would be a reasonable synonym. I like the nifty double meaning of vanity, though, because self-regard certainly also applies. The Howells quotation I thought of very early on, as well. I love Howells and I remembered that passage. Wanting to be true to the Howells quotation, actually guided a lot of my thinking about the book.

    OK, OK, all you Latin scholars! I admit the Wheelock may have been a mistake. Yes, I wanted to make Marlo precocious, but I didn't take Latin until college (hence the college-level text). This is a case of a little learning being a dangerous thing--had I had more experience with Latin, I could have come up with something more appropriate.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 6, 2003 - 09:30 pm

    At this point I see Letty as wholesome, innocent, naive, and very gullible. To me Margaret is devious, self-centered and not trustworthy. She's a feeder, a user.

    If Margaret were really a writer, she'd have to write, confident or not. She'd want some feedback and would seek out reactions to what she had written from Ted and probably Letty, though Letty is too kind-hearted to be a reliable critic. She'd say what she thought Margaret wanted to hear instead of what she really thought.

    As it is, Margaret has written and done nothing, so has nothing to ask anyone to critique. Letty, on the other hand, is always asking for critiques of what she does and is never afraid to do it.


    kiwi lady
    June 6, 2003 - 11:41 pm
    I did read this book about two months ago. I had to give it back to the library. The thing that struck me all through the book was the tragedy of these two women's lives. There was Letty who was really the writer, struggling away financially, making a mess of her life to keep up with the Jones's and there was Margaret who could not write in my opinion for peanuts stealing Letty's life to use in her book. What a parasite Margaret was. I frankly did not like her. Margaret should have stuck to her teaching even if I got the impression she did not give it her all. In fact she does not seem to give anything her all. Mind you I can't talk! Lately I have had difficulty in finishing things I have started including the book discussions I have committed myself to!

    Betty its nice to see you back in Books!


    June 7, 2003 - 04:13 am
    Christina, thank you SO much for your comments! Every last word. I do hope you know how much your thoughts add to our understanding of the book, when you say something I go off and think about it for days, we do appreciate this unique oppportunity (you mean you really ARE like Letty in your emails? But I hear Margaret's voice in the interview!!?) Reverse Engines!! Then it's amazing that you could create a person like Margaret who is sooo real!

    I am afraid to ask how the idea of "Margaret" came to you.

    And thank you for the title background, too, and the definition of Vanity, super!

    I got up thinking why should we struggle with the SATIRE thing when we have the author here who knows better than we do what was intended and what....we need to ask HER this tough question!!

    Also got up thinking that we've not even mentioned the most recurring thread, and that is, of course WRITING A BOOK! Several times the characters assert with more or less authority (didn't you LOVE Ted there parroting faithfully Margaret's, no, when you write a first novel, "Fiction doesn't work that way. You have to write the book first." (page 81). I think we might like to know if that's true?

    I admit that my idea of writing a book is very close to Margaret's. Two of you said that Margaret likes to go from the start button to the finish line without passing "Go." She extrapolates immediately. Can you imagine her life? Can you imagine the constant disappointments?

    Betty, and Everybody, I am ashamed of myself, I did not mean to indicate that I knew some secret nobody else does!! Or that something is coming other than the interview. Or that I'm expecting a certain answer!! I have my own crazy theories, as usual. Nobody could have done a better job of "Margaret Analysis" than you all have done, and what we have here in the first 115 pages is more than enough character development, for me. In other words, I think we do have Margaret, in her own voice, and we all have different opinions, but we've got her!

    But what of Letty?

    Do you realize (I especially liked those lines of Christina's where she spoke of drawing back and regarding it as theater, that's what you have to do in literary criticism? Draw back and look hard.)

    Margaret speaks in her own voice but she has a lot of backup voices and incidents which tell us maybe she's not as she presents herself? The flashbacks, Ted, and everybody the poor woman meets give us another opinion?

    What of Letty? Do we know as much about her? HOW do we know about her? What motivates her? Where does Michael tell us about her? Who describes her and what do they say? Let's look at Letty today, what are YOUR thoughts on Letty??

    Oh Christina, not to worry, I taught Wheelock one year in the 9th grade as a pilot project thing (which takes a LOT of extrapolation/ explanation on the part of the teacher) which is only one year out of middle school and in some systems IS middle school so Marlo is obviously....VERY smart! And the new (6th) edition is a killer, Lou is right. A KILLER, they should have left ol happy Wheelock alone. There is actually, as Lou knows, a new series out which "explains Wheelock" by David Grote of UNC Charlotte, and it's quite good, he found in teaching Wheelock at the university level it was needed.

    more...trying to make not such long long posts, Welcome, Carolyn (Kiwilady) from New Zealand!

    June 7, 2003 - 04:35 am
    I think whether or not we like or can relate to a character in a book is dependent on our own personalities and experiences, and, to a large part, on what the author presents to us about that character, would you agree? And how it's presented.

    Now Malryn and Carolyn have said Margaret is not a true writer. I guess that prompts me to ask is a "Writer" something different from evrybody else? Again, like Margaret, I think maybe a writer writes and VOILA! Maybe not?

    And thank you for the Pennysaver, that's a new one, to me, I like it.

    Professor Maryal, as always we await your perspectives with glee, (especially since we always disagree hahahaha).

    Callie, spitting on the sidewalk not allowed (did you see that they're handing out "spit bags" in China to try to stop that practice because of SARS? I think maybe that we don't change much. We still drive off as Lou says with a pottery wake, the spirit may get dented by the world but it's still there, underneath.

    That's what I see in Margaret. We just HAPPEN to be in her mind. I don't see anything nasty or mean or evil, just that continual longing to "be somebody." It's got to be hard on Ted. They do say there's nothing worse than bearing the burden of somebody else's expectations.

    Betty said, "I keep thinking of the irony of Letty being able to do what Margaret wishes she could do...."

    When I read the book the first time, I got really caught up in this? I saw two friends, one of whom tried sooo hard (Margaret) and thought she was superior, only to find her friend taking all the honors. I certainly have had that experience (maybe without the "superior") and I know how it feels. That made me instantly bond with Margaret.

    Now I'm not so sure, actually, as a result of our discussion, that that IS the case between them, I am looking foward to a nice sit down with Margaret/ Letty & Co to the bottom of page 227 today for tomorrow's start!

    Betty said, "So, who knows what's possible for Margaret?" That makes me think how different her life would be if she did NOT have support, and for that matter, Letty's life, too.

    Whole different dynamic!

    Betty, what an interesting thought, "It would be just as interesting to see Letty at 50. Did she sell her soul? Did she finally become part of what she found so ridiculous? "

    Sell her soul? Love it. Faustian.

    Malryn said, "She'd say what she thought Margaret wanted to hear instead of what she really thought." Oh so, this is intersting, so you think Letty is making stuff up for Margaret's benefit?

    And Malryn said, "Letty, on the other hand, is always asking for critiques of what she does and is never afraid to do it."

    Well didn't Margaret ask Letty? Let's look at the incident of the paper hanging today!

    What do you all think about anything concerning Letty today? If you have your own questions, let's get them in the heading??

    Are you totally clear on Letty?? I'm not, I can't get a handle on her, the only one talking about Letty is Letty with the occasional aside (somewhat jealous at times) from Margaret?

    Penny for your thoughts!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 7, 2003 - 06:08 am

    Ginny:- You took what I said out of context, and out of context it takes a different meaning. That's interesting, and I must remember it. What I said was:
    "If Margaret were really a writer, she'd have to write, confident or not. She'd want some feedback and would seek out reactions to what she had written from Ted and probably Letty, though Letty is too kind-hearted to be a reliable critic. She'd say what she thought Margaret wanted to hear instead of what she really thought.

    "As it is, Margaret has written and done nothing, so has nothing to ask anyone to critique. Letty, on the other hand, is always asking for critiques of what she does and is never afraid to do it."
    I do not dislike Margaret. I think she's the deluded product of her parents' and her own making. Her parents raised her to think she was superior, and she did her best to live up to that, even refusing to call herself "Peggy" (something else her parents insisted on ) because it would belittle her. Margaret says on Page 7, "Letty was not so driven, which was at least in part the fault of her family. I think her parents must have had big plans for her because they named her Letitia, but there never was all that much get-up-and-go in the Larue household, and they let her name lapse into Letty almost immediately."

    Margaret had a very negative reaction to the tree Letty made with construction paper, and was upset about the way she felt. She decided then in the first grade ( Page 7 ), "I would strain to the utmost, no matter what the project, so as never to be in a position to feel such chagrin again."

    I interpret this to mean that Margaret didn't really feel sorry about her jealousy of her best friend. She was sorry that she hadn't tried more with her own tree ( and bought the easier, better glue! ), so she was going to work hard so that she'd always beat Letty and come out on top. After all, didn't Margaret decide very early that she was "the hero" and Letty was the follower? Letty, on the other hand, tried to keep up with other people, but she was not motivated by the idea that she'd beat out Margaret or anyone else so she'd always win first prize.

    It's so interesting that the influences on Margaret and Letty when they were children, and how they thought and behaved, carried right through to when they were grown adults. Neither one had grown beyond childhood. I see part of the reason for this to be the fact that they never grew up enough to look at her friend and herself in an adult, mature way.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 7, 2003 - 06:15 am
    Writers are not "different", but a true writer approaches what he or she does as work, as a job. If Margaret had said when she was teaching that she had a mental block and didn't feel like going to work three days every week, she would have been fired. It's my opinion ( and experience ) that when people say they're going to write a book, and then piddle around doing this and that and don't write a word, they should fire themselves as writers.

    I explained in another post that writing is hard work. It's not fun and games. Margaret created her own blocks. An example of this is the way she got hung up on symbolism and metaphors, etc. She was so busy thinking about the symbolism in her work and wondering if a reader would get the classical references she made, plus thinking about the recognition and fame she'd get as a published writer, that she didn't write. Instead of working to learn her craft and perfect her technique, she sat and dreamed of what she'd do when she was a best-selling author.

    If somebody can't find the dedication and determination to work hard as a writer nothing is accomplished, and that person is not a writer.

    I didn't write the books and short stories I've done by sitting around thinking about the fame, glory, money and applause I'd receive when they were published. Oh, no, I've worked very, very hard and have hoped, if I work hard at selling what I write, that maybe, maybe something I did might possibly someday be published.

    I also realized that if nothing I did ever was published, I had the immense satisfaction of doing the job. At this time of my life, writing is my favorite thing to do, and keeps me going, along with other things I do, which I approach in exactly the same way.


    betty gregory
    June 7, 2003 - 06:32 am
    (This whole post is my playing around with 2 theories, one psychological, one from the field of math. It is the roughest thinking aloud, so apply salt liberally.)

    I want to add something to the mix. It's not deep, serious science, but about an evolution in moderately serious psychology on what was previously called extroverted vs. introverted. (Ginny has mentioned "other-directed" which stayed on my mind.) Serious psychological studies as well as popular magazine questionaires have always been interested in finding out if someone is outgoing or shy......extroverted or introverted.....inner-directed or outer-directed.....other-directed or self-directed. All these labels are describing the same thing and have continued to change (the labels) over time as the information gathered changed as well as perspectives about this information changed.

    Also, the way studies were designed and the beliefs held by the researchers continued to change. Overall, though, there was always a general belief that it was good to be "extroverted" and not so good to be "introverted." The design of the questions in the studies reflected this belief. You can tell by the evolution of the labels, however, that there is no longer an assumption that one way of being is better or worse than another.

    The last study I read concerning inner or outer directedness....and I'm not even sure those labels were still being used.... had to do with need for stimulation. Stimulation, as in biological and psychological need for noise, people, activity, movement. And, importantly, what are the sources for this stimulation? Over-simplified example....the person looking forward to a quiet evening with a book is already A-Ok on her stimulation meter and requires nothing more than what she can give herself in that quiet evening. The next person, for whatever reason, experiences a temporary deficit in her internal biological stimulation meter and feels interested in going out to dinner with 6 friends...and often chooses that over a quiet evening alone with a book. This example is about different needs for stimulation and different we receive most of our stimulation from ourselves or from outside ourselves.

    The perspective of what is good/healthy has changed dramatically over the years with all these studies. It previously was thought that being "extroverted" was somehow better than being "introverted." The latest thinking is that neither is better than the other, but that some internal need for stimulation is different in different people.

    Doesn't it make sense that these needs change over time.... given the energy levels and interests of a 20 year old and a 50 year old. Also, some of the older labels were trying to lump together too many personal traits and circumstances and also were based on stereotypes of what was healthy.

    Since the movie A Beautiful Mind came out (and then I read the book), I've been wondering a lot about the equilibrium theory. John Nash (Nobel Prize 1994) devised this theory in a subset of math theory (games theory) 50 years ago, but the field of economics changed fundamentally (recently) after adapting it. Gestalt theory in psychology is all about equilibrium. Evolutionary biology has been affected, also, by the Nash equilibrium theory. (I must go find something on this....can't quit thinking about it. Are the fittest not the only to survive now?)

    I have always believed that everything psychological is about balance, about equilibrium, that we are constantly adjusting and readjusting, trying to make sense of the world and where we fit. A burned breakfast, a lost wallet, a headache, 3 red lights and everything is temporarily out of balance. A kind word, a good telephone call, a found wallet and equilibrium is restored. (For an abusive marriage, what is required to restore healthy equilibrium??)

    I've been thinking of these two theories together. This inner and outer directedness (sources for stimulation) makes sense to me that an equilibrium is what governs what stimulation we need. That we are busy doing what we need to do, to get back to a feeling of balance. Is the word "stasis"? I can't remember.

    Since seeing that movie and reading the book A Beautiful Mind, I keep applying thoughts about equilibrium to....everything. I wonder about Margaret and Letty and about their sources of stimulation, of what feels out of balance for Margaret. I know she looks to others to meet some needs, but at some point, she will face that those others cannot give her self love. So, I end up with more questions. She has more going on than just a deficit of stimulation. She has a deficit of self-respect, to begin with.


    June 7, 2003 - 12:15 pm
    Ginny--I really hate to let you down, but I find Margaret an intriguing person. I don't so much see myself in her as find her someone I'd be interested in having as a friend. Many have suggested that she lacks self-esteem, and it is true that in her own judgment of herself, she hasn't achieved all that much, but I don't think she lacks self-esteem. She is young and wants not to be overlooked; she wants to be noticed. Nothing wrong with that.

    Christina's portrayal of the cocktail party is perfect. I teach English. At such parties I am asked what I do. I reply that I am an English Professor. I used to say English teacher, but I have found that response leads to questions about what level, so I have shortened the answer. There are two inevitable responses: 1)I'd better watch my grammar! and 2) I hated/loved English. Christina has put number 1 in the book. Of course part of the problem is our willingness to buy into the importance of cocktail party chatter. No one really has much of anything to say to the other guests when they don't know each other and so the conversation centers around What Do You Do. I avoid these parties now because I dislike them so much and my back starts to ache from standing and talking to shorter people for extended periods.

    Christina--It is generous of you to spend time with us, especially with a baby who is at the age where he (?) must take a good deal of watching. I hope that we are somewhat of a respite for you. It must be interesting to see how many different ways people see your characters.

    As for "funny," I wouldn't use that word. Margaret is witty and she makes some wonderful remarks as well as thinking witty thoughts. There are funny bits, but I see her as a serious character.

    I don't yet have a good take on Letty because even though we have access to her voice in phone calls and email, she doesn't exist for me the way that Margaret does. I don't see all that much difference in their voices. The content is different, but I don't hear two voices. But then we have (so far) much less of Letty's.

    One important thread which I notice is the choices women have today. It used to be pretty much assumed that young women would marry after high school or college and that their "status" in life depended on their husband. My mother was certainly in this position as was my older sister. Both thought of their husband's accomplishments as theirs, however once-removed.

    Now things are different, but women are left with perplexing choices. Both Letty and Margaret are married, but their lives are polar opposites. Letty with FOUR children is following the more traditional path while Margaret (no mention of whether she and Ted plan to have children--perhaps we find out later) is childless and has until recently been teaching English. Neither woman seems to have found her niche. Letty gets all caught up in oneupwomanship for fourth grade refreshments, for heaven's sake. She also spends time wondering if Michael's new job is what he should be pursuing.

    Choices, choices, choices.

    Christina--You beat me to the real meaning of "vanity." The New Jerusalem Bible uses the word you suggested: futility to translate "vanity."

    I worked on a grand scale: built myself palaces, planted vineyards; made myself gardens and orchards, planting every kind of fruit tree in them; had pools made for watering the young trees of my plantations. I bought slaves, male and female, had home-born slaves as well; herds and flocks I had too, more than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold, the treasures of kings and provinces; acquired singers, men and women, and every human luxury, chest upon chest of it. So i grew great, greater than anyone in Jerusalem before me. . . . I then reflected on all that my hands had achieved and all the effort I had put into its achieving. What futility it all was, what chasing after the wind! (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 with a little left out NJV).

    BIG reading assignment for today. Instead of counting all the pages between the two novels, I'll just go start reading.

    June 7, 2003 - 12:26 pm
    Betty, I agree that Margaret has a deficit of self-respect. Do you feel that time and the accrual of wisdom (hopefully) may give her a healthier equilibrium? Do you see Margaret at 50 better able to resist the surges of anxiety that overtake her?

    I thought one of the most moving parts of the book so far was the passages Ginny quoted from pp.73 - 75. Margaret describes her emotions during a quiet August in New York. During that summer Margaret knew how to be content, to achieve stasis, to enjoy a healthy equilibrium...but only under very specialized circumstances.

    In the absence of the "real" New Yorkers that she considered better than herself, Margaret flowered. During the rest of the year she must have felt their pervasive presence continually and didn't feel free to enjoy all the things in her life that gave her such pleasure in August. Yet all those things were there for her during the rest of the year also. Was it her personal impression of being judged by this anonymous group of people THAT SHE HERSELF HAD EMPOWERED, that prevented joy in life? Margaret imposed her own misery on herself? I wonder if some of the folks that she feared might actually have been generous, pleasant people?

    She and Ted were a team that summer. "On the Staten Island Ferry with our faces turned to the breeze, and strolling late at night past Korean groceries overflowing with plums and green onions and black-eyed Susans," p.75, Margaret came into her kingdom, and felt joyousness in her world and closeness with her husband. So moving...

    Well, Betty, maybe she'll achieve that balance more often as she grows older? Hopefully, perhaps time can help ALL of us resolve discontents that stem from our own misperceptions?

    Mal, I laughed our loud at your wonderful description of Margaret's jealousy of Letty's first grade construction paper tree.

    "She was sorry that she hadn't tried more with her own tree ( and bought the easier, better glue! ), so she was going to work hard so that she'd always beat Letty and come out on top."

    I remember a marvelous line from the book with the same feel as your comment. Margaret is boasting of her generous friendship toward Letty. She notes that she always listens patiently to Letty talking, even when she really would prefer to be talking about herself. Loved that one too.

    I really don't have a true insight into Letty in the first 115 pages. She seems so "salt of the earth." She's a good mother, good friend, zany enough to be interesting. She's non-threatening and lovable too. I'm eager for Letty to emerge more completely in the pages that will follow.


    June 7, 2003 - 01:17 pm
    Harriet's comment regarding Margaret's reaction "in the abscence of the real New Yorkers" in August. New York city is hot and humid in the summer and those who can afford to get away for an extended vacation do so. Some New Yorkers with high incomes have summer homes out of the city. Therefore, the streets, subways, buses, etc. are less packed with people and there is more " elbow room" to breath and move about. People walk every where in the city instead of driving everywhere as is done out west.There are 8 million people in NYC in a small amount of land. Many New Yorkers love the city best at that time of year. Some consider the "real" New Yorkers as those who are native born, love the cultural opportunities the city can provide, and consider the city as their permanent home. Not just living in NYC for a career opportunity. I believe this will explain Margaret's reaction in August. frugal: a native New Yorker for 40 years. P.S. The Penny Saver booklet arrives in our maiboxes in San Diego, Ca. as well.

    kiwi lady
    June 7, 2003 - 01:37 pm
    Golly you are such a learned bunch! Writing - I agree with Mal - I once thought I could write but I am definately not a writer. I only like to write about something which means a great deal to me, an issue, a person, a memory. I am NOT driven! The best writing I have ever done was a journal I kept in the dark days after my husbands death from terminal cancer at 49 years of age. It was therapy for me, it was written in the form of daily letters to God. I have shown it to one friend who believes I should try to publish it to assist people going through the grieving process. I believe a writer has a compulsion to write, I personally believe a great writer is one whose writing is not contrived. For example "The Seven Sisters" by Drabble was a contrived novel - I believe she was trying to put one over her scholarly sister. I have since read other Drabble novels and enjoyed them far more than Seven sisters. I believe "The Seven Sisters" was not the true Drabble style.

    Margaret finds writing so difficult that I cannot believe she is a born writer with that great gift which is not given to many.

    Christina - the passion we have about the two characters who are the centre of this novel is a great compliment to your skill. It matters not if we like either character but the fact that we are regarding them as real people is important. This is part of the gift - to weave believable characters.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 7, 2003 - 02:27 pm

    I agree with Frugal that real New Yorkers are those who were born there and have lived there all their lives. The only way I had a glimpse of what "real" New York is like was when my son owned an apartment on W 57th. His wife worked in Manhattan, and he commuted to Brooklyn to work, a long commute on the subway. Nobody drives a car because there's no place to put it, and when you do find a garage it costs big bucks, more than most people could afford. My son lives on Staten Island now, and before that he lived in Brooklyn. I have spent some time in Brooklyn, too, which is an incredible place and not at all like New York.

    Once when I was in New York City in the summer, it was 101 degrees. I had gone there from North Carolina, and it didn't seem that hot to me because the humidity wasn't as high as it is here. It was not what most people would enjoy, though.

    There isn't as much going on in New York in the summer as at other times of the year. Of course, you can dance out in the open air at the plaza at Lincoln Center, something Margaret turned her nose up at. I thought it was loads of fun. There's Shakespeare in the Park, and that's wonderful. There are street fairs. I've been to great ones on 8th Avenue. That's where Hell's Kitchen is. New York is divided up into neighborhoods, and in the summer there's always something "neighborly" going on, including sidewalk sales of almost anything you can name.

    The best view of New York I ever had was when my strong, crazy, wonderful son pushed me in a wheelchair 100 blocks from Greenwich Village where we had eaten at Tea and Sympathy, a tiny English restaurant on Greenwich Avenue, to Fifth Avenue and right down the middle of the Easter Parade and lots of other places that day; then back to W 57th Street. Riding in a wheelchair in New York is the best way to see that city anyone could have.

    Margaret and Ted were in the middle of all this. I think the only time she took a real look was that summer which is mentioned in this book.

    If you can't tell by now, I love New York and think it's very close to being the most terrific place in the world.


    June 7, 2003 - 04:04 pm
    GINNY asked 'do any of you wipe up the public bathroom counters for the next person?' Heck, I do. I even pick up those old bits of paper handtowels that missed the wastebasket! Partly for the next person but partly, I'm embarassed to say, so I'm not blamed for the mess. Who would blame anyway and what could they do to me? But I still tidy up.

    Frugal provides the definition of satire: a literary style holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn. In the definition goes a little further in saying that the intention of satire is to be corrective. And the butt of the satire could be an individual, a class, an institution, a nation or even mankind in general.

    I personally feel that it's society which is the butt of this satiric humor and not Margaret and Letty individually.

    There are so many wonderful posts and I'm trying to catch up with the comments but I was stopped by the speculation of Margaret and Letty at age 50. What would they be like? Interesting. I liked what BETTY said, that the thought of Margaret at age 50 "made me wonder..if ths low confidence, this agony of social pressure and self-imposed deadlines, this feeling lesser all in process, is developmental, is what all new writers go through, to some extent. Thinking about what Margaret would be like at 50 takes the edge off my frustration with her .... Who knows what's possible for Margaret."

    I agree. I feel there's a possibility of growth for Margaret and it is true that she's undergoing the pangs of a novice writer who hasn't yet gotten her balance. She could find out that she is a writer if she keeps writing.


    GINNY asked us to consider the paper hanging incident and what sort of friend Letty is to Margaret.

    I feel there is competition and resentment between these two best friends, L&M. They both feel they lack some validation of their worth and Margaret has decided having a novel published would achieve that for her. (And I find it hilarious that EVERYONE feels free to advise Margaret on writing. And they'd write too if they only had the TIME as if -- having judged themselves to be intelligent and interesting -- time is, therefore, the only missing ingredient to actually writing.) So Margaret is taking the time and is having a difficult TIME of it, doing this thing called writing. She turns to Letty with her self-declared smashing plot.

    GINNY asks "What would a real friend do?" if they hate the plot outline?

    One the one hand, I can say that Letty should support her friend because there are enough critics in the world. But...but... If Letty is honest would she save Margaret from months of working on an unmarketable outline? Letty was being practical because the little trick that made the plot worked, did not, itself, work as a trick. And did Letty know any better about giving honest advise? She didn't voice to Margaret her doubts about the "blue ball" called Nefretiti so why now with the plot outline? Is it envy of M having the opportunity to achieve recognition? Is it competition?

    If a friend is drowning and calls to you on the shore to toss them an anchor, do you throw the anchor at them as a supportive friend would? Or do you toss them a life preserver or swim out into the currents to save them?

    I think one question that should be asked in the paper-hanging scenario is: What sort of friend is Margaret to Letty? She's asking a friend, one she knows isn't a writer or editor, for opinions on a novel. She expects a submissive yes-woman rather than honesty? And when Letty tells her the plot problem, Margaret stops dead in her tracks and doesn't look for a solution. Isn't M making her friend Letty take the responsibility of the botched plot?

    Generally, professional writers don't talk about their work until they have a substantial part done and they choose who they ask opinions of, if they ask at all. Either you write or you don't. It's up to you and no one else has the responsibility for the writing and the creative joy that goes along with it.

    L is stuck in the friend role with Margaret and while she points out the plot problem she tries to cheerfully say that M can find a way around it. Does she know that Margaret doesn't have writing talent? (I'm not sure M doesn't have it. She is, as Betty brilliantly pointed out, at the beginning stage of writing.) L wouldn't know that but she can point out the plot problem. L would know that M is unsure of herself. In lacking self-esteem, they are both strikingly similar.

    To sum up, M wasn't a good friend to L to place her in the position she did. L pointed out a practical problem which could be helpful -- except M overreacted and tossed out the entire idea -- but L is also critical in subtle ways and this may have a lot to do with low self-esteem and the undeclared competition. I find in most of Letty's emails that there's hidden in them subtle criticisms as well as the continual mention of material things.

    An example of subtle criticism is this conversation she reports to M: L writes that Michael had once dismissed the dingy gray of his former university office at the time

    " 'It doesn't matter where I work,' [Michael said] .... He'd tapped his head and told me not to worry. "It's what goes on in here that counts,' he said."

    [Yet with the new job in the upscale office with panelling of 'maple sugar with bronze undertones'] "As an academician Michael has always been of the opinion that art exists for its own sake -- whether people see it is irrelevant.... But now he's going to have to believe, or at least pretend to believe, just the opposite. 'You're sure there'll be enough for you up here?' I asked [L asked Michael], tapping my own head. Sadly, he seemed unable to recall the gesture."

    So there's a strong loving side to L but also this need to subtly criticize as she did with Michael in this example and as she did with Margaret over the outline plot. Maybe it's a way of leveling the playing field.

    I also still see M as assuming too much when she brought L into critiquing the writing. L couldn't win. Either honest or dishonest, she wouldn't be doing M a favor. M should have just kept writing and the little things like plots and characterizations get resolved, if they get resolved, in the process of writing.


    June 7, 2003 - 04:22 pm
    Thanks Christina for mentioning the similarity to L. I write emails like L too. I just don't let the CE (Critical Editor) interfere with my personal communications and so I leap around all over the place as I write; which I sometimes do in posts too unfortunately, as in the post preceeding this one!

    Mal, I admit with shame that I've never been to New York; that the thought of it is rather frightening. Now, I'm not afraid of physical danger. I've lived all over the world during wars and in peace but New York seems to me to embody American Society and that's where I feel timid. Being a Westerner I am familiar with, and love, San Francisco; enjoy the San Diego beaches and sun; am even fond of LA nightlife -- but no New York for me. I think I'd have to know somebody who lived there before I visited.


    I guess there are different sorts of writers? Mal says that 'writing is hard work. It's not fun and games.' I feel it's both?

    As a writer I juggle two hats; one being the Critical Editor (hard work) and the other hat being the Playful Writer (fun and games). First, you get an idea and partially develop it (CE). Then you take it and run (PW=playful writer). And you go back and forth between the two. With me, the playful writer gets the most emphasis in the beginning of the writing process. I never know what I'm thinking about something until after I've written it out, and gone round in circles, and veered off into the ditch of other inspirations, and somewhere in there the CE finds my thought. I couldn't be -- wouldn't want to be -- a writer without both the hard work AND the fun and games!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 7, 2003 - 04:40 pm

    Marvelle, if I didn't think writing was fun, I wouldn't do it. As I see Margaret, though, she didn't want to do the work and wasn't writer enough to make it fun.


    betty gregory
    June 7, 2003 - 10:28 pm
    I envy all who have spent time in New York. I've never been, but have spent a lifetime reading of it and feeling a kinship difficult to explain. I've always thought that if I'd gone there as a young person when my leg muscles were still pretty strong, that I never would have left. But...isn't life interesting...if I'd lived in New York, chances are, I wouldn't have discovered the Oregon coast, my true love.


    Joan Pearson
    June 8, 2003 - 03:21 am
    Betty, you were living in your little cottage by the sea when we first met you. I remember that so clearly- I remember envying you then. I grew up in New Jersey...less than an hour from NY. Funny, I don't miss NY at all, but I guess I've never really lived too far - Boston, DC.

    Isn't it so fine to have Christina in our midst? I have a thing about epigraphs - (and dedications) - they often indicate what was important to the author during the writing process. So it was really interesting to hear Christina refer to the Howells' quote as her guiding light.
    ..."people are greedy and foolish, and wish to have
    and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good of life."
    I had been thinking of Margaret and Ted, Letty and Michael as dance partners. Each pair is attempting to shine, in a way. BUT in the dance, there is ONE partner who does the leading, one who follows.

    Margaret, we have seen, needs to shine. She's leading a reluctant Ted in the dance towards her goal. She's not a smooth dancer, and they don't seem to have found their rhythm, nor do they appear to be learning any new steps. I'm not sure they will improve.

    But what of Letty and Michael? Michael is leading the way here. He is tired of academe and will do anything for a change. He is impressed with the blond office, the private chef...Letty wonders what the "pod people" have done with her real husband. She is willing to dance to this new tune simply because she is exhausted cutting corners trying to live on his salary ...she admits she wants him to take the new job, BUT NOT BEFORE he persuades her that it is right for HIM.

    Maryal, was it you who mentioned that you didn't think the two, Margaret and Letty had found their niches in life? When you said that, I thought of Letty's situation - she has FOUR kids! She's clearly into that scene. I think of my four boys growing up. This was a full time, all-absorbing job - the BEST time of my life. To this day, I look upon that period as my "niche" ...with no regrets. I think that Letty was quite happy and could have gone on without Michaels's new job/salary. She did look forward to having a dishwasher. That wouldn't be classified as "greed", would it?

    I see Michael leading, Letty following. She doesn't want the spotlight on herself now any more than she did when she and Margaret were growing up. What does she want then? She wants nothing more than "conversing with Alex Prescott knowing her own husband has a job with glamour and pressure." Reflected glory. All SHE wants is the dishwasher. Where Michael leads her away from her dishpan is yet to be seen.

    It is Margaret and Michael who feel the need to "shine"...they are leading Letty and Ted in the dance to their goal. Neither can make their moves without the "supporting" arm of the other. Letty wants to hear the details about Michael's new job to convince herself that it is the right thing for him. Ted needs to know that Margaret is making progress so he can feel comfortable with their economic situation. Neither of the supporting partners are confident in their leaders.

    June 8, 2003 - 04:56 am
    Gosh, you all are good. Gosh. If there were some way to come in here without "breaking the spell," I would, just a brief note to say that some Week II Topics are now in the heading, and the bit posted about Margaret using Letty as "muse" are all that's in this section? In other words, when page 227 ends, Margaret has decided to copy out as an exercise for inspiration, some of Letty's letters. She gets 5 pages, 2 of which Letty wrote. She thinks Letty would be amused to be her muse. She can still turn back.

    This section, read again without the benefit of the colored pens and pencils (I got so caught up in the thing I forgot about them till page 170 when I just ran out of underlines, stars, exclamation points, notes, and arrows, you ought to SEE this text!) is chock full of change: for Margaret in almost every aspect of her life, for Letty, for the marriage dynamic of both couples,'s very subtle, but I see the sadness and weight of Margaret seeing her parents as THEY are for the first time. She goes in the attic and sees her old projects. She encounters the work world again and comes out battered. I will say a tear actually escaped from me last night in the strangest place in the text you'd never guess it. And also got chills, physically, in another. Even the humor is a little bit different, to me. Chills, tears and great change, and a couple of "sins of omission," would you say? What did YOU see in this part?

    Let's look at this tremendous section this week, am on fire to hear what you think about any aspect of these new developments!


    June 8, 2003 - 07:45 am
    Joan, I feel the same way about Letty. Letty, I feel, is more into family. I feel she is happy in her role. Keeping up with the Joneses is not her big goal in life. I think she could be happy just wearing a pair of jeans and going to PTA meetings. Michael ends up buying her clothes, the "right" clothes to wear. Letty writes about Michael.

    "He's already made several trips to the mall that's on his way home from work and purchased clothes for me--khakis and a pair of black capris, a jersey skirt and a bright white poplin blouse that reminds me of a pajama top--"

    Letty, to me, seems very personable and loving. She would be a fun girlfriend. I think she likes to give of herself, and this is why she enjoys her children. These are just some of my favorite pieces of Christina Schwartz writing.

    "A gift from Letty was always small and inexpensive, but exquisite: a set of four antique linen cocktail napkins; a stainless steel moderne key chain; art deco book plates."

    "In general, Letty had developed into the sort of person who appreciated fine touches. If you put a carton of cream on her table, she'd surreptitiously whisk it away and pour the cream into a squat pitcher. She knew how to garnish plates with lemon wedges and sprigs of fresh herbs from the herb garden she'd cultivated...."

    "On her dining room table, she kept a big bowl of oranges for juicing, their luxurious color and abundance belying their provenance:"

    I do not know how to describe it, but Letty had that wonderful talent that comes from enjoying life. I do not think Letty gives a hoot about who is watching, what they are thinking or what they will say. If Margaret could choose the essence of a person's life. I think she would choose Letty's life.

    I think Margaret truly admires Letty. I think this is why she describes her as the girl with "integrity."

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 8, 2003 - 09:41 am

    One of the funniest parts of this book so far is Berginsky's critique of what Margaret has written. He goes on and on with literate double talk, then says: "Swim with the chickens. Turn the details inside out until they smoke, threatening combustion. Also, don't use too many adverbs." And a postscript: "How do the cheating little girls fit in?" I laughed. Margaret was upset.

    Letty's son, Hunter, has been cheating with an erasable pen. The author spends a good bit of time on this. It must mean more than it sounds, but I don't know what. Didn't Letty and Margaret cheat as kids?

    Letty continues to buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. So does Michael. I hate to see them caught in this fever.

    Ted's beginning to feel the pinch of life without Margaret's income combined with his. "How much did I pay for these tiles?" Margaret thinks "the inevitable resentment, the veiled demands, the erection of attention-wasting roadblocks" have begun. ( This is almost as much double talk as Berginsky's. What does she expect? She's not producing a novel; she's pasting tiles on the kitchen floor. Ted's salary is paying for them while he waits for her to write, isn't it? )

    Margaret makes chutney for Christmas presents. It's a little thin, but the jars are pretty. Not satisfied with the label, she scrounges the Hanukkah refuse bags on the street for wrapping paper and collects twigs in Washington Square. I had an old New England friend one time who never minced words. He would call this "pisspot economy", and he'd say the same about the writing class. Anything but write; that's Margaret. Her year off to "not write a novel" is affecting her marriage. The light-hearted tone up to now is being replaced by a much more serious one.


    June 8, 2003 - 10:35 am
    The eraseble purple ink pen: Letty's son Hunter was not cheating. He misunderstood the teacher's directions. The children were told to exchange test papers with each other for the purpose of identiftying errors. This process was considered a good learning experience for students in my student days and also saved the teacher time. They were to use a "book" which contained the correct answers. He erased the incorrect answer instead of marking the incorrect answer(s) with a check. Chap.8 When the principal calls Letty to Hunter's school she explains the problem to her and **returns the pen to her.** The child identifies his mistake to Letty in the family car when she picks him up after school.
  • * The eraseable purple ink pen becomes an inportant link/thread in the ensuing saga of Letty life and relationship with Margaret. Humor: When Letty tells her husband about the incident his response is " to think that a son of mine uses purple ink".
  • Ginny
    June 8, 2003 - 03:07 pm
    Maryal, thank you for that lovely long quotation from Ecclesiastes, it's quite germane, “Vanity” I think has almost a double meaning, in both places, wouldn't you say?

    Great point on the "choices" as a recurrent theme or thread, will get that up immediately, thank you!

    You don't see much difference in the voices of Margaret and Letty? They are most similar, I think, when they talk on the phone or in person, but I see a difference almost all the time: it might be fun to try to identify that indefinable thing each has, but they sure are poles apart when Letty writes. (Do we have any of Margaret's emails or letters in this book?) Letty's emails are different, to me, from her talking, and maybe (I'm still pondering this) from her written letters. At any rate let's play a game! Let's do a challenge!!

    I'll get up at random some quotes and let's see if whoever would like to play can identify ANY of the voices ? Just a fun game, no peeking allowed.

    There's quite a bit of difference to me in Letty's voice and Letty's emails, and Margaret notices that, too:

    She never said, "how are you? I am fine." She never delivered a long dull list of the day's activities or described a setting in brochure terms. Instead, she jumped into the good stuff. The secret, I realized, was in the detail. She did not just paint her toenails, she painted them “Very Cherry,"

    I am not ashamed to say that I modeled my own missives after hers, stuffing them with colors and textures and crumbs of conversation I'd never otherwise had noted even to myself. Thanks to her lead, when I was writing to Letty, my own everyday would became surprisingly full and amusing, nearly as fascinating as those of past civilizations. Sometimes, before I sealed the envelope, I marveled at all that had happened to ms. (page 170).

    Here is an example of Letty's emails: (page 187)

    The gracious width of the hallways between unscuffed, custard-colored walls. The brown-sugar -stained floor boards…Her children’s desks were made of "reclaimed" pine, their well-grained surfaces gently "distressed." They evoke history: the farmwife scrubbing, one hand spreading the scouring sand, scooped form the creek bed at dawn , the other wielding the rough, homespun cloth, dipped in clear water, also scooped form the creek at dawn. Or the young scholar, sleeve secured in an elastic band, polishing the wood with his elbow as he declines his Greek nouns with a quill dipped in ink..." (page 187).

    There is a difference in Letty the Letter Writer and Letty the Conversationalist,....why do you think that is? Is it deliberate?

    Might be a big issue here, that affects all of us, actually, as we type out our little stories of credit cards in trash cans here online or in email.

    Hats, I totally agree with you, I think Margaret admires Letty, too, I think that Margaret thinks, secretly, that Letty’s the "real thing," that Margaret has always wanted to be, and has not been, despite her brilliance. I am not sure Letty thinks this way, however, I do think she recognizes in Margaret something she thinks she does not have.

    And I agree that Pearson IS a Living Letty, up to a point. The four sons, the gourmet cooking (done right) and if she ever gives you a present you would wonder for days, just the right thing, nonchalantly tied up in this or that perfect ribbon, tastefully selected, perfectly presented. I hope I’m not embarrassing her. Up to a point, up to when Letty starts to change, they’re twins. (of course I do seem to recall imported fabrics from Belgium and rugs from France but I think I better shut up before she kills me? hahahaha)

    When I see something like that kind of wrapping, I want to, too. I even went out at some trouble and found the same ribbon, but I can't tie bows. Malryn mentions the jars wrapped in cast off Hannukkah ribbon. I want to make the little Hannukkah ribboned trees with cranberries hanging that I picked up for a song. Note how long that took Margaret, how clever the concept, the idea: probably took her three times as long than it would Letty to do something infinitely more tasteful and impressive, and then what happens? It’s not easy to decorate canning jars, and I’ve been doing it for 23 years. What happens? “Looks hard to pack,” said Ted, and they carefully took them apart to reassemble. Even put together, (“some of the twigs had broken in transit and their edges looked raw in the hard, clear Los Angeles light”) the old joke stood, “Wow, Margaret, this is great!… What is it?”

    On behalf of all of the Martha Stewart- Challenged people in the world, Margaret, I believe I would rather have a bent up broken cranberry ornamented tree that you made, than all the cupcakes Martha Stewart could produce and I think Letty felt the same way, [did you see Martha Stewart (have I mentioned this?] sent Cybill Shepherd cupcakes after the television portrayal of her and dissed her performance? Shepherd threw the cupcakes in the trash.) But I digress.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 8, 2003 - 03:53 pm

    Say what you want about Martha Stewart, she took ordinary housework and turned into so much of a fairyland that she made millions of dollars. Hers is a real success story, and I hope she gets out of this mess she's in unscathed. She once was in the catering business with the woman who owns Foster's here in Durham, North Carolina. That's another success story about a woman who took something she did at home and made it pay.

    People like Joan Pearson scare me. Though I loved painting pictures, I never was good at crafts. When I tried that homemade-preserves-all-dressed-up-as-gifts trick, the preserves were great, but the jars were a mess, sticky and unlovely. I hate wrapping gifts, and vividly recall the time I wrapped all my Christmas presents in newspaper tied with a red yarn bow. My husband frowned, and my kids looked as if I was nuts, especially one of my sons, the one who decided after much deliberation when he was about ten years old that maybe, perhaps it was okay if I wrote stories instead of watching soap operas like the mothers of his friends. He still thinks I'm a little whacky and eccentric, but he loves me enough to push me around New York City in a wheelchair, and gave me this computer when my other one died recently.

    I think Letty has an eye for design, texture and color. I mean that literally; I think she sees it, and it transfers to her writing. Margaret, on the other hand, sees symbols rather than design, among them symbols of status which have a tendency to overwhelm her and make her feel small.


    June 8, 2003 - 04:04 pm
    Frugal, great point on the purple ink, I did catch Michael saying no child of mine should write in purple, but I did not realize it was important, well done!

    Malryn and Frugal, I was not too clear on Hunter's crime, it seems to me if you had exchanged papers, ... I don't understand and am ambivalent on that one. It's clear from the child's reaction going home in the car he did not realize he was doing anything wrong. It's also clear to me the teacher is lazy and too quick to brand a child a "cheater." Erasable ink: bad. Pencils with erasers: good. Logic: stupid. Teacher: very bad, change schools.

    Reminds me of all the teacher conferences I attended. One time the woman came out to my CAR as I waited to pick up oldest gifted son, you'll have to come IN she intones, in I go, slacks too tight (who expected to go IN) she smirked at slacks, I wedged self into tiny desk, in front of her desk at her direction (I am 5'11) The problem as much as I could figure out was that the child had a lot of energy and when told to put out gum (which we didn't allow) he wrapped it up and threw it in the trash and when he thought her gaze was averted REACHED INTO THE TRASH CAN and took it back out!!!! Horror of horrors, I agreed that was bad. And he's hyper, she said, he fidgets, as I squirmed in the chair like it was on fire. Apple didn't fall far from that tree, huh? FIE on the woman!!

    Reminds me of kindergarten. They called me on phone. Mrs. Anderson, Scott threw all the crayons all over the floor, has something happened at home? (Yes, he has a new baby brother; he wants attention). Make him pick them up, I said. Mrs. Anderson we don't have time for that, we have other children here, we think you should consider something is wrong!! I said fine I'll come down there and watch for you while he picks them up.

    Betty I enjoyed that on stimulation and balance and stasis, I wonder why Margaret could not accept the really good things she has in life, like Ted, she does acknowledge she married well and I think she did. I like the Margaret and Letty at 50 thought, I fear for Margaret at 50.

    Oh Harriet wonderful thought that Margaret had empowered the anonymous group herself, and maybe she does it all the time, why? Why??

    I agree the writing is just beautiful and very poignant, there were several passages in this next section that so perfectly capture what it is to BE in NYC, unfortunately I have underlined in the same pencil so it will take some time to find them. Hahaahah

    Frugal, I didn’t know you were from NYC originally! I can see why Pearson doesn’t miss it, living in DC but I sure do, I agree with Malryn, there’s no place like it on earth, but at the same time I always think it lets you know how little you really are. The energy! The excitement! If you can make it THERE you’ll make it anywhere! And if you can’t, you won’t. Gotta find that passage!

    Carolyn, that sounds very moving, your journal, and I certainly agree with you in spades on the Seven Sisters, and said so when we read it, we’re in good company, too, I just read Christina’s own review of it, she gently and kindly stopped short where we did not fear to tread!

    Marvelle, you DON’Tpick up those little papers! Hahahaah What do you care what the next person thinks of you!! Hahahaha

    Does satire always have to be holding something up to ridicule? Is it always negative? Is there a less strong version to expose foibles? I don’t want Margaret, one of the most original characters I’ve seen lately, to be the object of satire!! I can see Letty and Materialism or Snobbism, strangely enough (come on, you know Michael is a snob) but not Margaret.


    She didn't voice to Margaret her doubts about the "blue ball" called Nefretiti so why now with the plot outline? Is it envy of M having the opportunity to achieve recognition? Is it competition? If a friend is drowning and calls to you on the shore to toss them an anchor, do you throw the anchor at them as a supportive friend would? Or do you toss them a life preserver or swim out into the currents to save them?
    I throw them the life preserver and swim out just like they taught us to in life saving school which I did not pass.

    No but she was a child then, she may think now, perhaps that who is SHE to say the plot line is bad? I think she does not want to rain on Margaret’s small beginning parade, so she just asks one thing and the whole thing is torn down.

    Oh this is really good, Marvelle:

    What sort of friend is Margaret to Letty? Isn't M making her friend Letty take the responsibility of the botched plot?

    We note in this section that Margaret attempts to blame TED too, but…I don’t know how to put this, it’s not serious? She doesn’t believe it herself, she takes the blame back ON herself.

    I had not noticed the criticizing that Letty does!! I will pay closer attention, thank you for that!!

    I do think both Michael and Letty are extraordinarily trusting of the Otis, Michael because he’s blinded by the prestige, and Letty??


    Why is Letty so trusting? Is it because they are getting MORE with the promise of even MORE and so they also dare to dream, just like Margaret does?

    Good point, Joan that all four friends (do you all see Michael and Ted as close as their wives are?) want to shine and different ones lead.

    Malryn, I agree, the Berginsky criticism was hilarious, now THAT is satire (is it?) If not it should be. Hahahaha

    Oh I loved this: "the inevitable resentment, the veiled demands, the erection of attention-wasting roadblocks"”

    But what I loved is she comes out with that so effortlessly, to HIM immediately. It takes some people half a lifetime to see some patterns of behavior, Margaret has the eye of an eagle, for her own faults and others.

    Ted and the budget, the ledger, the finger, let’s talk about that conversation if you all like. Have you ever had one like it? I think Margaret is an Aquarius, you don’t talk ledgers with Aquarius, they can’t stand to be chained to reality. It’s unbearable. Reminds me of the song, “When are you going to come down? When are you going to land? I should have stayed on the farm I should have listened to my old man.”

    But this conversation, the truth of their very precarious financial position, and his obvious concern about it and his faith that she needs to get on with it and can get on with it, send her into overdrive and a downward poignant, almost unbearable to read spiral.

    Super good writing, here, let’s discuss it. What did you think when Ted hauled out the ledger? (I loved Margaret’s reaction, I’d have been out of the room and was so thinking when my own husband chose that moment last night to deliver a panegyric on the dishwasher.) So I can’t talk, after all! Hahahahaa


    June 8, 2003 - 04:29 pm
    Oh please, Martha Stewart should get out of this mess unscathed. She should have removed herself a long time ago from a position of honor before she indulged herself in insider trading.

    Joan, I love the dance partner idea. I've been thinking about that a lot today.

    June 8, 2003 - 05:00 pm
    ------------>Maryal purposefully not making a Martha Stewart remark.

    Ginny--You asked about Satire. I don't see it here. Satire is way more vicious and is intended to change behavior. What I see is a slight exaggeration (for comic effect) of what a creative writing professor might write on a submission--in fact, I'm not even sure that exaggeration is necessary.

    I have sat in on some Creative Writing workshops and classes and heard with my own ears similarly inane (and funny) comments. I see Peter B. as not very far from a number of professors I have known who are far more interested in displaying their vast knowledge than they are in teaching.

    Let's ask the author? Yo, Christina, have you known professors like this?

    kiwi lady
    June 8, 2003 - 05:56 pm
    If one reads about for instance the Bloomsbury Crowd (20's 30's poets artists musicians and authors) there was tremendous vanity amongst the poets and authors. These were people we would describe as very scholarly - often very schooled in the classics. Is there more vanity amongst the more scholarly of authors today?

    Margaret does display a form of vanity about her writing. Letty is a really good writer in my opinion but has not got a clue about her talent! I too love writing long emails to family and friends. Sometimes I think I am rambling on but was very surprised to be told by one SIL that her daughter in another city loves my emails so they are forwarded on.

    The ledger - I actually am fastidious about expenditure. I have to be! I know at every hour of every day what I have spent, what I need to pay and how much I have left (which is not much!) My budget is done two months ahead all year round. I even estimate the cost of my grocery list before I go to the market. Every item on my list has a price next to it. Now my husband was hopeless- he decided he could do the housekeeping better than me. He even volunteered to do the shopping blithely buying lots of luxury foods each week he even frightened himself when he got to the check out. He did not fill in cheque butts and had no idea how much he was spending each month. Needless to say it was not long before I got the job back! A ledger would not worry me I would love my partner to be so methodical. My daughter keeps a household ledger faithfully each week. My other daughter keeps her ledger on the PC.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 8, 2003 - 06:13 pm

    Carolyn, there's vanity, and there is vanity. I think Christina Schwarz is thinking of the biblical variety.

    Martha Stewart and I are sneaking out of here before we get tarred and feathered and run out of town while those Enron dudes stay unindicted. I call it gender discrimination.


    kiwi lady
    June 8, 2003 - 06:21 pm
    Mal to me vanity is vanity. There would be none so "puffed up" as many of the Bloomsbury crowd.


    June 8, 2003 - 09:51 pm
    Christina, despite my standard inclusion of a Drabble quote in these posts, I'm not a fan of her latest book. I just liked the sentence (but I'm looking for a more suitable substitute.). You were kinder about the book than I was in our SN discussion! Margaret In The Attic is a devastating scene. I think it was a crucial turning point. Can you tell us what it does to her or should we wait? Some of my thoughts on the attic at the end of this post...


    Carolyn and Mal, I think there is vanity of both sorts in the novel. The personal vanity, according to my dictionary, is "pride in one's appearance, qualities, achievements, etc; SYN egotism, ostentation." Biblical vanity is basically a judgment of the personal; saying that such things are pointless (aka worthless, trivial) since they are temporal.

    Speaking of vanity, Margaret certainly lost a lot in that attic while looking for her promise

    What M finds:

    -- an overambitious (smug?) essay's heft "how had I managed to string so many sentences together?"

    -- her Valentine poem of flattened, scientific accuracy "Birds-of-paradise are orange and also purple at the spine. I hope you will be my Valentine."

    What does M make of her find? precocity and self conscious straining. "Had I been, after all, only an overachiever type, who, in fact, had not managed even to overachieve?"

    She finds letters written between her and Letty. "Letty was born knowing how to write letters....The secret, I realized, was in the detail."

    Out of all of the things in Margaret's box, it is Letty's chatty letters -- and the memories of their childhood friendship -- that she cherishes and takes downstairs with her, rather than her own art or writings.

    This is the final breaking point for M, I think. She's lost her dreams (her vanity!) Is Letty's friendship not vanity -- has Margaret reached that point yet? Not sure.

    Ginny, it's the complete shattering of M that got me, esp these last lines as she takes Letty's letters with her:

    "I had no illusions that a twelve-year-old could teach me anything about writing now. I just thought it might be comforting to have her old voice near me."


    Christina Schwarz
    June 8, 2003 - 10:20 pm
    Callie asked if I do background sketches for my characters. I don't in any formal way, although I do jot down notes about them as "facts" occur to me, material I don't always use, but which makes them more real in my own mind.

    I think I will skip the satire question until the end, so I don't give too much away.

    Which comes first, the agent or the book, is the next question. This entirely depends on who you are, I think. If you're a complete unknown, as I was (I'd published only one short story in a tiny magazine and a few audiobook reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle before I submitted Drowning Ruth to agents), you definitely have to write the book--or at least a good portion of it--first. I actually sent my manuscript to a few agents about halfway through at my husband's urging, basically to see if there was any interest or if I was deluding myself and should quit. I got mixed responses (as I did when the novel was finished--would-be authors, take note!), and found the positive ones, especially one offer to sign me up immediately, incredibly encouraging, but I waited until the book was finished before I made any decisions. If you're in an MFA program or have published short stories in certain magazines agents and/or editors will approach you, but I was more like Margaret.

    The cover! Yes, I love the cover (the paperback will be very different, but so far, I like that, as well). I had very little say with either of my hardback covers--which is OK with me, since I think I'd probably go for something too austere and understated, left to my own devices. In both cases, my editor sent me the final version and hoped I'd be thrilled (I think my contract does stipulate that I get to "consult" on the cover.) The only suggestion I had with All Is Vanity is that my name be smaller (believe it or not!) and better separated from the title--and I think they obliged, at least with the latter point. I did get to weigh in on the paperback version a bit more, although my power is pretty limited in this department. (On the other hand, one of the best aspects about my relationship with my editor is that I feel like she'll always let me have the last word whenever we disagree--which is seldom--about the text. And that's obviously what really matters to me.)

    Can't remember the next question and don't dare look back or I'll lose my post, so goodnight until next time.

    June 9, 2003 - 06:17 am
    Christina, thank you for explaining about authors and book covers, that was fascinating. I have always wondered. It seems that the author really gets to have some power and control, that's exciting! We appreciate your answering our questions! You wanted your name in smaller letters, they put it on top! Is the position of the author's name on the cover signifigant or just pretty layout? I can't imagine how it feels to see your name on the cover of a book, to walk past a book store and see your books inside, do you have the urge to run in and SCREAM I am SHE!! I would! hahahaha

    I got up wondering where it was Christina said she threw out reams of things on Margaret, it doesn't seem to be in the Interview, do you all remember where it was? I would love to know what was cut and why!!

    Do you notice something? We started with Margaret, and we took ONE day for Letty, and several said they looked forward to learning more about Letty and now we're in Week II and we're still talking about Margaret and I've begun to wonder why?

    We're in Margaret's head, would you say...whose point of view IS this in?

    Letty does speak to us early on, and she speaks to us at the end, and she has spoken to Margaret directly, but they decide to email for various reasons (very clever plot device) so essentially we're seeing Letty thru her emails and, as Margaret noted, her email style is...embellished.

    And even tho she is telling us some of the very intimate details of her life (who is this Pod Person?...I am turning into a Pod Person myself…I want to be the kind of person who lives in such a house) STILL STILL you say, I'm waiting to learn more. Why do you feel you don't KNOW Letty?

    Is it possible to know somebody from email or, for that matter, how they choose to type here? How do you know that any of us are real? We could choose to say anything at all about ourselves?

    Have you ever felt a burden to BE "funny" or entertaining in your own posts or emails? How much of what we write here is us, and how much is created to amuse or something else?

    Still working on the "Voice Game!"

    This whole experience is a revelation to me, in that I think of writing as the ultimate creative process, like art, and it never occurred to me that it would have OUTLINES (note Margaret’s mother inquiring about outlines… hate outlines, can only do them after the fact, so restrictive) and demands, how can anybody work on anything creative on demand??

    How can anybody create on demand? To me the two concepts are alien, maybe THAT'S what separates a "real" writer or something, not sure?

    Note Margaret on this,

    Work hard! I would have been happy to work hard. It wasn’t that I was lazy. It was just that I didn’t know what, exactly to do. Telling a person work hard on a novel is like telling a person to think. You can’t just do it on command.” (page 185)

    What a task she has set herself and of course they can’t live for long without her salary, what pressure.

    Carolyn, as a person who keeps careful ledgers and who would love a spouse who did, too, in the light of their very precarious situation and Ted’s very careful bookkeeping, are you impressed with his restraint and kindness? I would think that a person who kept the books that closely might be….didn’t he think of taking another job? He might be….would it be normal MALE behavior here to lose his temper?

    When I read the Ted Bookkeeping Exchange I cringed, worrying that people would say oho here’s the Patriarchal male at work, but even if they were two women, let’s face it, they can’t afford to live. And I think she gave as good as she got, doing without shampoo hahaahah and the biting the finger, loved it. I loved that entire exchange but he’s dead serious the games are over, she really does need to produce, and then we come to the killer, Margaret and Ted on the plane:

    I felt, for the first time in my married life, utterly alone….dragging my way across the hard sands of the endless, empty beige desert below. Deliberately, one by one, I ate all of my peanuts. At least I would make good on that.” (page 181)

    What happened to cause Margaret to say this? What, if any, implication does this bring about in her life?

    It’s fish or cut bait time for Margaret, but what can she DO?? Can you feel the pressure? For once in her life Margaret is being called to task. It must be very hard, very.

    And note the tone here, the entire tone has gotten much less....carefree and happpy? The reflections are forced into a new perception of the world, and it's not good.

    June 9, 2003 - 06:38 am
    It's interesting to consider the definition of Vanity, Marvelle posted:
    I think there is vanity of both sorts in the novel. The personal vanity, according to my dictionary, is "pride in one's appearance, qualities, achievements, etc; SYN egotism, ostentation." Biblical vanity is basically a judgment of the personal; saying that such things are pointless (aka worthless, trivial) since they are temporal.

    Wasn't PRIDE originally one of the Seven Deadly Sins? (or may be still?) The fact that Man thought things originated in him is Vanity, right? So what he did for his own glory would be useless in the long run, All is Vanity and vexation of spirit. Do I have that remotely right? Vanity would take on little betrayals, actually it would take a saint to constantly deny it as I understand it, the point being to do things for the greater glory of God, do I have that remotely right? Don't they teach that, in fact, in Parochial school, do you put those initials on every page? How does it go? MGD? Obviously I am not a Roman Catholic but I recall friends who were.

    I think BETRAYAL is a running thread in this, little ones, big ones, betrayal of friends, betrayal of self, we are keeping a list of the themes/issues/threads in this and I will put that question back in the heading so you can see that your thoughts are being added, too.

    Marvelle, Margaret in the Attic seems to be a pivotal scene, isn’t it? She asks herself a question, she goes up to seek the “Old productive Margaret,” and what does she find? I thought your statement , “Out of all of the things in Margaret's box, it is Letty's chatty letters -- and the memories of their childhood friendship -- that she cherishes and takes downstairs with her, rather than her own art or writings.” Very telling, she goes UP to reassure and find HER creative SELF, and returns with Letty’s Letters.

    Now you asked this and it’s quite striking, “This is the final breaking point for M, I think. She's lost her dreams (her vanity!) Is Letty's friendship not vanity -- has Margaret reached that point yet? Not sure.”

    I don’t know!! Let’s put that in the heading and see what everybody thinks@@ What do you all think??

    Oh and look at this that you saw and I did not!

    "I had no illusions that a twelve-year-old could teach me anything about writing now. I just thought it might be comforting to have her old voice near me." Why does she say THIS? You mean Letty has yet ANOTHER voice? Gotta go back and read more closely. There’s a lot here, isn’t there?

    Can you all give one example of how the tone in this section is changing? Do you have the feeling that the roller coaster is nearing the top of the first big hill and the car has slipped or jerked? What WAS that? Do you have an uneasy feeling? What has caused this?

    The new questions are up in the heading and await your perusal and comment. Any new question you have for the group we'll put up there asap. If you have one you'd like to address to Christina, we are putting them on her page in the heading as well, so please write them here and we'll keep them all in one place, I'm going back and find where she said she threw out reams on Margaret, wouldn't you kill to find out what was THROWN out and why?


    PS: Do chickens swim, actually? I don't think they do. Unfortunately, my last chicken died, but I wouldn't throw her in the pond anyway to find out, I thought that commentary was just spot on hilariously obtuse.

    June 9, 2003 - 09:52 am
    Maybe we're all so involved with Margaret because reality is beginning to enclose her like a vise. I feel more and more sympathetic as I read. Life is humbling and disillusioning her with too much ferocity.

    About the ledger incident: I don't see Ted's behavior as high-handed or tyrannical. Look, if you run out of money before you run out of bills each month, eventually there's GOT to be a problem. Carolyn, I agree that SOMEONE has to keep track.

    A written ledger wouldn't be my style, and it wasn't Margaret's choice either, but when she turned her mind to it, Margaret had a knack for keeping approximate running accounts of finances in her head.

    On page 224, Margaret thinks her way through the potential disaster of Letty's expensive new house. I'm deliberately going to leave for later the question of why she didn't WARN Letty. Right now, I just want to propose the idea that Margaret and Ted shared a basic common understanding about money. Doesn't Margaret sound just like Ted on P. 224?

    "I knew exactly what Michael was earning, including possible bonuses and the criteria for such bonuses, because Letty and I didn't keep this sort of information from each other. I knew what private schools cost and what they'd spent redecorating their kitchen. I considered property taxes and estimated likely repairs...orthodontia expenses...the value of the new property against what they were likely to earn if they invested their money conservatively in the stock market. All of this did not add up to financial disaster, but it did entail a close-cutting that allowed for no mistakes, no accidents, no family vacations, and very little retirement savings."

    Margaret had a pretty good ledger in her head?

    Margaret and Ted also shared a common pleasure in living off the bounty of New York. When they scavenged discarded furniture, did anyone else besides me get a sense of their PLEASURE in their self sufficiency, their ability to understand the unique opportunities of their wonderful city? I thought they enjoyed a kind of reverse snobbery. They were PROUD to have discovered special financial shortcuts for living well in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

    Oh, I admit that Margaret got shook up when she saw the luxurious lifestyle of her old college friend, Brooke. But by and large she saw the regular economies of her lifestyle as an exercise in creativity?

    I guess all of this is leading up to why she reacted so profoundly to Ted's ledger analysis. I think Margaret deep-down believed he was RIGHT. Lots of guilt there. I think she also wanted an escape hatch, a reason to go back to work and end that torturous attempt at writing the GAN. I think she would have loved it if she could have found an immediate job, played the tragic heroine, and made both Ted and HERSELF believe that only finances had stood between her and world fame as a literary genius.

    If ONLY she had found a job, her story would have had a happy ending. If only....

    But reality is shaking Margaret by the scruff of the neck and doesn't want to let her go. My sympathy for her has become so complete that I can't bear the pain of watching her go through disappointment after disappointment. I can hardly manage to read the ego destroying events and revelations she endures in the second section of the book.


    P.S. Right on, MAL , about Martha Stewart's relative guilt compared to the Enron executives! That Enron bunch destroyed the finances of their employees and ordinary people all over the country. They took the economy further down. They danced out of it with a huge private fortune.

    Are they really unindicted? Gosh, what injustice!

    June 9, 2003 - 10:04 am
    GINNY, I went to Catholic school and pride was drummed into us as being the worst, that is top of the list, of the Seven Deadly Sins. We did have to initial every page.


    June 9, 2003 - 10:07 am
    RE: "Being creative on demand".... If one has the necessary writing skills (ability to describe settings, ability to write conversations, etc.) and some experience putting words together, it seems to me that person would be able to write creatively if given a subject to consider - or if a subject pops into mind. I don't write fiction well because my descriptions and conversations sound stilted, but I have been able to build a non-fiction article or humor piece around almost any subject.....emphasis on "almost"!!

    I've been taught that would-be writers should Begin With What You Know. Margaret seems to have done quite well with non-fiction subjects (Parthenon, Ur, the floors of Pompeii, Bird-of-Paradise, about which we could assume she has read or studied) but when she tries to start her novel with one of those ubiquitous dramatically descriptive sentences (page 7), she has no idea what to do with it. I read over the single sentence.... It seemed flat. It was going nowhere. (page . And on she goes..... plot line after plot line, none of which is about anything with which she is familiar. (At least, she didn't start with "It was a dark and stormy night.". Thank you, Christina!!!! <smile>)
    Although we don't get to read things like her "two-page account of my own humiliation and determination to seek revenge" (page 87), I suspect that story, and others like it, would have made a great novel. (NOTE: .....and did, thanks to Christina!!!)

    Letty, however, can ramble on for pages and pages about the details of her real life. She "writes" without even thinking about it.
    As she continues, she becomes more introspective. She begins to write about her feelings. She begins to criticize Michael. However, she doesn't stop to listen to Margaret and I don't think she realizes how insecure Margaret is. After all, Margaret has always been the strong one in their friendship. I wonder if Letty even reads Margaret's e-mails. She never comments on them; she just writes about her own life. Even their face-to-face visits while Margaret and Ted are in California are all about looking at houses with Letty and taking care of Letty's children and making jam with Letty and taking care of Letty's children - not one conversation about Margaret - life or novel.
    Letty's very first e-mail to Margaret after this visit never mentions spending time together - but does go on and on and on about the same old thing....HER situation.

    Margaret isn't getting concrete suggestions from anybody - family, friends, classmates. Her refrain has become, "I'm not lazy. I just don't know, exactly, what to do." And now she is beginning to doubt herself and her musings on the things in the attic reinforce these doubts.
    On page 216, we get another foreshadowing of "what I should have done", but Margaret's personality won't allow her to concede and on she goes because true gambler stops just because she's run through her wad, not when borrowing, begging and stealing remain".

    On page 223, she says it would be fun to think about working on a house, as Letty has just written about in detail and - Look! - here's a new plot line to consider. Aha! Now she has something on which to build her story line....and she begins to Think... like a writer.
    But she's still Batman to Letty's Robin and I don't think she has yet realized the direction this is going. Do we? (Well, of course, "we" do - but I'm referring to ordinary readers. (^_^)

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 9, 2003 - 10:53 am

    What a hard act to follow!

    The Page 224 quote HARRIET posted about Margaret and finances in her head is the one part of this book so far that did not ring true to me. I remember stopping after I read it and thinking, Now that doesn't sound like Margaret to me.

    CALLIE, but Margaret is writing about what she knows. She has her hero go grocery shopping and cook.

    About the best advice I ever received about writing was when a writer in his late seventies said to me on the phone several years ago, "Don't write about what you know. Open your mind and let your imagination take over." Like CALLIE he could write about anything. Unlike CALLIE, he wrote fiction.

    In my opinion, Margaret is handicapped and restricted first by tackling a subject that was only possible by doing a great deal of research, not exactly her cup of tea, and then writing about the box she was in without saying anything about how she felt about that box.

    I've thought from the beginning of the book that Margaret and Letty base their friendship on the reflection each one sees of herself in the other. Thus Letty's writing about herself and Margaret's writing about herself, each hoping to receive corroboration that the reflection she had of herself was real. The only time they felt let down was when what they got back was a picture that wasn't in their own minds already.

    Neither Margaret or Letty was receiving the type of reflection from their husbands that she received from her friend, so there was a certain kind of incompleteness in them unless they were together face to face, on the phone, or in letters and emails. Neither had become strong enough on her own to accept what their heads told them they were, right or wrong.

    This is my perception. Wonder if anyone else sees it this way?


    June 9, 2003 - 11:41 am
    The Writing Process: I have always regarded an Outline as an essential road map to reach a destination and an objective when writing. It prevents the writer from taking the wrong turn in the road of creativity and allows one to assess their progress and criteria in developing the final outcome.

    Another thread/Link to follow: ( beginning in chap.9) When Margaret meets her former college classmate Brooke for breakfast in NYC, Brooke tells her about a biotech stock Genslen ** (a fat pill for obesity) Which she has some investments in currently) . This Biotech stock** is a very important link/thread as the story progresses.

    Letty' attitude: Letty's email: The kitchen renovations are completed and the kitchen appliances replaced. "change begets change. Having money is very expensive". (taking new friends to dinner. She is paying per credit card for all these expensive dinners. They rarely pay the tab. She is continually overextending her finances. chap.9

    Margaret in response spends $ 50 on kitchen tiles for remodeling in their rented apartment. An emotional response to Letty's extravagances ? Perhaps she will feel better about her own financial situation? chap 9

    "Fashioning a Novel" Margaret and Letty go with a real estate agent ( during Margaret's visit) to look at a large home in an upscale southern california area. Letty's comments:"way overpriced homes. Margaret's thoughts: " I could now fashion a novel because I could now envision it's existence". The idea for the Lexie Longtree saga now takes root in her mind.chap 10

    The Genslen Link/thread continues Margaret speaks with her brother Warren who is visiting their parents in the same location. He is a Portfolio manager in a small SF firm. Warren has bought a small amount of the Genslen stock for their parents portfolio. He tells her the product has done well in two clinical trials and it has good potential if they can get it on the market. chap10

    Another thread/link The introduction of Jeanette Peabody. A significant character in the story now. A friend from Letty's college days and now an Events Planner for non profit organizations. Letty courts Jeanette's friendship and begins to emulates some of her expensive life style.

    The Novel Margaret's husband asking about her progress. She does not tell him she has not made progress. He is concerned about finances. She realizes that she will not finish her intended novel by the end of the year. He suggests she take a part time job. She considers a job as a " Communication Specialist" . A realistic decision? chap 11 Margaret's self concept:

    Margaret decides to try for a job as a tutor for High School students in Private schools. Is unsuccessful in this endeaver. Her interviewer determines she does not have the Ivy League school teaching experience needed for the role. She then tries to return to her former teaching position but loses out to a newly hired teacher with Phd. a Ivy League candidate. She then takes a position as an "Intern" with the magazine " In Your Dreams" where her friend Simon is the chief editor. chap. 12

    Margaret's Concept of Self Her ego/self worth has been treaded on as she thinks over the past year. chap13

    June 9, 2003 - 01:00 pm
    CALLIE you stunned me with this "I wonder if Letty even reads Margaret's e-mails. She never comments on them; she just writes about her own life. Even in their face-to-face visits [it's all about Letty and her new life]. WOW! I NEED to read those emails again and the conversations. Is this perhaps the difference between Letty's old voice and her new one, that the old voice included Margaret?

    FRUGAL, it looks like both M&L are spiraling downwards. Margaret's self-concept has taken a beating and she was fragile emotionally anyway. Letty is "overextending her finances." Remember how HATS noted the pre-upscale Letty's fine touches?

    "On her dining room table, she kept a big bowl of oranges for juicing, their luxurious color and abundance belying their provenance." (Provenance=paper bagged & cheap from a street vendor)

    Now Margaret describes -- quite effectively and beautifully -- "Letty's new granite kitchen counters ...[which] were covered with unaffordable fruits. Teeny wild blueberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, and champagne grapes were heaped in pint-sized plastic baskets next to cardboard trays of apricots, each globe nested safely in its own molded depression. A green glass bowl I recognized from the Williams-Sonoma catalog was mounded with ripe persimmons. Blood oranges were packed in excelsior in two small wooden crates." (172)

    No more local produce. The fruit has to be expensive and exotic (blood oranges, not plain ole everyday oranges). Each fruit packaged like a gem, each fruit a stress-producing duty to do SOMETHING showy with, something other than EATING. I miss the abundance of oranges for juicing.


    Thunder storm just starting. Have to sign off for a bit.

    June 9, 2003 - 01:10 pm
    MAL: The kind of writing workshops I mentioned were aimed at Writer Wanna-Bes. I think the teachers were trying to avoid encouraging "Margarets"! (In my case, it worked!)

    Re: Margaret and writing about her personal experiences. Am I skittering off in an unintended direction here?

    Margaret has a history of her experiences being discounted or thought "wrong".
    +First grade: Her tree, based on the floors of Pompeii ("experienced" through her father's apparent interest in ancient history?) was discounted when the teacher bragged on Letty's. (page 6)
    +Second grade: "I relied on my own experiences with vegetables and colored the pumpkin stem brown." Wrong!
    +She remembers this when Joan Didion's description of the Santa Ana winds only suggest "dry hair" and "allergic reactions" to her. (Page 49) Wrong!
    +She writes about personal experiences when she applies for the New School writing class, but discounts that essay when she decides the class is just a moneymaker and "anybody" would be accepted. (Page 104)
    +She could have written her assigned twenty pages about The Rise and Fall Of My Grandiose Ideas, but discounts that idea because "My decline is not an interesting story (or perhaps I would have tried to get it down on paper and passed it off as my 'novel in progress')". (page 110)

    Then on page 170, she says that when she's writes to Letty " own everyday world became surprisingly full and amusing, nearly as fascinating as those of past civilizations".
    Wake up, Margaret!

    I agree with you, MAL, about Margaret's and Letty's lack of ability to accept their own opinions/decisions without the approval of others. Can a hero function without a sidekick? Or vice versa?

    I am "literature-challenged", both in interpretation and background. Why would an English teacher (even Margaret?!?) select "The Shining" and "The Firm" for students who wouldn't read? I have read "The Firm" but Stephen King terrifies me.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 9, 2003 - 02:28 pm

    If you're read Stephen King and he terrifies you, CALLIE, he has accomplished exactly what he set out to do. Perhaps Margaret suggested The Shining and The Firm to these pupils because they're popular writing and not considered literature? Down her nose she looked at those kids. I'm very glad I never went to a writers workshop. I write by ear, which is not the way I play the piano, though I've been known to do it with improv jazz.

    FRUGAL, some writers use outlines, some don't. I've tried both methods, and find not using an outline, except what's in my head, works best for me with any research I've done easily accessible in a file in my word processor.

    Speaking of writing, I love this. "Ted equated credit card borrowing with selling a firstborn child." That's great! Especially when placed in contrast with Michael whose wife Letty seems to think that credit card money is a windfall that's free for the taking.

    Here's more (Page 202):
    "I kept my arms in this position (arms crossed over chest) when I reached the sidewalk, so as to contain the fury the hissed and sizzled and popped within me. I started walking fast, my head tucked down and forward, a battering ram aimed squarely at this city and its inhabitants, a large proportion of whom were now forcing me against the pipes of a block-long stretch of scaffolding we were all squeezing through like ground meat in a sausage casing."
    That's New York City, folks, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a writer.

    Does Christina Schwarz use outlines?


    June 10, 2003 - 05:15 am
    Harriet:  What a wonderful thought you've presented -Life is humbling and disillusioning her with too much ferocity.
    Doesn't life do that to all of us, much more often than we'd care to admit?
    Margaret has become disenchanted, hasn't she? One thought struck me while thinking about that statement:  WHY doesn't Margaret have any other friends?  She has no confidante or compatriate whom she can share her innermost passions and positions with!   Don't we all need that person whom we can drop the pretenses, evasions, and excuses with?  Don't you all have someone that you can call or go to and "let it all hang out?"  M. doesn't seem so blessed and for that I feel sorry for her.  She holds on to L. as she holds on to her 7th grade treasures.  Is she seeking some intimacy that she needs?
    Margaret and Letty talk to one another, neither really listen to the other, from their hearts, although M. begins to sit up and take notice when the "ideas" begin to flow.

    June 10, 2003 - 06:01 am
    Good heavens, what great points, Callie your suggestion has opened up an entire new dynamic for me about Margaret/ Letty, and the nature of their friendship and the nature of all friendships, where is Betty? I would like to look at this!!

    Andrea, what a wonderful point and question, where ARE her other friends? Seems like every one she feels competitive with? Will put that up immediately, thank you!!

    Harriet, I do agree, poor Margaret, “Life is humbling and disillusioning her with too much ferocity.” I agree, well said, and the reason we can sympathize is who among us has not had the same thing happen, maybe on a lesser scale?

    She, I think, has absorbed enough from Ted that she does know and automatically can calculate things in her head financially. Don’t we all pick up ways of thinking from our husbands, if we have one? Whether or not we’re aware of it? I agree they are proud of being self sufficient, and the thing where she went back and asked for her old job, those old possibilities and then thought she HAD the job and never heard, and THEN to have it given to a PhD, ouch ouch ouch, oh boy oh boy, talk about having to FACE up to facts.

    That hurt, but she DID take the job that, as she puts it, “Behind me, doors opened onto gorgeous vistas and intriguing corridors. But somehow I had missed these and had instead wormed my way not a glorified closet with a window on a airshaft, from which there seemed no way out.

    And, do, I became an intern, a second-choice replacement for someone still eligible for graduation gifts. You really can’t say that Margaret is not honest with herself or can you? She’s painfully honest here, and she did take the job, humiliating as it would have been to any of us.

    Harriet this was really good:

    I think she would have loved it if she could have found an immediate job, played the tragic heroine, and made both Ted and HERSELF believe that only finances had stood between her and world fame as a literary genius

    Then she could live in the land of It Never Was Becus…..

    But she didn’t. She is more honest than that?

    I love this and agree totally:

    My sympathy for her has become so complete that I can't bear the pain of watching her go through disappointment after disappointment. I can hardly manage to read the ego destroying events and revelations she endures in the second section of the book.

    So it really IS almost unendurable, she’s got pressure from all sides, she’s desperate and then she thinks she sees the KEY, …she catches the “muse,” but…..but…is she justified, that’s the question and how bad does what she does GET?

    I know a lot of you have not finished this part and I apologize for making it such a huge chunk, but I thought we have the unexpected and totally serendipitous gift of the author here and we might want in the last week to ask her stuff generally, like what was it like behind the scenes at the Oprah show, stuff like that and so I thought we should push on, looking forward to hearing from all of you soon.

    I’m using a SPLIT SCREEN to do this, I love it, have you tried it? You call up Word or whatever word processor you use and then you call up the SeniorNet discussion and then you look down on the bottom line of your computer where those little icons are? And you look for the bar that separates the ones on the right from the ones that tell you what’s open? And you find a little bit of space among those left icons before the bar and the right icons start? And you RIGHT click on it? And you select Tile Windows Vertically? And you SHOULD see two screens one with the text here and one with your blank Word? If you don’t try again, have both screens open and right click again. ANYWAY this way I can see you while I type and I like that!!

    Yo, Maryal, I love that, reminds me of my favorite commercial of all time the “Yo, Yao” commercial, just love that, YO!! I’ve put your question on the questions page and just a reminder will put up any questions you have for the group here, too!

    Maryal you’re in a wonderful position to know what Incoming Freshmen are expected to have read. Ella posted something recently from the college her daughter teaches at on the list of recommended reading for Incoming Freshman, had some strange things on it, what is YOUR opinion of The Shining and The Firm in that instance?

    On the Voice Game, I think this morning in order to be fair, I need to open the pages at random and, following the example on the cover, take the best pen I have (surely there’s one better here than Shead’s Schwinn Cyclery) and STAB in the book willy nilly and will have that for you all later today, it will be TOTALLY scientific!@

    June 10, 2003 - 06:03 am
    Thank you, Marvelle, for that Pride thing, we all know what goeth before a fall!

    Callie I love your conclusions, are you saying that Christina has made a novel out of her own determination and desire for revenge? If so that’s quite a compliment, it does seem awfully real.

    I couldn’t do “Creative on Demand” if you pointed a gun at my head, to me the two don’t compute!


    As she continues, she becomes more introspective. She begins to write about her feelings. She begins to criticize Michael. However, she doesn't stop to listen to Margaret and I don't think she realizes how insecure Margaret is. After all, Margaret has always been the strong one in their friendship. I wonder if Letty even reads Margaret's e-mails. She never comments on them; she just writes about her own life.

    Now here I had to sit up and think. Now is this a change or has Letty been this way all along? In fact, is this a signal of Letty’s beginning to change? I seem to recall that she did ask about Margaret initially and did you notice as the book went on that that became more infrequent till it became, well wait didn’t you say you had something to SAY about your book?

    Yes yes, I believe you have something here! I had NOT seen that!

    “not one conversation about Margaret - life or novel.”

    Oh yes, our Callie, well done!!

    And well done on the foreshadowing as well, you have a very keen eye!!

    Malryn, I thought you made a number of very interesting points, you said, “ The only time they felt let down was when what they got back was a picture that wasn't in their own minds already.”

    Now that’s interesting, so and then you say,

    Neither Margaret or Letty was receiving the type of reflection from their husbands that she received from her friend, so there was a certain kind of incompleteness in them unless they were together face to face, on the phone, or in letters and emails. Neither had become strong enough on her own to accept what their heads told them they were, right or wrong.

    I really think that that’s key, possibly to all friendships between women who are married, but I wonder, I like that, let’s put that up in the heading for comments, the nature of friendships between married women or women in general.

    Oh good thread, Frugal on the Gensalen (sp) stock, what part is this going to play in the story, I was not sure how that part fits in, life as gamble? Luck playing a big part? How does that fit in with you can do anything you want if you apply yourself??

    And that’s a good point about Margaret wanting to have some linoleum tiles, too? In the past it was Letty who wanted to have hair thingies just like Margaret, remember? Now Margaret, despite herself, wants something like Letty has, the dynamic has shifted and you KNOW Margaret does not like NOT being the leader, she has said so innumerable times.

    There are definite changes in the air, the entire book is changing let me expound on my theory of the Writer’s Groups this afternoon, I was stunned when I realized what Christina did, this truly IS a book, it’s literature, not a pot boiler, it’s more than you think when you first happily read it and call your friends on the phone and say you HAVE to read this and they write back, LOVED IT LOVED it, so relevant for our times!! and you have to be able to discuss it AS a piece of literature and that’s what makes the entire thing a pure experience to me.

    Me too, Marvelle, and thank you for putting the emphasis on change in Letty, that’s where I got that idea, love it. Fabulous contrast in Hat’s wonderful earlier post and the new Letty description (and I loved your note that Margaret CAN write, in her description there, we forget Margaret CAN write…as you say “quite effectively and beautifully. Right, we used to have oranges from those Guatemalans in paper bags, now we need Williams Somona containers, super point. That’s not to say I don’t like Williams Somona, have a kitchen full of it, but there’s a difference, Letty has gone from no name real chic to Name Branditis. I wish Word would stop editing my Name Brand Itis into Name Brand It Is and "goeth" into "Goethe!" hahahaaha

    How can anybody say Margaret can’t write when she can describe so perfectly how she feels and reacts??

    Malryn, I agree, that section on NYC on page 202 is just flat out fabulous and there’s another one where she captures EXACTLY the feeling the visitor has to NYC, and I’ll try to put it in too, I have always felt it but never knew how to SAY it till I saw it here in this book. Maybe that’s what writers do, they articulate how we feel for us, so when we read a book and see ourselves, we latch ON to the character in hopes of learning basic truths. A big burden for a writer? I have a feeling the title tells part of the truth, but there are SOOO many delicious underthreads, let’s look at some?

    10 interesting questions (or so I think) in the heading, soon to be more from you all, what do you think about any of them while I try to find an interesting pen to stab the book with??


    June 10, 2003 - 07:27 am
    My sympathy for her has become so complete that I can't bear the pain of watching her go through disappointment after disappointment. I can hardly manage to read the ego destroying events and revelations she endures in the second section of the book.

    Ginny thanks so much for quoting Harriet here. I'd lost which post it was in... Harriet, that's the feeling I was trying to put into words about the foreshadowing... Poor ole' Margaret... Letty, oh, Letty...

    What a wonderful knowledgable(knowledgeable??) articulate bunch in this discussion!!!

    Christina, Wheelock's over whelmed me!! I'm just jealous of this super smart youngin'... You chose perfectly!!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 10, 2003 - 08:06 am
    Except for one of my sisters, with whom I lived only three years of our lives, and my daughter, I don't think I've ever had a best friend who is female. With a brace on my leg as a child, I was different. I realize that we all have handicaps in one way or another, but mine has been visible nearly all my life. A visible handicap can cause some problems.

    I was also born with gifts, for which genes, and not I, were responsible. I inherited a lovely soprano voice from my mother; I could play the piano well, I could draw and paint pictures, I could write, I was relatively bright in school. Because of the musical gifts I was thrust up on stages and into the eye of the public as a performer by the people who raised me when I was very young.

    As a young girl, I was envious of other girls who could run, jump, dance, and do all the things I couldn't do. They were envious of me because of other things I could do. Getting close to any of them was difficult.

    When I was in high school, I thought I had a "best friend". We shared our growing-up secrets for half of a school year, and I thought our friendship was secure. It was our habit to go to a ten cent movie after school every Friday afternoon. The theater was down a steep hill from our high school. One Friday my friend asked another girl to go with us. Laughing and happy, we left school that day. When we reached the street, the two girls ran down the hill, laughing at me over their shoulder, and leaving me standing on the sidewalk. I cannot run. Kids can be extraordinarily cruel.

    Because of all this, males have been my best friends. The ones I've known didn't care about the physical handicap or use it to their advantage. They admired whatever talent I had rather than envying it, just as I admired their various skills. The truth is that I don't know what friendships between two women like Margaret and Letty are like; I can only observe and imagine them. I have to say here that none of what I've written above is a complaint or a plea for sympathy; it is a statement of fact.

    To me, having the same best friend all of your life seems unnatural. People don't stand still in one place; they grow and change. Does your childhood best friend change in the same way you do?

    In my opinion, keeping in touch with letters, emails and phone conversations does not give a true picture of what people really are like. It is the kind of relationship I've had with the sister who shares many of the talents I have and many of my likes and dislikes. The rare times when I've been with her, either as children or adults, I've found that she's not the person her writing made me think she was.

    This leads me to wonder if Margaret and Letty really know each other as adults, or if what they think they are as friends is a picture they've built in their minds on an unreal foundation?


    June 10, 2003 - 09:02 am
    Yo, Ginny, I had no idea how to make split screens. Thank you for the instructions. Of course, I LEFT clicked on the bar at the bottom trying to make something happen for a long time. Then I carefully reread your description and RIGHT clicked and then picked tile vertically, and IT WORKS! Wooo-EEEEE. Thank you.

    As for The Shining and The Firm as reading assignments for those who do not like reading—hmmmmm. If I were a high school teacher and desperate to engage students, I might very well suggest those two books with another in the middle. By in the middle, I mean one that was not horror and not procedural law. I can’t think just what that book would be, but I’d find one. I loved The Shining--think it is Stephen King’s best, but I’d ask the student beforehand if she/he liked horror. Most students know who King is and the kind of writing he does even if they haven’t read anything he’s written.

    Summer reading, however, is a different matter. I would not put either of these books on the list to pick from.

    In this week’s section, I hear Letty’s voice (as distinct from Margaret’s) for the first time. There’s a lot of intentional criticism of contemporary gottahaveit, gottahaveit now, gottahaveit because I need it. I need it because it’s a name brand and then I will be someone. Big time criticism of contemporary consumerism going on now. Oh—and spending way beyond what earns, even though Michael has a “good” salary. Letty is getting in trouble. In over her ears. I read somewhere recently about how many Americans were overwhelmed by credit card debt. Wish I could remember where.

    betty gregory
    June 10, 2003 - 09:21 am
    Christina, we learned an interesting lesson last year, after having spent a wonderful time in our discussion linking a book's title to more than one possible theme in the book. The author, who joined us at the end, told us that the title was chosen by the publisher over his objections and that it had nothing to do with any theme. We had had such a good time with that, were stunned to learn how "off" we were with our guesses. It was pretty funny, too, how it all unfolded.

    It's good to hear that you had input and that some publishers will work with authors on a book's cover. I know that some of the large publishers are savvy marketers and have a sense of what will catch the public's eye.


    A jumble of thoughts. How odd it feels now to have tried to offer serious comments on only a portion of the book (now that I've finished reading)....I'm far too much of a believer in.....the whole. The separate pieces do not add up cleanly to a whole...and the whole may have a life of its own....for me, always. Discussing a separate portion, as we do, yes, I can still do that, certainly. I really do need to have read the whole book beforehand, though, which I learned here a few years it's a good (repeat) lesson for me.

    An example of the whole. Remember that genius fellow in mathmatics? The one who was a professor in the Math Department at UC Berkeley, the one who won awards for earth shaking developments in, what, physics? and math?, on the same level with just a handful of Einstein wonders. Ted Kosinski, the uni-bomber.


    Ok, now that I've read the next section, I've stopped laughing. The temperature has dropped, the sky has darkened ominously and the wind, just listen to that wind. The silliness of petit fours for children and Letty's initial, immature, innocent, copy-cat response to culture shock....and her lighthearted written descriptions of it all....have ended. Her descriptions at the first of the book seem less funny to me now and Letty is not as in charge of herself as I'd thought. There's even a hint of desperation, I think.

    Margaret is in trouble, too. Her novel is not working, but how could it...she doesn't understand she must do research on Vietnam, if her first chosen character is to work. Her idea of "writer" is still mostly romantic and she has done nothing to educate herself on the process of writing. Her first attempts to get part time work have failed, as well as her trying to slip back into the teaching position she just gave up. How well written these rejection scenes are...impossible not to feel for Margaret.

    I think it was Ginny who asked how could Letty have been so trusting with the real estate agent when searching for and deciding on a house to buy. I have similar questions about both Margaret and Letty. They both seem particularly naive, not very discriminating, more innocent (uninformed) than their respective places in life would suggest. And something else that escapes easy description. An inner core or foundation that seems unusually weak for average women.

    Is this where style of writing comes into play? Are these two women exaggerated to serve a purpose? Is this book a condemnation of greed culture? I don't mean to imply I know something here....each of these questions is real. I'm completely at a loss and am confused. I'm not crazy about how naive and ungrounded and weak these two women are written, in comparison to their male counterparts. For example, Margaret has been an English teacher, but has such romantic notions about writing....she lacks practical knowledge. The men are not without faults, but they seem to fill out their characters and circumstances more realistically.

    In the middle of the night, I watched the movie, Having Our Say, The Delaney Sisters' first 100 Years. I had read both of their books, autobiographies of two 100 plus year old women, sisters. One was the first female dentist in New York; one was the first Black science high school teacher in New york. As soon as the movie ended and I went back to reading posts in this discussion, I caught my mistake. Culture shock out the wazooo!! After watching these sisters face life-threatening roadblocks again and again and hearing of their different painful losses....and how, it was clear, that they each depended on the other to balance out their strengths and weaknesses....I was left floundering, unable to get from the culture of painful reality writing to the culture me here, a form of satire?


    betty gregory
    June 10, 2003 - 09:23 am
    I'm wondering how many untold stories we are all holding close, unable to tell them because of embarrassment. We grew up in this success-oriented culture...we're part of it. We've dreamed of the bigger house, the cooler car. I'll tell a few on myself to double-dare the rest of you.

    Two weeks after my wedding in August, 1969, (would turn 21 in a month, both of us graduated from college that summer) we bought the hottest, sexiest Pontiac TransAm sports car, white exterior, midnight blue leather interior, a motor large enough to pull a train. Since my husband went immediately into graduate school and we depended on my salary, we could afford about a third of that car payment. We knew this on the day we bought the car and bought it anyway. Looking so cool driving that car, and we knew we looked so cool (aarrgghhh, hahahaha, how awful), helped with the money arguments. We sold the car after six months and bought a used, red VW Bug. We talked about that ridiculous sexy car for years as if calling up a friend that had died.

    After driving modest, practical cars for the balance of my marriage, I celebrated my independence after divorce by buying a black Camaro. I just knew people were impressed with me in this black sporty car. I was impressed with me. About a year later, I got to order a company car and only a few colors were allowed. I requested a Candy Apple Red for a Monte Carlo. The request was turned down and I...can't for the life of me, now, remember the motivation....fought back with a persuasive letter and gained an approval. I was the only Regional Sales Manager in the southwest territory who had a red company car. I thought I was hot stuff.

    Years later, just before I turned 40, I went back to graduate school. A favorite part of the transition from full time employment to disability insurance plus social security disability (and graduate school) was my new membership in the culture of bragging/complaining about having no money. Shabby apartments, sack lunches, wearing jeans, coupons for half price matter what age or circumstance, we now belonged to the money-is-tight club and I loved it. I put away all my suits, let my hair grow long and wore it in a ponytail. I exchanged my short, gold hoop earrings for long, ethnic, artisan-crafted earrings. With few exceptions, most of us were truly struggling to make ends meet. Instead of worrying myself to death over flying to Chicago with a week's worth of business day clothes and evening dinner clothes (and being physically exhausted and in pain after one day with 4 more to endure), I loved more than anything to gather with fellow doctoral students in anything-goes comfortable clothes for cheap spaghetti dinners and hours of our favorite subjects....overdue papers, hated/loved instructors, overdue bills.

    I feel lucky, in a way, to have left behind the means to compete for better and bigger. My brothers and sister who have continued to build bigger houses, as needed and beyond, can have that life. No thank you. Living 1995-2000 in a sturdy coastal cottage with no air conditioning and no central heat, no connections for W/D, with a wood stove, an electric stove and a fire place, a large 30-ft. living area with open beams and full glass along the back looking out into dense spruce, just one bedroom only a few inches larger than a queen-sized bed (no closet doors possible), a tiny kitchen, and around-the-clock sound of the, this was my complete lesson in what was needed to live fully. Did I mention the smell? Ocean and trees and, uh, mold, between scrubbings.


    June 10, 2003 - 09:28 am
    Re: The biotech stock purchase " Genslen", a pill for obesity : No. This thread in the story which begins in Chap.9 and continues through out the remainder of the novel affects the friendship/relationship of Margaret and Letty and affects the social and financial status of Letty . This thread also influences the title of Margaret's novel in progress.

    betty gregory
    June 10, 2003 - 01:18 pm
    I was just thinking what complex tasks our author has laid complex as any that I can remember talking about in a discussion, specifically because a writer (our author) is writing about a writer (Margaret) who begins to draw from a writer (Letty's emails).

    At stake, among other things, is the ability of writer Margaret, but also her personal values.

    So, I'm wondering.....what gets Margaret into trouble....her writing skill or her values?

    A similar question for Letty. Do we look at her skills or her values for answers?

    Our author has to convey all these various levels of skills (including writing skills of characters) as well as personal values.

    WOW !!


    June 10, 2003 - 02:30 pm

    I can only say, She did good, didn't she!!???!!!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 10, 2003 - 02:45 pm

    Betty, it seems to me that both Margaret and Letty's values are more than a little skewed.

    Michael and Ted both come across as weak to me. Michael is as infected by one-upmanship and credit card fever as Letty is. Despite his practicality, Ted didn't hesitate much when it came to Margaret's taking a year off to write a novel, did he? Cripe, it takes more than giving up shampoo and eating peanuts to live in that city. Without an agent or a publisher in sight, didn't he anticipate that they would feel a crunch? I think these men are almost as naïve ( naïf ? ) as their wives.


    June 10, 2003 - 05:32 pm
    I'm back with the Totally Scientific Voices Poll! hahahahaha and I'm not going to comment on what you have said for once (which was all great), but instead give my own thoughts on the issues you raise...(what discussion was that, Betty, in which you all guessed the meaning of the title incorrectly)? Christina’s the first author who has participated directly in a discussion I’ve been in, and I sure do treasure this experience. Every last minute.

    I also was very impressed with the Delaney sisters, whose books I also loved, I agree they are quite inspiring. I also think for every Delaney sister in the world there are 100000000000 others of us who live an unexciting uninspiring life, but who also want to “count,” and be “recognized for who we are,” just like Margaret and Letty; maybe that’s the Vanity of our Times? And is it all Vanity then? Or is vanity confined to those who buy their way up? Appliances? Cars? Houses? Or society? Do we feel more comfortable saying that Materialism is Vanity and ignoring the smaller, more telling reasons for it? Or can it be found in the little things that all of us encounter every day?

    I think the book is about what the title says, All is Vanity , but I am not sure whose vanity or what vanity we’re talking about? The vanity of ambition? The vanity of conceit? All is futlity anyway? The vanity of…..

    For some reason I keep thinking of another Biblical quote: “He that is faithful in a little is faithful in much.”

    It's not given, perhaps, to all of us to do great things, maybe how we act in every small thing is what really matters. That's what I think the book is about, every small thing and who is faithful "in a little," I am beginning to see some erosion of that precept in the book, because it's the little things that don’t show to others, that you hardly notice, in this book, and in life, which give it all away, and they actually build on each other like a snowball.

    I also don't agree that Ted is weak, I do think Michael is, or he wouldn't be so hung up on status and "the Otis" that he did not see the money was not coming in and he should not have to buy a Saab just to take clients around in, just because it's his dream car, because they probably wouldn't be impressed with it, anyway. I think Ted showed enormous support in the expensive place they live and faith in her to carry it out. And that adds such pressure, on her, as Harriet said, so much easier to blame him or the job than deal with the burden of this awful pressure of expectation. It’s that faith which is tried when she lies to him and admits it.

    That’s why, when he says, “Margaret….It’s too late.” (page 206). It’s too late for Medical School, for Law School, what an awful finality of that door shutting, it’s too late, Margaret, it’s too late and you’re only…what? 34? 36? But it’s never too late, is it? Or is it? It’s not too late and this is also part of the real sadness of this section, she’s trapped now, trapped.

    And it might be that what she's trying to do (and this was the biggest hurdle in The Remains of the Day discussion) is not something that others might think of as "worthy." But it's HER ambition, her goals, and it's not the goal, it's how she goes about it that matters, just like in The Remains of the Day, not her motivation but HOW she goes about it under pressure and what she gives up.

    But that's the fun of our discussions, and why they are so extraordinary: we can extrapolate and add our own experiences and understandings to what we read and say whatever insight we have or we think, and this time we can actually talk with the author, I really can’t think of what would make this a better experience, with better people, but if it’s possible I bet you all will come up with it!

    Yo, Maryal, isn’t the Split Screen NEATO? It’s so much easier, it may take a million tries but it does spoil you. I actually had to throw out a lot of Letty’s voice for the little Quiz here because it was SOOO telling, I agree, but has she changed, would you say she is changing, also? Thank you for The Shining and The Firm perspective, I think The Shining is one of the most powerful things I have read, you can’t breathe when you read it.

    So here, now are the various quotes from this section, truly Chosen at Pen Random, by stab.

    How about not indicate which is which here but let others guess as they will, but just...let's see, you can send me your guesses or keep them safe for when the answers are revealed, I'm not sure what this will show, but it's different, and it might be fun/ revealing, or it might not. How will we know unless we try?

    Frugal, thanks for clarifying that, I just haven't gotten all the themes up yet, but am working on it!!

    1. We get a Williamette Valley Syrah, two bottles—even thought we never even half finish the second, and two desserts, perhaps a cocoanut crème brulee and a flourless chocolate cake, accompanied by a small pile of forks and spoons, so everyone can taste, and espresso all round.

    2. I spent the remainder of the week weeding through my school files, admiring the discussion topics I’d teased from The House of Mirth and chuckling at the clever sentences I’d composed for spelling quizzes.

    3. The analogy was not at all clear to me, but I forbore pointing that out.

    4. The driveway slipped gracefully through a small grove of eucalyptus to a parking area where we left the Tercel next to a silver Lexus SUV and a bronze BMW coupe (Jeannett’s husband must drive the gold car).

    5. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I shouldn’t be distracted by petty issues like nomenclature and authentic weaving materials.

    I’ve had to discard every quote which referred to husbands or children (instant give aways) and when the pen fell on a blank spot, and HEREEEE’s the last one, and it’s a toughie.

    6. That’s all right…It’ll grow back.
    So give it a shot, those ARE the places the pen fell other than the ones with the names on, can you pick who said what? Trick question in here hahahaha.


    June 10, 2003 - 06:54 pm
    yes, I did Right click.

    June 10, 2003 - 07:57 pm
    Aha! Right click the Blue Bar to tile the screens....not the screen icons! (Read the directions, Callie!!!!)

    Going back a bit....GINNY: "Learning to spit" is the last thing to do when one "is an old woman and starts to wear purple" - right after "picking flowers in other people's gardens". But I'll behave and not do that here.

    Oh, I see I have another project to put on my List Of Interesting Things To Do. I must hunt up the discussion on "Remains of the Day" in the archives and put the book on reserve at the library. I was actually talking to the screen at the end of that movie - which startled the gentleman friend who had taken me to see it.

    Weather warning beeps coming from the t.v. and I hear thunder. Bye for now.

    June 10, 2003 - 08:01 pm
    Andy--WHERE did you right click? Get on the bar on the bottom between where there's stuff on the left and stuff on the right.

    QUIZ answers: a,b,c,c,d,e--ooops wrong quiz.

    Ginny's quiz

    1. Letty
    2. Margaret
    3. Margaret
    4. Margaret
    5. Margaret
    6. Margaret (cutting Ted's hair)

    Ginny--You liked The Shining too?? This is getting scary. We are supposed to disagree. I think I've been hanging around here too long. No, that can't be it because I read The Shining years and years ago.

    betty gregory
    June 10, 2003 - 10:25 pm
    After looking in the archives, Ginny....I found the book, The House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III. Discussion April, 2001. That's the title we had such fun trying to match to various themes in the book. There are well over 600 posts, though, and I finally gave up trying to locate specific ones. I did find reference to his working title, The Whore, which the publisher turned down....wasn't that the story? Now, this is the sketchy part. Didn't the author correspond with you and you sent along his messages (answers to our questions?) by email to us??? That must be why I remembered it as the author coming "at the end." There is a reference at the end of the discussion to listing questions for the author.

    Since I changed computers last fall and lost all emails before then, I don't have the email(s) from you from the author.


    betty gregory
    June 10, 2003 - 10:55 pm
    Definitely my last The House of Sand and Fog discussion, I found a post that referred to the author's interview on Oprah. It was there he reported (and maybe elsewhere?) that his title The Whore had been replaced by the publisher with The House of Sand and Fog. Also, in the heading of the discussion is the link to an interview, which I haven't reread.

    Maybe I'm into early Alzheimers (hahahahaha, groan, this is upsetting)....Ginny, wasn't there another author who joined us several times throughout the month when you were discussion leader??....either directly or by emailed questions and answers?? uh, uh, direct from Italy?? I'm off to the archives.


    June 10, 2003 - 11:04 pm
    Answers to Totally Scientific Quiz

    1 Letty
    2 Margaret
    3 Margaret
    4 Letty
    5 Margaret
    6 Margaret


    June 10, 2003 - 11:42 pm
    Frugal introduced the importance of the Genslen stock and Ginny wondered what part it would play "life as a gamble? Luck playing a big part? How does that fit in with 'you can do anything you want to if you apply yourself?' "

    This interests me so I'll follow the thread of the questions. I tried to do the same once with gambling in an SN discussion of The House of Mirth.

    The stock is a gamble (introduced by M's brother Warren, the investment broker, pages 161-2) and luck plays a part in winning or losing. The 'fat pill' was a clever marketing ploy since it's target customer is the fashionably-thin who frantically crave being thinner as well as the obese. It seems a winner IF it passes the round of scientific/FDA tests.

    Putting money into the stock market is a gamble but one can be intelligent in that gamble. The rich can play with stocks, the comfortably well-off middle class invest in stocks, but the desperate should stay away. However, there are people who feel they can't catch up to the Joneses (or what is their ideal of the well-off Joneses) because there isnt enough money = not enough social power and prestige. These people gamble as the last ditch effort of the hopeless; they've lost the belief that 'you can do anything you want to do if you apply yourself.'

    It's why poor people are the major customers of State Lotteries -- its the only 'real' way they see of getting out of their situation and even then they realize deep in their hearts that the possibility of winning is dangerously close to being nonexistent. (Sadly, most of the big winners are people who already have lots of money!)

    Yet, a poor person buys that lottery ticket because they see it as the only chance left in a society which, in theory, exalts the self-made person but, in reality, restrains the upward movement of the average person. Gambling -- whether stocks or lottery tickets -- are carrots on strings dangling enticingly in front of the needy.

    Letty and Margaret (and hubbys) are not poor; but they aren't rich either. The middle class might invest in stocks and do so comfortably with a portfolio as Margaret's parents do. For someone else, needing money, to place all their $$$$ dreams in the gamble of a stock -- that's pure desperation and not a feeling of real possibility, of 'you can do anything you want to do if you apply yourself.' You're putting your fate into someone/something other than yourself.


    Joan Pearson
    June 10, 2003 - 11:44 pm
    hahaaha, here's a suggestion for the next quiz - distinguish "between Letty and Lexie's quotes...

    In your mind aren't you fast-forwarding and thinking to yourself, can/will Letty ever forgive Margaret for this? No, I haven't read ahead (too much), but you KNOW what is coming, if not exactly how it will play out. Who was it who suggested that the two are not really friends now, at this stage in their lives? I bet this will be the test. Think someone you consider your long-time friend. Could your friendship survive if s/he did something like this with your letters/email?

    The funny thing is, I can fully understand how Margaret slipped into this - she's in her element, now isn't she? What exactly is her strength, her talent? She's done this all her life...those early "precocious projects" all seem to have been an artful presentation of the work of others. Surely there must be some niche, some place such talent can be channelled?

    Betty, I think you have to lower your expectations of clear thinking for each of these girls. They are still so YOUNG. The world is still theirs - doors haven't been shut - doctor, lawyer, Indian chief... It will be interesting to see how they develop by novel's end. I see this as a growth process...

    I don't see Margaret's body snatching of Letty's life - or Letty's credit overextension as terminally disastrous, but as learning experiences. Not sure about the future of this friendship though.

    I'm going to suggest that what is bothering us at this point is something as simple as "youthful" ignorance of the world as it really is. I've been through this with my boys - choosing careers, mates, credit card use ...more times than I'd like to remember. I hated it when they were mailed credit cards, numerous credit cards when they were away in college. They didn't think or ask the right questions. They were like Michael and Letty. Well, not the oldest, but the other three had rude awakenings and we did have to do some bailing out. Youth, Betty.

    June 11, 2003 - 04:36 am
    Oh hahahaha lookit you all, first off nobody has 100 on the Totally Scientific Voice Quiz, it might be useful to look at the answers at the end, if you haven't taken it, don't look at those who have. Hint: there's a rogue voice in there!

    Joan P, what a suggestion, next time differentiate between Letty and Lexie's voice, if you can? Or Letty Then and Letty Now, I see a difference. At any rate, there's definitely a third voice in the quiz, could not resist (and the pen stabbed where it might!)

    Betty, bless your heart, I wish I had been on last night to help, thanks for the House of Sand and Fog, I guess that was an interview, didn't write Debuss. Actually Christina is the first author I have ever in 7 years invited into a discussion, I was just blown away by her BOOK and as I was concluding the letter, thought, oh is there any hope (that's the Margaret in me) she might come in, so I asked and here she is, entirely due to her own kindness.

    And of course I don't know how to act? Wanted her to feel comfortable, and one of the group, didn’t want to go overboard gushing, went the other way: don’t know what to do: she's a famous author (what you might call The Real Thing and has written a Book, too)!

    I think you are thinking of The Remains of the Day discussion in which Adam Parkes of the University of Georgia was kind enough to answer some of our questions in email on his Study Guide, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which was based ON The Remains of the Day, wonderful man. (You all may also be interested to learn that the Publisher of those Guides wrote me and thanked me for the review we did for the book on Amazon, stunned me for a week, wonderful man, also.) But Dr. Parkes did a super job with that guide: like taking a master class which I said. I wish I lived close enough to him to take one of his classes.

    So Joan you think it’s Youth. And I got up worrying anew over the Howells quote, which by now is seared on my eyeballs, "...people are greedy and foolish, and wish to have and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good in life...."

    So you see that’s frightening, frightening…for Margaret, because I don’t see that as her motivation, greed or foolishness, or is it?

    Joan P you have amazing and frightening ESP, the “forgiveness” thing, I think that’s another motif in the book, forgiveness, who needs to forgive whom and will they?? And who does, and who does not. We've seen Ted when she hung it all out, loved that scene, where she "cut deep and I cut wide." (page 205) went back spilling it all out, even back into her childhood, leaving 6 year old Warren at the theater alone: do you do that? Do you go back and deep when "confssing wrongs?" Don't we all? Bless her heart.

    I was really stunned when I noticed what I think was done with an insignificant little thing, the idea of having a Writer’s Group and how many times it was presented and how it changed, the members and the hopes for it as the book progressed?

    Here’s Margaret on page 119:

    Ann Lamott [who is she?] often mentioned the value of the writing groups as a source of artistic and emotional sustenance. Perhaps Zelda, [ as in Fitzgerald??] after she read my chapter, would be interested in forming such a group with me. We could meet in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel on Thursday evenings and critique each other’s work.

    So here Margaret has “high hopes,” as Andrea has pointed out (Andrea, I think if you’re using Netscape you may not be able to get the split screens, I’ll email you) and she thinks they, too, could meet in the Algonquin like Dorothy Parker and her intimes, and they, too, might be famous…[have you ever been to the Algonquin? It’s interesting, the elevator operator remembers your name, and the lobby has very interesting people it…anyway]… Her hopes come crashing when Zelda, when finally asked, says who would be in it and when she learns Margaret would, says she likes to work alone.

    The next time it comes up, I think (have I missed any?) is when she revisits her old school and Evelyn Cook, “the Latin teacher, [ Lou, you CAN do the Wheelock, let's get up a class here and help each other!!] who’d long held the position of celebrated writer among the faculty on the strength of a self-published account of her trip to Rome in 1963,” suggests they get one up:

    You know, Jimmy Smithers, over in the math department writes poetry. Maybe we could all get together. Form a little writing group. We could serve wine and hors d’oeuvres. Tea for the non drinkers.” (pages 209-210)

    So one slight step down from Dorothy Parker and the brave Algonquin dreams to Evelyn Cook, “published” author and the faculty writing group. Another nudge into reality, capped by:

    Neil at school who “really should have called you,” as she has NO job, what a horror, what a disappointment, suggests they form one, he’s been thinking of taking a semester off to write a book, perfect mirror irony:

    But he was relentless…”writing group,” he was saying. “Thinking of taking a semester off to write it up.”

    And poor Margaret’s dreams of being part of a select circle of accomplished authors are, in really an exquisite series of parallels, totally tromped.

    AND I keep thinking her mother suggested one, isn’t there another one, each one gets worse, little tiny threads of despair crashing thru it.

    This is a heartbreaker and very fine, THIS just killed me:

    A year ago, despite my public protestations to the contrary, I’d been pretty sure that an elevated place in the world had been reserved specifically for me. I’d assumed that I only needed to reveal my long-hidden talent, to throw off the bushel basket, so to speak, and those who had disdained me would gather round in awe to admire my light. But what if, after all, I had no light?? What if the basket had been a useful cover allowing me to pass among those who otherwise would discern my undesirability. I now had to consider the possibility that I’d thrown off my bushel basket….

    That is a very powerful statement, what happens if you throw off the bushel basket, take a chance, announce to the world you HAVE taken the chance, be vulnerable, and…..MAYBE you have no light?

    Gosh what a book. Am going off to think about what you all said yesterday and today, don’t you like to ponder what others have said, it really adds perspectives you never would have thought of, even if, especially if you don't agree with them?? ginny

    June 11, 2003 - 04:53 am
    1. Letty 2. Margaret 3. Letty 4. Letty 5. Margaret 6. Margaret

    betty gregory
    June 11, 2003 - 05:39 am
    Joan, you may be right about where my expectations are, but, for the moment, I won't hold you to your admonition, "Youth, Betty," about the "girls," as you call them, until later, to see if "youth" is your final judgment. (Although, I, too, have seen what chaos is possible in my own immature "grown-up" son.) I have already relaxed my focus, if you'll recall, after considering who M and L might be at there's a nod to youth.

    What I can't get a fix on is who Margaret and Letty represent, or if they represent....something. What are the author's intentions? Do they represent all of us? Personally, or as a culture of greed? Or a more benign general population with a need for acknowledgment, a need to APPEAR successful, or FEEL successful? (Margaret thinks of appear and feel, not "be.") The author told us her characters were "exaggerated." To what end? And are my reactions to M and L basically about those exaggerations? I think that's probable.


    About the Delaney sisters. I saw them in a mixed light...."painful reality," as I wrote, Ginny. Neither of them married. Cora's father prevented it from happening in her case. No children. Also, Bessie lived every day of her life seething with hatred for white people....until she was 100, when the first?? book was written?

    I think their lives were very difficult in expected ways (for the times), and no one thought to applaud them for anything until they lived to be 100 years old. It was their powerful father who insisted they be educated, so their lives were different from the average black woman's of the time....but it was also clear how isolated they were and that there were prices paid for this isolation.

    They are not the best compare and contrast examples to M and L, but they also forced me to think about the positive things in Margaret's and Letty's lives. Like children and supportive husbands (Ted) and no daily hatred.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 11, 2003 - 05:41 am

    Quiz answers.

    1. Letty
    2. Margaret
    3. Margaret
    4. Letty
    5. Letty
    6. Ted (Thanks, Ginny.)

    Youth? Am I right in thinking that Margaret taught for 13 years after graduating from college? That would make her and Letty 34, old enough to know better.

    The thing about credit card splurging is that people forget about protecting themselves. One of the instincts of survival is self-protection. You don't deliberately taunt an animal that you know will go wild without risking your life. You don't plagiarize because you could end up in jail. The funniest thing is that both Margaret and Letty live in cities that could quite easily turn on them. Much as I love it I know that in order to live in New York City you have to learn to protect yourself. LA can be the same.

    Letty and Margaret are playing dangerous games with the cards stacked against them. What are they trying to do, ruin their own and their husband's lives? I can't see anything good coming from this.

    Lessons learned? How do you get through the pain of losing all you had before you started playing these games, and I don't just mean hopes and dreams? How do you ever get over the guilt that inevitably will come to each of these women? I see disaster ahead and wonder if the two marriages are strong enough to meet it and stay intact.

    The light under the bushel basket: Don't you think there should have been a glimmer before now? I do. You don't get to Carnegie Hall without practice, practice, practice, and before you practice there have to be signs that you're capable of playing an instrument or able to sing. You don't get shown in MoMA without knowing the difference between tempera and acrylics and realizing that a medium is not just someone who leads séances. If you're tone deaf it's hard to listen to music, much less play it. If you're colorblind and think perspective is just a point of view, you can't be an artist.

    Delusions, delusions. Both of these women appear to me to have delusions of grandeur. When they -- if they -- wake up, they'll think what they did before they went off on these tangents was paradise and D'Agostino's on the corner of Ninth Avenue and W 57th is heaven.

    Ann Lamott's a writer; wrote for Salon, has published several books, some of which contain her Salon articles. I'm not entirely sure this makes her an authority on writers and writing.


    June 11, 2003 - 06:10 am
    Hi Betty and Ginny,

    I read The Delaney Sisters awhile back. I enjoyed reading about their life together. Each sister so different from the other sister, but their love for one another was so intense and real. I do not think many sisters share such a deep and lasting relationship. I will never forget those two women. I fell in love with both of them.

    June 11, 2003 - 07:33 am
    I hope this won't be an interruption of a great flow of wonderful talk... I was reading some comments by Umberto Eco this morning. He talked about his ideal reader for The Name of the Rose.

    And I couldn't help coming here to ask Christina if she would address this??? If you'd like to???

    This was the first time it had entered my mind that an author (well, other than children's authors...) might write to a particular audience. Eco was very specific about his ideal reader... Interesting concept!!

    Of course, Christina... I know these ladies here have exceeded any expectation you could have had!!! LOL But do you write with a reader in mind?


    June 11, 2003 - 10:38 am
    1. Letty
    2. Margaret
    3. Margaret
    4. Margaret
    5. Margaret
    6. Ted

    Most likely, retakes are not allowed. Thought I'd try anyway.

    I think that Letty and Michael are very much like many people in their 30s today. Joan has pointed out all those credit card offers her sons got even when they were only college students. It starts there. During any given week, I throw out approximately five (sometimes more) offers to either me or my daughter to get another credit card. I have a good financial record as does she--and yet the offers keep coming. Letty and Michael fall into the trap of using plastic without keeping track. The more cards you have, the more trouble you can get into when the bills come.

    June 11, 2003 - 12:20 pm
    Ah, GINNY, GINNY, I'd already figured out the rogue voice in the quiz but didn't want to give it away. "That's all right" isn't a casual concept that either Letty or Margaret would consider.

    There are two other mentions of a Writing Group [WG], actually the first two mentions. Simon announces he's leaving the library (91-3):

    "You're leaving me and my book isn't going well," I confessed... "Maybe you should take a class," Simon suggested...."With Peter Berginsky. He's written at least fifteen novels and he normally teaches in the master of fine arts program at Columbia." Margaret: "So why is he teaching a continuing educaton course?" Simon: "For the money, I assume." (I love the following thought by Margaret, hilarious!: 'This was discouraging. I knew better than to think that novel writing could be a money-making scheme ... but I did hope that after fifteen books an author wouldn't have to scramble for extra cash.') Margaret dreams that the course will force her to write and that she'll be the star pupil.

    Then Margaret broaches the subject of a Writing Group to Ted (98-101). She'd prepared/padded out a writing example and

    "Now I needed only to convince Ted that a class was worth the price of admission" and asks him "Do you thing they're [WG] a good idea?" And Ted wonders "Do I think someone can teach you to write? .... How much does it cost?"

    I think that the Writing Group is suggested as a sop by Simon, a path of least resistance to 'writers' who have trouble writing. Margaret considers it and it's looking outside yourself when you feel you can't do anything you set your mind to doing, at least not on your own. Desperation; low self-esteem; boxed in. Margaret wildly hopes (without hope) that someone who hasn't written, who may not have the talent, can be taught to be a writer just like plumbing can be taught. This is similar to the hopes of gamblers/investors who don't have the money to gamble. 'We can't achieve on our own, so we'll put the responsibility onto the system (teaching or stock market).

    I'll mention too that I think of this book as a social satire -- not one poking fun at or criticizing Letty, Margaret and the rest but a satire on society itself.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 11, 2003 - 02:43 pm

    And I think the author is writing about the reaction of people in a given set of sociological conditions with the reader to decide for herself or himself which is more important here, human behavior or the influence of society.

    Letty has found a house, and Margaret has made the decision to change her Vietnam veteran, Robert, into a woman named Lexie who is looking for a house to buy. She writes five pages, two of which Letty wrote. Isn't it too bad at that point that Margaret didn't propose to Letty that they co-author a book and make some money together?

    "I knew exactly what Michael was earning," Margaret says, and she knows very well that Letty and Michael will be overextending themselves if they buy the house Letty has mentioned in her email. The question that comes to my mind is this: If Margaret believes Letty is a real friend, why would she consider exploiting her by stealing what Letty writes and fictionalizing it for herself and her own gain, plus encouraging Letty to dig deeper into the hole to Margaret's advantage?

    It is my feeling that Margaret and Letty's friendship has deterioriated into nothing more than a habit; that neither one really cares very much what happens to the other. True friends don't behave the way they do, do they?

    Margaret now has lied about her writing and stolen from her best friend. In other words, she is basing a good part of her life on deceit. This is consistent with the promising child she continues to tell herself she was and the ideas she has of becoming a great deal more than just a cut above the average adult?


    June 11, 2003 - 05:37 pm
    There's so much in this book; once we started discussing, it is like peeling the layers of an onion.

    Joan, you said of Margaret: "... those early 'precocious projects' all seem to have been an artful presentation of the work of others. Surely there must be some niche, some place such talent can be chanelled?"

    I know we've talked about Margaret's lack of imagination. We know she can write but she can't create out of whole cloth. She doesn't consider nonfiction writing? Only TGAN is suitable for her, she thinks but I agree that there is a place for her talent.

    Right now Margaret is using Letty's email as an exercise, "a jumping off point from which I would then create my own character." Ah, we know nothing beyond this exercise (2 pages of Letty's writing to 3 pages of Margaret's) but I see danger in this!

    Most writers use little snippits of people they know or observe -- a gesture, a way of speaking -- and it's only one little betrayal but Margaret has trouble creating; of jumping off from the known into the unknown territory of the imagination. Maybe Margaret will tell L she's been her Muse and Letty'll be pleased, or so M hopes.

    Andy raised a good point that Margaret doesn't have any close friends outside of Letty. But isn't L in the same position? Both M&L meet up with old school friends and Letty goes to work for hers but that's employer-employee and no friendship now. Nothing close. I think both these women are fairly well isolated within their family group and within their own shaky friendship.

    GINNY, I think M didn't send the warning email 'don't buy the house' because then it would stop the potential drama and conflict of the story. Perhaps M is already thinking, and not consciously admitting to herself, that she'll use more of L's continuing foray into upscale LA for her writing.


    June 11, 2003 - 07:01 pm
    I've been trying to track down the dynamics of WHY Margaret doesn't email her financial calculations about Letty's house to her. We all agree that it was disloyal to withhold the information, we've made value judgements about Letty's and Margaret's relationship based on that fact, but why did it actually happen?

    In fact, we learn that Margaret spent an HOUR AND A HALF detailing all of her thoughts about the house to Letty in an email. Ted comes home just as she finishes and Margaret gets involved in telling Ted about her writing day. (Ah, the responsibility of living up to his expectations!) Before they go out to dinner, Margaret shuts down the computer with the email still unsent.

    So far, not much criminal behavior. Who among us hasn't deferred completing an email because personal life intruded? In the case of a complex email letter with delicate subject matter, perhaps a friend might even want to sleep on the unfinished email and take another look at it the next day to make sure that it's phrased tactfully?

    Because Margaret goes to work the next day, she doesn't get another crack at her computer until evening. By that time, Letty has already sent her the news that the offer she and Michael made for the too-expensive house has been accepted by the owners. It's a done deal!

    GUILT!!!! Margaret reacts predictably. She tries to soothe her own guilt.

    It wasn't my fault, wasn't my fault, my warning might have arrived too late anyway, their finances are their OWN business, it has nothing to do with me, I'll just throw out my calculations, throw them out...

    I felt it WAS true that Margaret had a very short window of opportunity to share her opinions with Letty...maybe a few hours...and she had no way of knowing that Letty and Michael's offer for the house would be accepted so rapidly. Don't these house bids usually drag on for a bit?

    When you come right down to it, I think Margaret didn't warn Letty about possible disaster because she and Ted went out to dinner the day she started to write Letty about the house, and then she had to go to work the next day. The rapid timing on the acceptance of Michael and Letty's bid for the house cancelled out Margaret's good intentions?

    Yet when you combine her lack of warning to Letty about the too-expensive house with Margaret's plagiarizing of Letty's writing in her book, the picture begins to look a lot more venal. Margaret had a longer window of opportunity to reconsider her use of Letty's writing.

    Margaret is not a deliberately vicious person. As usual, she soothed herself that she would rewrite and change Letty's work as she went along. It was her intention only to jump-start herself with Letty's phrases and outlook.

    What's that old saying... that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions?


    Edit: Marvelle, looks like we both wrote on similar subjects. Love your take on it.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 11, 2003 - 08:02 pm

    HARRIET, I don't know about other email systems, but in my AOL system if an email is saved and hasn't been sent out, it will be, whether I want it to or not, when I retrieve new mail that's been sent to me. Of course, it would have been too late to do any good if Margaret's email had gone out that way, but it would at least have eased her conscience.

    It amuses me a little that we don't want Margaret to be "bad". She's not a bad person, unless you consider sins of omission to be bad. Both Letty and Margaret are guilty of those. Margaret omitted sending the email warning Letty about the house. Letty omits keeping a proper balance in her checkbook and taking care of her credit card bills.

    The fact remains, though, that what I said earlier is true. Margaret lies about her writing, and she uses Letty's writing as her own. I don't know about anyone else, but I never would be able to use someone else's work, even as a stimulus or "borrowing" a couple of phrases. My body -- not my mind -- rebels if I even consider such a thing, has since I was a child. Fear of punishment? Maybe.


    betty gregory
    June 11, 2003 - 08:10 pm
    Marvelle, what about social satire modified by region?

    At an L.A. dinner party, the chatter is about a famous decorator or adding on a wing and in a New York restaurant, a published writer is sighing over how inconvenient book tours are while everyone listening secretly wishes for the same inconvenience.

    I'm just playing around with possibilities. Do you think the author is hinting that social is local is personal? That our need for recognition is connected to what is approved, promoted and obsessed over where we are, is connected to what is available to us where we are? Letty has fallen into what is happening all around her. Margaret and Ted attend NY gatherings where a smug writer holds forth and whose writing habits are held up later to Margaret by Ted, with good intentions, I think.

    In Texas, beliefs about size and independence and wealth are in the drinking water. Here I am, serious feminist whose mentor and learned feminism came from Austin, more specifically, from my time at the University of Texas. A few years ago, however, words came out of my mouth that still puzzle me and make me shake my head. I was describing my mentor. Formerly a psychology professor, she is now Vice Provost of UT Austin. Then I said it.... that the University of Texas at Austin is the largest university in the country. The minute I said it, I couldn't believe I said it.....knowing instantly that size of university means nothing, has nothing to do with quality, is, in fact, a little embarrassing. I could have said something about grant money for research, or dedication to diversity, but noooooooo. So, you see, that damn drinking water.....

    The importance of region may fade when we get to the dangers inherent in need for external approval....or what comes next for Margaret and Letty.


    June 11, 2003 - 09:28 pm
    HARRIET, women do tend to blame themselves. I can see so much of that in Margaret. But M could have sent a quick email saying just what she muttered to herself, "Letty, Letty, Letty, do not buy this house." And then perhaps asking Letty to call or write or saying she'd write further -- whatever it took to get that one message out immediately. M could have followed up with a more detailed e-mail. Instead: "I spent the next hour and a half composing a reply to Letty's e-mail, detailing my findings and [conclusions]...."

    She was finishing the e-mail when Ted came home. They talked, decided to go out to dinner and M took the time to print out her five page exercise on Lexie and only then did she shut down the computer. It could have been too late by then, but it was definitely late by the next day. The ultimate decision to buy, yes, that belongs to Letty and Michael. Yet there was still time to back out of the housebuying -- and for M to send the e-mail, but Margaret never sent it, not ever. Another issue of responsibility? Or would GINNY say that M should support L's desire to buy the house; or at least not to interfere? I still think it was M's unacknowledged desire to let the drama play out that caused her silence on the housebuying.

    I like the idea of social satire by region, BETTY, that there are different ways to shine in society. The desperate may try the lottery or the stocks, or buying Guadalajara patio tiles. Yup, guess it's the drinking water.

    We all of us agree, MAL, about what M&L are doing and not doing. That's the foundation for considering motivation, responsibility, the nature of friendship, women's relationships, family pressure, what status in society actually consists of, etc -- all the issues that Vanity has brought to our collective minds.

    I've been observed ROFLOL at some of the writer's advice from the other characters in this novel. One remark I'm especially fond of is "Remember that Emily Dickinson couldn't get published in her lifetime." I'm thinking about using that as my new tagline. Mal, as a writer, do you have any lines you care to share that got you howling with laughter?



    Did you consciously think about writing a modern epistolary novel? did you start out with that idea, or did it grow out of the writing process? What's the good, the bad, or the ugly with this writer's technique? (This question may be too open-ended, sorry.)


    June 11, 2003 - 09:41 pm
    MAL, On p.226, Margaret FIRST collects her email and learns that Michael and Letty's offer has been accepted and THEN deletes her retained financial calculations of the previous evening into the trash.

    That's how my email program works too. I guess it's live and learn. I thought all email programs worked that way?

    MARVELLE, good suggestion about sending Letty a rapid email not to buy...but wouldn't she have had to understand the importance of a speedy response?

    If Margaret had deliberately sent out her calculations to Letty AFTER the offer for the house was accepted, would the information have acted as a damper on Letty and Micharl's joy, without offering any remedy for their problem? It might have salved Margaret's conscience, but I wonder if it would have been the right thing to do?

    Knotty problem there....

    I really think Margaret's lack of warning to Letty came about because she didn't have a chance to send them her calculations. I don't think Margaret intentionally planned on NOT warning her friend. It's just that Michael and Letty's offer on the house was accepted so surprisingly quickly.

    Now the use of Letty's phrases to enhance Margaret's writing...THAT'S a different matter entirely. I don't feel Margaret behaved well at all in that situation. Regardless of how she rationalized her original motives, I do think she should be held responsible.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 11, 2003 - 10:00 pm

    MARVELLE, no, no lines from the book at the moment, but CALLIE sent me a line this morning which made me laugh.

    "I'm so mad I could chew nails and spit out thumbtacks."

    That's how I felt when I lost all of what I'd written on the last chapter of my current novel to a power outage recently. Just think, if I'd had that line then I wouldn't have had to do all that swearing at Duke Power and Light. Fat lot of good it did, too.

    I was thinking about what Betty said about regions. My former husband worked for a large chemical corporation, and we were transferred and transferred and transferred. The status situation was exactly the same everywhere we went, a lot of scientific one-upmanship among the men; purchases which represented how high up you were on the ladder by the women.

    After we split, I moved many times by myself. Massachusetts was pretty much like New York was pretty much like North Carolina. Florida was different, but when I lived in St. Augustine for several years I felt as if I was outside the United States, anyway; so much was based on tourism and play. The big goal among most residents was a multi-bedroomed, be-decked house on the beach and a big boat for trips up and down the intracoastal. I owned a 12 year old singlewide trailer on Anastasia Island a mile from the beach and a VW Rabbit, and ran a used-book book shop for pay that was peanuts, so had no such lofty aims.

    Wait a minute, though. There were many intellectuals and artistic types in St. Augustine. I remember a champagne breakfast I went to thrown by someone in Mensa. There was a lot of what Margaret saw in Manhattan going on at that "do". I was glad I was poor and dumb and didn't have to compete with anyone.


    June 11, 2003 - 10:05 pm
    Oh boy oh boy oh boy, I just thought of another important quesiton for Christina:

    Can I use one of the lines from Vanity as my tagline in posts?

    I should have asked first rather than just saying I was gonna do it!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 12, 2003 - 05:02 am
    "Fight it, Martha"

    June 12, 2003 - 06:43 am
    MAL: Before anyone asks if I'm having problems, let me interject that my "...chew nails..." comment was prefaced by "I remember a saying from my youth...." (^_^)

    Real Life is creating a slight break in my time to analyze Margaret and Letty (a slow process under the best of circumstances!!). I'll jump in when I have more time to ponder.

    June 12, 2003 - 08:23 am
    HARRIET, I do wonder about the book's issue of friendship and responsibility. There's a difference in politeness to a guest (espec new acquaintance), always always always necessary to avoid rude comments to a guest; and what we see as 'honest' comments to a friend. Different type of responsibility there: one type as a host/hostess and another type as a friend.

    The question with Letty's pinpricking of the plot was 'should a friend support another friend no matter what?' I didn't think it was cut and dried and wondered 'if a friend is drowning at sea and cries out for an anchor, does a true friend throw them the anchor? or does a friend throw them a life preserver and swim out to help?'

    Was Letty right in opposing M's plot of the Vietnam Vet? Or is M right in being silent about Letty's housebuying? all along silent since the LA visit? Were the actions of both situations helpful to the friend or themselves?

    Here are some of the possible choices facing Margaret when told of the housebuying, what I can think of anyway:

    -- support
    -- oppose
    -- fence-sit but raise pro/con issues

    Of these choices, silence is easiest on M although not good for L. The rest of the choices are active involvement and can be intrusive; friendships can be lost this way. Silence is good if you want to keep things easy for yourself and keep the friendship even as the friend drowns?

    Is there really one good answer to this question of a friend's responsibility?

    Hope Christina can help with this.


    June 12, 2003 - 10:10 am
    I’m really impressed with your answers to the “Totally Scientific Voice Quiz!” You’ve ALL got almost all of them right, even the tricky (third voice) one, let’s just look for a moment at them and say who was what? Say what it is about that particular sentence that you think indicates the character? What in it?

    1. We get a Williamette Valley Syrah, two bottles—even thought we never even half finish the second, and two desserts, perhaps a cocoanut crème brulee and a flourless chocolate cake, accompanied by a small pile of forks and spoons, so everyone can taste, and espresso all round.

    Name brands, ordering stuff they don’t need, espresso, who else but Letty in her new incarnation? I swear I see yet another Letty in the last section or I’m hallucinating, it’s scary.

    Nor do I think we can blame Letty too much. She started out with the right values and got all caught up, as Frugal pointed out, what a LOT of different temptations. She wants to be seen “as good as” because when she was younger she had to climb over the tennis fence in her tennis dress. She cares or understands so little about money herself, she put the bills in boxes as we will see and bless her heart, it caught up with her/them. But they are like somebody who wins the lottery, and Margaret is helping them. I really can’t cast a stone, although it’s exaggerated, Letty always has a reason, it’s like watching a TV show and screaming at the set, “NO NO don’t buy that!” WE know, we can SEE her going down the wrong path, the writing is such that there’s just enough for us to SEE her turning off the path and if WE can see it, Margaret can, too.

    I wonder in these longer Letty letters whose Point of View we are seeing because we can certainly see her heading for a complete disaster heedlessly, the endless expenditures and renovations necessary just to live, the unnecessary spending and excuses, but WE see it, and there’s a reason.

    Good point Harriet on how and why Margaret lost that long letter to Letty about the finances. That happens in email, sure does. If Letty were YOUR friend (Everybody) and you saw her doing this, could you, would you write a shorter one and say, Letty, sounds like a lot of spending? Chickens before hatched (talk about drowning chickens!) etc?? Sound the warning bell?

    Why doesn’t Margaret write the second letter?

  • 2. I spent the remainder of the week weeding through my school files, admiring the discussion topics I’d teased from The House of Mirth and chuckling at the clever sentences I’d composed for spelling quizzes.

    Completely different voice, going back to her earlier promise and enjoying it, she was clever. Got to be Margaret, who cares the most about being clever when she was younger. Could we look today about why she enjoyed being precocious?
  • 3. The analogy was not at all clear to me, but I forbore pointing that out.

    This is that wry humorous voice without qualifying adjectives or story telling, this is Margaret holding back something she has noticed, pure Margaret.

  • 4. 4 The driveway slipped gracefully through a small grove of eucalyptus to a parking area where we left the Tercel next to a silver Lexus SUV and a bronze BMW coupe (Jeannett’s husband must drive the gold car).

    Name brands and upscale cars, driveways that slip gracefully thru a small grove, even down to the colors of the Lexus and the BMW, it’s Letty again, dressed to impress or writing to impress or amuse or entertain.

    Letty is distinctly giving her emails a flair, for whose benefit?

  • 5. . Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I shouldn’t be distracted by petty issues like nomenclature and authentic weaving materials.

    Self doubt is Margaret, in spades, I don’t see too much self doubt in Letty, she plunges ahead gleefully as if they had won the lottery. I’m not sure what we would do in those circumstances.

  • 6. That’s all right…It’ll grow back.

    The comforter, the reassurer, the person reaching out to somebody else to try to make them feel better is Ted. Ted’s the rock Margaret leans on.

    That’s how I see those, how did you do? And how do you see the voices behind these sentences, taken completely at random? I’m pretty amazed that you all did so well!! Fun, huh? And instructive.

    Andrea wondered why Margaret doesn’t have any friends? She has Ted and she has Letty to share her inmost thoughts with, and she has us. She’s confiding in US. How we react to her reveals more about us than it does her, I think. Some of us think she should have gotten over it, some of us think she’s vain, I guess, I don’t see that. I see somebody who does NOT feel entitled, but who is hopeful, who lives on hopeful expectation, who, when given half a piece of paper, extrapolates it into the Nobel Prize, that’s just something she does. Hopefully. Expectantly. Why she does that …that’s what I don’t know. I was hoping Betty could tell us why that happens.

    I mean, I am educated, 60 years old and intelligent: I would have no idea on earth how to go about writing a NOVEL? A NOVEL?? Even a short story. Looks to me like she tried everything going to get something done. Went to the library, joined a writer’s group, made out a schedule, bless her heart, tried to write about Robert and his mother who ate a lot hahaha, she simply does not know, and neither would I?

    I toyed with the idea of asking each of us TO write something to see how easy it is, but then dropped it.

    And as far as the bushel basket, well someday I might take mine off too, who knows what would crawl out? Maybe that light I remember so well only shines in my own memory just like Margaret is suddenly worried about hers. There are lots of people who threw off their own bushel baskets in their 70’s and up and excelled. Your bushel basket does not have a time clock on it, if it did we’d all be saints.

    “You can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine,” and if you don’t have enough shine to make it you won’t. Margaret wants to be a beacon, and she’s finding out that only she and Ted think of her as one. Gosh this section hurts.

    I think Margaret is a composite, exquisitely drawn, of all of us, maybe not at our best and most triumphant, maybe not the face we present to the world, but I think she’s as real as the next phone call that does not come that you wait for, (that JUST this minute happened to me) and this next section where she ponders “Mortification” was almost unbearable.

    What makes Margaret this way? Can we look at this section, at her childhood “precocity,” at what she found in the attic and what memories she has of her childhood at all? Can we compare that with the parents we see today, Mom did not work apparently but has no doubt who SHE is, while Margaret needs to be told before she can know, powerful powerful stuff, what did Margaret get OUT of her precocity?? What relation does her childhood precocity have to her life now? To her ambition?

    Christina, you wanted to talk about the relationship between Margaret’s childhood projects and her ambition, I think we’re there! Tell us what you think?

    I have got a “boffo” question for the ending, seems like all my questions come at the end!!

    P edln, hope you will rejoin us soon, our Pearson is on a trip to San Diego and have threatened her with limb breakage if she does not look in so she took Vanity on the plane, and if I know her the whole plane will be discussing it! Callie, I wondered where you were, and hope you can join us soon. Vanessa, where art thou?

    We need all hands on this deck to figure Margaret and Letty out.

    You here have done a marvelous job picking up things I totally missed, let’s look at your posts!!
  • Ginny
    June 12, 2003 - 10:27 am
    Betty, actually, I have enjoyed thinking about the Delaney Sisters, I agree Hats, they were remarkable, and as Betty points out, not without their own inner conflicts and sacrifices.

    Lou I agree it’s quite painful to watch Margeret because we do care about her, you and Harriet both have said it’s all you can do to read it and I’m personally amazed at how she keeps on going and trying, this next bit, right at first, would have finished me and it may have her, internally.

    I think so too, this IS a wonderful articulate knowledgeable bunch, yourself included!

    Malryn, that’s an excellent thought that maybe the friends really don’t know each other as they have grown into now, they know who they were, like sisters, but they have changed, maybe. Good point.

    Maryal, I agree, “There’s a lot of intentional criticism of contemporary gottahaveit, gottahaveit now, gottahaveit because I need it. I need it because it’s a name brand and then I will be someone.” Right. When I get the Mercedes I will finally have arrived. When I get the swimming pool I will be somebody and, if we were totally honest? If we were honest as Betty says let's be, we would admit to ourselves that somewhere creaking around in the back of our psyche is some thing, some one THING some symbol of what WE were taught to be status and in our adulthood we make sure we have it, if we are able, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, now admit it!

    Betty double dares us, and that’s what she’s talking about: I know people who drive Buicks because the three holer or however many holes it had WAS the car to reach for in their childhoods. All you have to do is ASK yourself what represents “being there” for you? And then see where you are, it’s fascinating!

    Betty, I thought this was really good, “Her descriptions at the first of the book seem less funny to me now and Letty is not as in charge of herself as I'd thought. There's even a hint of desperation, I think.”

    I see that too, the whole tone is different.

    And I do need to put these two questions in the heading:

    So, I'm wondering.....what gets Margaret into trouble....her writing skill or her values?

    A similar question for Letty. Do we look at her skills or her values for answers?

    Love that first one and the second!

    Callie, the book The Remains of the Day is so far superior to the movie it’s not funny, read the book first! You’ll talk to the book!

    Marvelle, MARVELOUS take on “luck versus You can Do Anything if You Only TRY!!”

    Letty does seem to feel they have won the Lottery.

    Betty, this was interesting, “Margaret thinks of appear and feel, not "be.") How can you BE and not FEEL? Do you think if Margaret WAS she would FEEL?

    Malryn thank you for explaining who Ann Lamott is!

    Maryal, another thing happening today to the 30 somethings is an increased set of expectations. My son lives in a home at 36 that we could never have afforded, I well remember our first house and we paid a whopping $18,000 for it in 1967, yes!! Today’s 30 somethings don’t live in $18,000 houses, they drive better than $18,000 cars, our entire society has changed. When we sold that house in 1980, the buyers paid $51,000, that’s what happened to real estate vaules. The 30 somethings are caught in that, too.

    Marvelle, good eyes on the Writing Group mentioned by Simon, it fits in perfectly (the one Margaret mentions to Ted doesn’t count as she’s just asking him about her taking it). The writing group as mentioned by Simon is actually a perfect next step down as Simon IS a published writer, so it’s the next logical step from the Algonquin (considering where she went).

    I love all the different interpretations, Marvelle with Social Satire, Malryn with the “reaction of people in a given set of sociological conditions with the reader to decide for herself or himself which is more important here, human behavior or the influence of society.” Love that.

    Malryn why do you suppose Margaret DIDN’T propose they co author a book? Letty asked her what she wanted and Margaret said help in finishing?

    Harriet, I love all your explanations of the knotty problem and your adding the time element does complicate things, yes it may well have hurt them to send that after the fact and it’s no surprise that the sale went thru so fast from the sound of the renovations needed, huh? Letty is right, they should have offered less, but again, who knew?

    Now Harriet when you say, “I don’t think Margaret deliberately planned on NOT warning her friend….”

    That measure of “deliberation” fascinates me with both of these friends, when does Margaret change TO deliberation and why? That’s what we need to watch for.

    Marvelle, marvelous take on the actions of both Letty and Margaret being more helpful to the friend or to themselves. We can pretty much answer that for Margaret but I wonder, now, about Letty. How much of a friend is she being to Margaret?

    OK let's talk, if you like, about an 8 year old drawing a map of the city of Ur and what she got out of it and why she, even tho praised for this type of thing, doesn't seem to have any self esteem on her own, if you like?

    What, is it better not to encourage your child at all? Did you see the irony in Dad saying, "Don't teach the children to stereotype, Alice," don't know what page that is but it sure is engraved on my mind.

    It's popular to quote the old saw Be Content With Enough. Why is it we can't be content with the blessings we each undoubtedly have? Margaret DID marry well, she had a good job teaching, WHY this urge to shine? Is it strictly because she's foolish and greedy as the Howells quote says and because society has told her it's valuable? Or is there something else?

    How about Letty's motivation? Is Letty's motivation as clear to us, and if so, where do you see evidence of it?


    June 12, 2003 - 11:10 am

    Page 227: "I'll admit only to you, Margaret, that I wanted to hurry her in, out of sight of the neighbors who would surely note that her jeans have elastic at the back of the waist and her shoes, chosen strictly for comfort, have laces dyed to match the leather. My father's hair is too carefully combed for this neighborhood. And when did he start wearing Sansabelts?"

    Here is the "New Letty" confiding in Margaret. There used to be a children's series of moralistic stories called Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. One of the stories concerned a poor couple who gave up things so their son could attend college, remember that one?

    They scrimped and saved and did without, and sent him on and when it came time for him to graduate they managed to save enough for a trip up to see him. Upon seeing them and how inappropriately they were dressed, he turned away with his friends and pretended he did not know them: the essence, in a child’s morality play, of the Ungrateful Child: sharper than a serpent’s tooth.

    THIS may be some of the “exaggeration.” Letty herself has changed, morally. Why?

    I look at that vaulted ceiling and that chandelier (which, unfortunately the previous owners are taking***here's the voice of Reality intervening*** ) and the thick kelly green lawns that roll out in all directions on those hills and I feel like a real person would live in this house. Not the sort of person who would repair a car with string.
    Letty is going to be a “real person,” without those Hyacinth Bucket relatives of her past, because of the real estate she has “bought” or “borrowed for.” And since that’s all it takes in her mind now the New Letty, to BE such a person, and since you will always meet somebody with a bigger pocket or propensity to borrow, she is now on the upwardly mobile track and can’t turn back: she’s denied her roots.

    Margaret is going to be a person whose light shines so brightly that everybody can tell she’s worth noticing. All she has to do is write a book.

    Both friends want to, variously, “have” and to “shine.” Letty changed first? The scene with the elastic jeans and the too carefully combed hair for this neighborhood is searing. Letty has changed, and not for the better. Margaret, on page 227, is still holding on to what matters. What will it take to shake it loose? Which friend is stronger?


    Christina Schwarz
    June 12, 2003 - 11:56 am
    I loved "The Shining" and "The Firm"--I meant Margaret to be completely sincere with those suggestions. They're both well-written and are stories that might grab kids who don't like to read. (In fact, I read "The Firm" because one of my nonreading students wouldn't stop bugging me until I'd tried it.) As a teacher, I always thought that getting my students to realize that they might actually like reading was one of my main goals, but I also had to admit that I had very little control over this. One boy loved "Dr. Jekyll (sp?) and Mr. Hyde" (rough going for a tenth grader, I would have thought) because a man he admired suggested it to him. A senior girl told me she'd never liked to read until we studied "This Side of Paradise"--so who can predict what'll work?

    Speaking of teachers (and to continue with your questions), luckily, I never have had a professor quite as impenetrable as Berginsky, but his character was inspired by a real person. A couple years ago, I read (or tried to make sense of) a book by a writing professor about his "Master Class"--it was as ridiculous as "swim with the chickens," as far as I'm concerned. (I have only recently, however, begun to conclude that when I don't understand something, it's because it doesn't make sense, and not because I'm being obtuse. That's a benefit of age, I think.) That phrase, by the way, just popped into my head and I wasn't sure it was successful, but I've gotten great responses to it.

    June 12, 2003 - 06:13 pm
    Yay! Hip-hip-hoorah! Christina's here!

    Sorry, I had to whoop it up a bit; but we are so lucky here in SN to be able to talk to her and get our questions answered personally. This is such a wonderful gift to us.

    Hi Christina! What insight you've given us about young students and they ways they can be drawn into reading and with what they read. I do love the "swim with the chickens" line; shows the teacher to be rather silly and here Margaret tries to make sense of it. So maybe with a little more time/age, Margaret will see that she isn't always wrong. And that sometimes what she can't understand is not her fault but just may be obtuse and silly.

    Right now, the more desperate she is about producing a novel, the harder she tries, and the more painful it is for me to watch/read. To stand to one side, unable to reach either Margaret or Letty, is achingly painful.

    Need to get thoughts together and I'll post later tonight. As usual, Ginny, you've given us a lot to think about.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 12, 2003 - 06:48 pm

    Somewhere in this book there is a reference to Madame Bovary, and I can't find it. I saw it earlier today before lightning knocked the power in this apartment off and the thoughts of possibly losing a brand new computer shot everything else out of my head including the page that's on. Do you think Margaret is like Madame Bovary? Do you think Letty is? Are both of them?

    Christina, I loved The Shining. Guess now I'll have to read The Firm. I think swimming with the chickens is a whole lot safer than swimming with the sharks and a lot more comfortable.

    Ginny, I don't believe Margaret ever could have asked Letty to co-author a book. To do so would have been an admission of defeat, wouldn't it? Didn't Margaret feel as if she always had to be five or ten steps ahead of Letty?

    I think the reference to Letty's voice as a child is because Margaret misses that friend, not Letty as an adult. More and more I think that Margaret and Letty are habits more than they are friends. I think I said before that neither one seems really to care what happens to the other. Letty rarely talks about Margaret's life in her letters. If Margaret truly cared about Letty, she never would have stolen her writing. Sometimes people must face up to the fact that a relationship is over and that all they are holding onto is a hangover.

    Ginny, to write a novel you have to sit down and write it, that's all. It's like when I started teaching piano. I was nervous because no one ever told me how to teach music. I put an ad in the paper; began teaching and learned as I went along.

    After my marriage ended I did more with the light under the basket I'd been forced to wear for a very long time than I ever did before. I showed paintings in galleries. I wrote short stories, novels and plays, a couple of which were performed on the stage. I composed music, some of which was performed in concerts. I did all these things, but the potential for doing them had been with me all my life. I'm a published writer, but have never had a novel of mine published. At first the rejection slips bothered me. Now I don't care any more. It's what I do, and I'm satisfied.

    In a little over two weeks I'll be 75 years old, and I have just begun composing and sequencing electronic music which I hope to use on my web pages. Oh, yes, I started publishing electronic magazines 7 years ago. When I did the first issue of the first one, I knew little or nothing about building web pages. As I said, there had been plenty of signs that all these things were possible for me long before I did them. If I had not been trained as a musician and had not drawn and painted pictures and written nearly all my life, I'd have stuck with playing bridge, working at some job or other and doing what I could to help people addicted to alcohol and drugs. A model of Ur and a bust of Nefertiti were not good enough signs that Margaret could drop everything and write.

    Margaret has over-extended herself, and it seems to me that she always has. She did a study and wrote "Bewildered: The Juxtaposition of Wilderness and Civilization in American Literature from Hawthorne to Wharton" as a senior in college. Her advisor said, "At least concentrate on one author!" Page 167. Margaret herself says somewhere that she's an over-achiever who cannot over-achieve. She knows what she is, but she can't stop herself from showing the world and herself she's better than Letty ( the average person ) is.


    kiwi lady
    June 12, 2003 - 10:38 pm
    Lots to think about.

    Ginny your post was very thought provoking. My two young grandsons are enrolled at very posh private schools I wonder too if they will be ashamed of their granny when they grow up in the private school system. At the moment they are too little to notice I live a very modest lifestyle.

    I have noticed that some young couples I come in contact with are very snobbish but the big laugh is that many of the people they look down on have many more assets and more money than these young people have only they don't display it in their life style.

    Materialism and consumerism seem to be a religion in our society today.I don't think our world is better for this. Letty is a follower of this religion. Margaret is the opposite her pride is in her intellect material things are not so important and yet both of these women are under the same delusion but in different ways. Letty is kidding herself she is in the jet set and Margaret is kidding herself she is a writer. Vanity indeed.

    betty gregory
    June 13, 2003 - 03:19 am
    I don't know, Ginny. I don't know why Margaret is how she is, with a need to prove her worth. (Even if much more background information was given, it would be difficult to say.) Her dream of being worth notice......I wonder if the author is saying through both Margaret and Letty that putting our energies into what is applauded by society is ??? easy to fall into??.....a human temptation??.....growing worse in our wealthy society??.....

    This is definitely a contemporary tale. If the year was 1942, I'm not sure Margaret and Letty would have the same concerns....either of them might be waiting to hear if a loved one was still alive, might be worried about keeping a garden going, might have to face being a widow and raising children alone. Being a true friend might be about more serious issues, but easier to be.

    A different focus.....instead of questiong Margaret and Letty, we could ask...How does contemporary society measure success? Margaret thinks she knows. (Who gets hired to tutor children? Someone who attended the Right University.) Letty and Michael seem caught up in a whirlwind of measurement. Similar to a dress code, an appearance of wealth is prescribed.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 13, 2003 - 05:31 am

    What Betty said about 1942 made me remember something. The aunt who raised me was always trying to be noticed; trying for recognition, and trying to be better than the Joneses at the same time. As stimulus she had a neighbor up the street who really had a feeling for decorating her house. When Mrs. Manning bought an Oriental rug, my aunt bought a better one. When her neighbor bought an antique table, my aunt went out and bought one, too. Because I had some talent as a kid that my aunt didn't have, she pushed me hard to the forefront so she could live through me, take credit and get some of the applause. She certainly wasn't thinking about the war or the boys overseas.

    She kept me dressed in the latest styles and knew what fashion was before it even hit the streets. "This is a little sample number out of New York." She wasn't the only woman I knew at that time who did this kind of thing. My aunt had a shaky ego problem. Other women who did this did not -- or they did. They were all trying to be better than someone else and trying to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd.

    Remembering this I began thinking of what we've discussed about ancient history in the Story of Civilization discussion. What about all those people who had to build better pyramids, better statues, bigger and better buildings and monuments than the rest. Don't they fall into the same category?

    Is Christina Schwarz talking about a human trait that's been around since the beginning of history? And is the commercial world of contemporary society playing on this trait?


    June 13, 2003 - 06:22 am
    Christina!! There you are!! And in the daytime, too, couldn’t believe my eyes, what fun this is, I agree with Marvelle, WHEE! |Thank you for answering our questions and all the super insights you are providing, a perfect experience, I can’t believe it, actually (pinch me!!) Many grateful thanks.

    I loved that insight into your new concept of when things don’t make sense it’s not your fault in understanding.

    That’s very interesting, actually: a change for you, apparently before sometimes you thought it might be your fault when things did not make sense.

    As we all approach something, we do it differently, if we did a poll right now among all those present as to how they approach any task, let’s take, say, a reading comprehension passage, and what they expect to get out of it, we would see different approaches and attitudes, and those attitudes are what make the difference in how you feel about the outcome. And how you feel might be all that matters, actually.

    WHAT IF, you came in here this morning and were told that it was necessary for all of us to read Passage X and answer some questions? Passage X is going to be difficult. I contend that it’s the attitude we go IN with which would tell the tale, even before we saw the passage..

    Reader A:

    Some people approach with confidence in their own reading ability, knowing that no matter how obtuse it is, they WILL conquer it, their entire approach is divide and conquer, by methods and tricks if necessary, but they WILL come out on top. They have conquered Passage X before they even begin it and are irritated if it does not go well. Irritated at the text, not themselves.

    Reader B:

    Others approach it fearfully with a lot of experience in not understanding behind them, but they’ll try, and they’ll give it their best. They are reasonably hopeful.

    Reader C:

    Some stab at it and laugh the experience off, it was a ”dumb thing to do” anyway.

    Reader D:

    Some are petrified to even try, and unpleasantly threatened by the very suggestion: not why they came.

    I expect there are as many different approaches as there are Readers, what would YOURS be?

    My point is it’s your whole way of approach that matters. It’s not arrogance that Margaret has, she simply understands the written word, thus she can’t understand why she can’t write it, too.

    (This is a non sequitur, but I absolutely howled over Margaret’s reaction to Berginsky’s comments:

    Ted asks her what Berginsky says,

    “I’m not sure. Either he thinks I’m insane or he’s comparing me to Shakespeare.” (page 127) hahahaaha HAHAHAHA

    Berginsky remarks, “Some reference might perhaps be made to the Native American experience, as compared, for instance, with the Khmer Rouge- the Red Man and the Reds, as it were.”

    ”Was he saying I should set the novel in Cambodia?” (page 128) hahahaha HAHAHAHa

    That’s hilarious.

    As Margaret said earlier, she’s an insightful reader, she’s insightful, period, why can’t she just put that on paper, what can be so hard?

    Betty, I think your question 17 above is very important, I hope everybody will address it, a new focus, away from Margaret and Letty (Margaret and Letitia, what beautiful old names) Old names with new values, , nice touch.

    I myself am consumed with Margaret. I think that we’ve not seen any other character in literature like her (Malyn the Madame Bovary bit is in the next section on page 259, I think personally (tho that was a subtle bit by Christina there about “it was a simple notion, really, but had it not led, at least once before, to a masterpiece?” )hahahaha Yes and I truly think this is one too, but no I don’t see either Letty or Margaret as Madame Bovary, but will say why then.

    The yearning is there in all three characters , but what they do about it is different? And it makes the difference.

    Margaret reminds me somewhat of April Wheeler in Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, if I had to make a parallel of characters who strive to shine.. Both want to shine, feel called to greatness, Margaret in literature and April on the stage. Their paths are quite different, tho and April, at least, apparently had talent obvious to others, as revealed in the reflection of the other characters. Margaret has Ted’s faith in her, but all of the others she meets seem to invalidate her literary parking ticket. What are you going to do when that happens? Laugh or cry or keep trying?

    You’ll laugh at me but I personally see a definite parallel with Stevens in The Remains of the Day, but will explain how and why when we’ve completed the ride on this roller coaster, we’re teetering now on the very top of the first tall hill. When we’re back in the shed, we’ll ask you all WHY and talk about responsibility and forgiveness. And the various ways we seek to shine and how people set goals for themselves and succeed or fail.

    I need an editor, don’t I?

    People like Margaret are always cast by others into slots or places, their “role” is defined by the limitations of others (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the limitations others surmise in them) and they have to squeeze, like Cinderella’s foot, into the parameters and roles others give them. Note how relentlessly this theme is expounded on, how MANY MANY times Margaret is told by others what her place IS as they see it and how she fits into THEIR plans, and what her limitations ARE? What she is allowed to do? (And, most painfully, she TOOK the bushel basket OFF!!!) She ends up in a less than glamorous job, is passed over for a person with better credentials (the call that did not come) and in essence is told her place by the world. And there are more mortifications to come.

    What nobody has told Margaret is that the niches others need to put her in are not what matters. How others see her through their limited eyes is not what matters. She should not relinquish control over herself to their own vision or how she happens to fit into THEIR plans, THEIR plans are not what matters in her life. She does shine. She does have a light, she’s just wasting it on those who cannot see, or who only want to use her for their own needs: nothing personal, just objectively choosing the best person for the job. But Margaret constantly asks people for feedback, because that is how she was raised, doing her projects and getting approbation. She has equated that feedback with her own worth. It’s a wonder she did not have a career in academia, seeking higher degrees, (tho we do see her grades are not commensurate with her expectations) which is, some people think, an extension of the same thing, competition and continual feedback. (And of course our own Books Light Professor Maryal will shoot me for those remarks and is the great exception, when she gets back from her lunch today she will doubtless level me to the ground). haahahah I look forward to it.

    Everybody Margaret meets she bounces off and if she loses, a little chunk of her psyche is battered, because that’s her modus operandi: I’ve done the map of the city of Ur, what do you think of me? Am I smart? Am I good enough? I think this is what drives her ambition, feeds that need we all have to feel good about ourselves, to shine in some way, and if she writes a BOOK which is in the bookstores, then NO person can say, no matter who they are, that she has not arrived: her own…who said a book preserves the soul of the writer for immortality… It’s a powerful motivation, said much better in the text than I have.

    Sorry to go off on a Margaret tangent here, er…let’s get back to the broader implications of what YOU’RE all saying, the social satire: just remember that mumbling you hear in the corner is me.

    (Which one of the two, Margaret or Letty, at this point, DO you feel most involved with or sympathetic to? Why?)

    I’m having a hard time relating to Letty, I don’t know why? Is it because of Margaret’s brighter light (ironic, huh)??

    ?? Which of you relate to Letty? Tell us why? Explain her to us? Do you agree with what I said about Margaret? I know you feel her pain as they say, you’ve said so, do you agree on what motivates her ambition?


    June 13, 2003 - 06:35 am
    Carolyn, good points, you mention

    Materialism and consumerism seem to be a religion in our society today.I don't think our world is better for this. Letty is a follower of this religion. Margaret is the opposite her pride is in her intellect material things are not so important and yet both of these women are under the same delusion but in different ways. Letty is kidding herself she is in the jet set and Margaret is kidding herself she is a writer. Vanity indeed.

    And Betty mentioned the time frame of the book and how the theme might be different, I think these two statements are fascinating, I'm not as sure, when we combine those two thoughts with the William Dean Howells quote, "...people are greedy and foolish, and wish to have and to shine, because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good in life...." we have to ask ourselves lots of super questions!

    For instance, is "civilization" the driving force here and if so was there no other time in history that people were greedy or foolish or wished to "have?" Would Margaret's desire to shine (Malryn are you sure her motivation is to best Letty? I know you've said you think that's important for their friendship: what it's based on, are you sure that's all that's there?) If Letty shines suddenly by having and buying, even tho she seems to mock it at first and explains it away, do you think nonetheless that it's THAT shining suddenly which may also be twisting a knife in the gut as Margaret said earlier about Zelda's writing?

    I'm asking several things:

    Is Letty's new found "shining, " (funny we're talking about The Shining and shining) a threat to Margaret, once before we've seen Margaret a bit resentful of Letty's chat when Margaret wanted to talk about herself? I'm asking if way down deep here Margaret is more deliberate than she thinks? I don't know the answer, the dynamic in everything Margaret has experienced keeps changing, I wonder if she is trying to deal with it subconsciously?


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 13, 2003 - 07:50 am

    Ginny, in my Post #264 I said about Margaret, "She knows what she is, but she can't stop herself from showing the world and herself she's better than Letty ( the average person ) is."

    I see the world filled with people who are below average, average and above average. In this book Letty represents "average" to me. Margaret is above average. From the making of her Nefertiti to invading a tennis court, which she shouldn't have been on, to writing that long paper in college to leaving a good steady job to write a book, Margaret has not been average. Rather than saying I think Margaret is trying to best Letty, it is better to say that I think Margaret is trying to display that she's above average, which she is. She not only is trying to display this fact, she needs to prove it.

    I don't believe that experience is the only source of knowledge, but as a reader I lean more toward empiricism than I do intellect, and I'm sure that annoys a great many of you. The reading I've done is part of my experience.

    Consumerism. I will now once again reveal my tendency toward empiricism. I knew a man once who was probably the best salesman I ever met. He could have convinced Inuits to shed their fur boots and buy flimsy silk socks in the middle of an Alaskan winter and residents of Fiji to buy fur coats in their hottest season. Once he said to me, "Mal, everyone has a weak spot. Find it and they'll buy anything you have to sell. If you can't find a weak spot, create one."

    People in commerce today say that if you buy this tee shirt with a DKNY or Ralph Lauren label on it, you'll boost yourself up to rich status. We all know that's where the king of the mountain lives. The king of the mountain doesn't wear ordinary tee shirts and he doesn't just hire a nanny; he hires a nanny with a Ph.D. because that's the best and he deserves the best. What's more, he can afford it.

    Savvy people in advertising tell you that if you use this cream, take this diet pill; wear these blue jeans with a short midriff top, and drive an SUV you'll have eternal youth. Society says if you write a book you'll not only be rich, you'll be immortal. The trouble is that many of us are gullible enough to believe what society says to us.

    Both Margaret and Letty are gullible about what society is telling them. In ways they remind me of Lily in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth, especially Letty. Lily didn't make it, either.


    June 13, 2003 - 12:32 pm
    GINNY, oh yes the Berginsky comments and Margaret's response are hilarious! There's so much funny material in this book, you have to laugh even as you wince for the constant blows to ego that Margaret undergoes. I think one reason I feel for her is that we see a spiritual struggle going on with her and she isn't giving up without a fight. We don't know where she'll end up in that struggle.

    So far (to page 227) I don't see Letty suffering continual blows or undergoing a spiritual struggle, not yet anyway, and perhaps that's why I haven't as much connection with her. I've always admired the Margarets who are out there visibly trying, however wrong their goals may be. I keep hoping Margaret will finally define her own role.


    betty gregory
    June 13, 2003 - 01:08 pm
    Mal, you make a good point that keeping up with the Jones is not new. I was thinking that as discretionary income has creeped up decade by decade for larger segments of the public; as our concept of "need" has continued to mushroom (what we "need" in a "starter home," for example, as has been mentioned); generally, as more emphasis is placed on "correct," name-brand, image buying; and, finally, as the sheer number of choices in, say, lipstick, mops, cereals, shoes has multiplied..........we are literally surrounded, even bombarded with slicker, more sophisticated messages to buy, buy, buy. Turn on the television. Turn on the computer. Open the newpaper. Bring in the mail. Drive on any highway. Answer the telephone.

    Last year I received a new, complimentary, magazine in the mail, full of some terrific medical essays, medical studies. I was well into the 2nd well-written article on dietary health before I smelled a rat. The whole magazine was an attempt to get me to buy some nutritional supplements. That it had taken me 30 minutes or so to realize I was giving my full attention to an ADVERTIZEMENT was frightening!!

    I'm not excusing Letty and Michael because I still have difficulty seeing them as anything but naive, maybe even odd, but I still want to acknowledge how difficult it is for the average person to keep a sense of balance in this crazy world of image buying image buying blink blink buying image. It's crazy. Our world has gone crazy.


    June 13, 2003 - 02:55 pm
    I am behind in my reading. I am reading tonight and trying to catch up with posts and chapters. I have continued to think of Margaret and Letty. For some reason, I am focused more on Margaret. I am beginning to think that her striving to work on a novel is not what is important here. There is something deeper going on.

    I think Margaret is fighting with an inner demon. In other words, she is struggling with some part of herself that she can not face.

    All of her life, Margaret has been very intelligent. She could always work above and beyond what was asked of her. She does remember not being able to finish the Louis XIV chair. That memory stands out.

    I find it interesting that childhood memories can lead us to know our adult selves. At the right time, those memories seem to come back to us and help us retrieve the part of ourselves we have lost or never knew about.

    Maybe Margaret can not accept the fact that there is something in life that she can not conquer. The novel, like the chair, is beating her down. In my life, when I am beaten down, I find myself. I hope that happens for Margaret.

    Christina Schwartz has written a wonderful book. It really makes you think and think again.

    kiwi lady
    June 13, 2003 - 06:53 pm
    When I was a kid we got terrific pleasure from making some of our toys because we could not afford to buy them in the shops. For instance making a dolls house from wooden crates. Handcrafting the curtains and some of the furniture, painting it,begging scraps of vinyl and carpet from relatives to cover the floors. What a sense of satisfaction when the house was finished. Absolute Joy when Granny bought some plastic furniture to go with the home made stuff. Making our own puppets and puppet theatre and putting performances on for the family on Saturday nights. We whiled away many hours of our holidays with our efforts. I don't think the kids today have half the satisfaction or half the fun with the instant gratification of elaborate shop bought toys!


    June 14, 2003 - 05:58 am
    I agree wtih all of you, how can THAT be? hahahaa And I have some new perspectives based on what you all have said.

    Now Malryn you lit a fire with this one, "I see the world filled with people who are below average, average and above average. In this book Letty represents "average" to me. Margaret is above average."

    But what is "average?" Is one person's "average" the same as another’s? You're speaking of personal...can't think of the word, attributes? I think Letty is thinking of what shows on the outside and she definitely does not want to appear average. The outward appearance. Margaret does not want to BE average, I loved Hats's thought that she couldn't stand not being able to conquer, something she could not conquer, if she threw off the basket at last.

    Carolyn, I agree, we used to put on circuses, if you can believe that, actually sold tickets, just children with acts, etc., we made forts out of maple leaves, we did do a lot, of course there wasn't Nintendo and TV (or there came TV, I recall we had the first set on the block and all the neighbors would come in and watch...I think Life of Riley?... My father hated Life of Riley, it was low class). It's amazing it's just amazing what perceptions you get from your parents, and mine were upwardly mobile and entertained a great deal. We moved UP a lot There used to be something called "The Company Man, " back when there were companies and company picnics, back before Enron, I've always been grateful that I never had to "entertain" unless I wanted to. And the accoutrements of success are very impressive and enticing, the big offices with the panoramic views, the waiters who know one by name and are deferential, the “nice” neighborhoods, it's no wonder (see how shallow that looks in print) but it's no wonder people get caught up in it.

    I was touched by Letty, the old Letty kind of sneaks out in this next section, right in the middle of all that consumerism and materialism and wistfully says she'll wave at the window to her child, just as she had thought, and then remarks (reality always talks with Letty, she just doesn't listen to it) but I don't remember my mother waving.

    Perception is a big thing in this book, we're now hearing Letty only by letter, and when she speaks again in this next section, her voice is totally different from her expansive descriptive letters, it's tight, it's worried, it's desperate, but the letters go on, this next section is a mint of stuff.

    I do apologize for this huge chunk of reading, I know some are behind and I am so glad to see you Hats, love your take on it:

    I think Margaret is fighting with an inner demon. In other words, she is struggling with some part of herself that she can not face.

    What do you think it is??

    What part of herself can she not face?

    What part of OURSELVES do we not want to face, do you have one?

    Carolyn mentions the childhood chairs, that was an interesting segment, wasn't it? I won a short story contest (actually two), the last one in the 8th grade, sponsored by The Philadelphia Inquirer, I barely made the deadline and actually physically slipped it under the door of the editor's office right before closing, took the El in just for that purpose to Philadelphia, he had left for the day. When the winners came out in the paper, there were...there must have been 100 honorable mentions, and etc., looked like a prize for everybody, took up the whole page, nope not in the honorable mentions, let's move up (I started with them, naturally) and up, and up. nope nope nope, not an also ran not whatever the next category was, (there were a lot of categories) not third not second and I gave up, and put the paper down when my mother snatched it up and said you won! And there it was, across the top of the page in big headline, but I was so busy combing thru the also rans which were not in alphabetical order and trying to figure out why the order and where my name was I missed it).

    I'm telling this for a reason. All this time in my own bushel basket I've that knowledge (“I won a short story contest”) haahahah well, unfortunately for my own Margaret in the Attic experience, my grandmother had saved the story? And when she died, the scrapbook she had pasted it in came to my attention and you know what? It was dreck? It was painful to read? It was SOOO bad it was actually embarrassing? It was BADDDDDDDDD. Yes. Imagine what else they got? The "winners" were probably everybody who applied. So much for that on the resume.

    As children we see thru a glass darkly of our own perspective, and then we grow up and maybe we see ourselves as we are face to face and maybe we don't. Maybe we don't want to. Maybe we would rather not. Does the Margaret in the Attic experience some to all of us?

    Does Margaret see herself as she really is? Despite all the feedback from society?

    Does Letty?

    Betty mentions our society's values and she's so right, this morning on early TV we learned how to be thin, how to have our hair grow back and what that would do for us? How important appearance, physical and of the home is? Our commercials in America are all about being successful (lots of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous) and how the Other Half Lives. In England, it's always interested me, the announcers have the voices and accents of royalty but the commercials are aimed at Every Man, I don't quite understand why.

    But look at our own commercials, the car with the beautiful woman, the huge house, the horse standing by, the happy family. Letty wants that too, to live the dream. Makes you wonder what the television has done for us, doesn't it?

    This is too long but I would like to ask about something else I just noticed, the "borrowing" of ideas?

    All you hear about now is plagiarism, seems like every time a new book or movie comes out somebody else says they thought of it first.

    Who actually owns an idea?

    Suppose you have an idea and I like it and I take it and extrapolate on it and explain it to others, not talking about a book, just an idea, and I work it up, maybe make a more concrete plan out of it, put my own touches on it, and people really glom on to it and I get all sorts of praise for it: so whose idea IS it?Is it mine for what I made out of the concept or is it YOURS for thinking it up in the first place?

    They do say that the Number One crime in management is not giving people credit when they have an idea but taking it over yourself: when authors write, where do they get their ideas? Margaret (isn't this a novel plot? hahahaha) is taking the very life of her friend but is writing her own book. But she doesn't stop there. If she had stopped right where she is, would YOU say she had done wrong??

    Sorry this is disjointed, my In-Laws are here for the weekend, I'm having a "Letty Experience," (now in my own vocabulary forever).


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 14, 2003 - 06:42 am

    Ginny, when I said "average" I was talking about behavior and performance. From childhood Letty has not stepped outside prescribed behavior except when Margaret goaded her. Letty alone would not have gone into that tennis court. Margaret talked Letty into taking Latin, which was not offered by their school. On her own, Letty would have put on that shift and gone to the dance rather than going to the rather strange party Margaret threw.

    Letty says on Page 57, "Margaret always had to be different." Letty was a conformist, and did what society told her to do, even with the credit card buying. Margaret did not want to conform. Part of her non-conforming was breaking rules.

    There are very few first class anything in this world. How many first class musicians, artists, writers, scientists, teachers, anything, do you know? Margaret wanted to be first class. I think the inner demon Ginny mentions is that in her heart Margaret has always known she wasn't first class and has never admitted it in her head. This experiment in writing is proving it to her.

    I know myself pretty well. The drive I have comes from lack. I have tried all my life to compensate for what polio took away from me -- over-compensate. I won first prize in a competition against many other musicians on a stage in a theater in my hometown when I was 14 -- a $25.00 war bond -- by just standing there singing. I won other awards in my hometown, had a radio show of my own there when I was still in high school. Won a scholarship at 14, too, to study music four years at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Won a scholarship to Smith College when I was a senior in high school. I was on the high honor roll in high school and vice president of my class throughout the time I was there. I was a great big fish in a small puddle. When I left that town I discovered I wasn't as big a fish as people in Haverhill, Massachusetts and I thought I was.

    I wanted to be first class, too, in everything I did (except math!) There came a time when I knew I'd never be first class in anything. I'd be good at what I did, perhaps, but never first class.

    I truly think this is what Margaret is going through with trying to write a novel, this realization. The trouble is that she won't accept it, and it is that lack of acceptance that leads to her "borrowing" of Letty's writing and the consequences of that act.


    June 14, 2003 - 07:31 am
    I think all of us have a part of ourselves that we can not face. At times, I look back and have regrets. I regret being so far away from my parents during their last days of life. They were in one state while I lived in another state. Our children were small. My husband did not make gobs of money. So, everytime I wanted to go home or make a long distance call the money was not there.

    After their deaths, I would wake up with nightmares wishing and wondering if I could have done more. This was one of my inner demons. I wanted to be there everytime my mother and dad called for me during their illnesses. It took me years to face this inner demon.

    I am beginning to think that in every part or stage of our life a new struggle or inner demon arises. We lay one battle to peace and another battle begins which seems bigger than the last. Something else we can not conquer or face.

    When Ted tells Margaret "It's too late," I think those words hit her in the gut. If it's too late, what is there to fight for, to live for. I think those were harsh words on Ted's part. He gave insecure Margaret a death sentence.

    I think Margaret's biggest demon is she can not accept herself. Maybe "All is Vanity" means nothing is worth more than knowing ourselves and accepting ourselves. Vanity is working to prove ourselves to the next guy.

    Really, the other guy doesn't matter. It's whether we are happy doing what we are doing for ourselves. This is not selfish because when we are happy, we make others content and happy too. This sounds a little corny, but I believe it is true.

    When Ted makes a remark about Margaret rereading books each school year for her students, Margaret thinks,

    "Which was, of course, exactly the sort of comment that made me want to quit in the first place..."

    Doesn't this mean that Margaret had quit her teaching because of the comments others had made? She allowed the thoughts of others to rule her heart.

    I think there are times when we hear the thoughts of others more than we hear our own thoughts. We hear the thoughts of our friends, teachers, husband, etc. Finally, we can not hear our own thoughts. This is when we lose our identity. Our own reality becomes lost. I think this is Margaret's problem.

    June 14, 2003 - 08:05 am
    Hats:  That's it, you've hit the nail on the head with that thought:
    "I am beginning to think that in every part or stage of our life a new struggle or inner demon arises. We
    lay one battle to peace and another battle begins which seems bigger than the last. Something else we
    can not conquer or face."

    I love that point and it is true, oh so true!  A malignant spirit inhabits us throughout each and every stage of our life.  We become rascals and rogues in various ways and of course with varying severity.
    Who hasn't become maniacal and had their passions aroused?  It may be frenzied writing as our Margaret can testify to or infernal buying that Lettie is consumed with.

    With each stage of our lives a different drama unfolds, the limelight changes and the theatre act begins.
    What could be next for Margaret?

    Oh- Mal:  What an honest, "first string" woman you are.  Excellency is indeed a rare commodity and to attempt to be "top notch" in any endeavor is pain stakingly difficult.  I am pleased with my mediocrity and unexceptional talents.

    June 14, 2003 - 08:15 am
    Good morning, Margarets and Lettys (Letties??).

    I could not find enough Pondering Time to participate in the discussion of last week's questions, but have been reading your posts every day. Could you hear me saying, "Yes. Yes. Hmmm. So true. Well, I don't know about that. Definitely. Hmmm. Yes"?

    Hope to catch up with the questions for next week's session.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 14, 2003 - 08:35 am

    Nurse Ratchett, you hesh up! Yore golf game shore ain't
    like Tiger's an' Anika's, but as a nurse you cain't be beat!

    Yore li'l friend Mal, now livin' on Ratliff Street, but
    hopin' to keep up with the Cleveses purdy dang soon
    if'n Letty an' Margaret take a fancy to allow me.

    June 14, 2003 - 03:13 pm
    Anyone else have trouble getting into the site today? About 3 hours it was not available????


    June 15, 2003 - 01:59 pm
    I have just now gotten on for the first time in almost 24 hours.

    kiwi lady
    June 16, 2003 - 12:02 am
    We were off more than that in NZ because we were awake while you guys were asleep. We lost it before lunch yesterday and got in just after dinner tonight.


    June 16, 2003 - 01:08 am
    For some reason I couldn't log onto SN for 2 days. Will have to answer some of the questions posed later in the day Monday.


    June 16, 2003 - 05:16 am
    Hi All,
    Trying again. Many thanks to Pat Westerdale for letting us know about the computer glitch. Believe it or not, I was trying to send a message at about the same time SrNet went offline. Fortunately I had a notepad copy, so I still have it, but now that I've read this weeks pages, I don't like it, so will toss it. I'm still reading all the posts I missed while travelling.

    Is this a funny book? I was reading it in a restaurant on the road the other night and laughed out loud at least three times. Last night too. I can't say I identify with anyone,(maybe Ted -- too bad he doesn't have Quicken) but have come across several instances of deja-vu, having been there. Like Letty's dad, I wonder how my son does it -- the house, the the braces, the music lessons. And then his sister, living at the other end of the scale served me salad with nasturtum leaves from her own organic garden. The matrons of Westwood have nothing on the Charlottesville kid.

    As I read your posts and the book itself I keep wishy washing my feelings about L and M, so should probably hold them. But I really don't like Margaret very much. She's still selfish. She may think she's concerned about her friend, but those feelings take a back seat to whatever is best for Margaret.

    June 16, 2003 - 07:03 am
    I've had thunderstorms, power outages and now Seniornet computer glitches. I've missed you guys!

    Now that I've read the next portion of the book I must give up my "innocence" theory about Margaret failing to warn Letty about her new house. MARVELLE and MAL, I now absolutely agree that there is more malice afoot than I would have wanted to attribute to Margaret.

    Within a few paragraphs of the new section we learn that the house sale is not totally final as yet and Margaret CAN recover her warning e-letter to send onward if she wishes. Yet Margaret cares about herself and her need to shine far more than she seems to care about Letty's welfare. Margaret is now forfeiting almost all of the sympathy that I had built up for her.

    The issue of one friends responsibility toward another is a major issue here. Margaret does much worse than fail to warn her friend...she knowingly encourages her toward disaster...deliberately manipulates Letty as if she were merely a character in her book. In Margaret's mind, Letty has BECOME Lexie and she uses her to further her own writing ambitions. Where is her awareness of Letty as a vulnerable flesh and blood friend?

    Letty, on the other hand is emerging as a person. She's foolish and vain, but her sins don't include deliberately hurting others. MARVELLE said that perhaps we've been more involved with Margaret because we have lived through her miseries and defeats. Well, now Letty is finally becoming VERY three dimensional. Her suffering is not caused by intellectual pride but she DOES endure suffering and it is very real. Now I'm finally grabbing on to her character and identifying with breathless horror.

    HATS, your two stunning posts, (273 and 277) are a compassionate commentary on BOTH Margaret and Letty. As a matter of fact, I think your post 277 could be universally applicable to EVERYONE. Thanks for those gentle, perceptive comments! They're the sort of truths that are hard to express on paper, but, once written, are recognizable as being right on target.

    This book is an emotional tour de force. I'm riding an emotional merry-go-round from pain to laughter.


    June 16, 2003 - 07:28 am
    Hi Harriet,

    I find myself thinking more about friendship too. I love your words.

    "Where is her awareness of Letty as a vulnerable flesh and blood friend?"

    My feelings exactly. I feel so much pain in these pages. In the heading, I think Frugal mentioned "betrayal" as a theme. I can see that clearly. I hope to see the theme of "forgiveness" that Joan P mentioned. I am really anxious to see how or whether forgiveness will play a part.

    There are great life lessons in this book.

    June 16, 2003 - 11:23 am
    Well here you all are, at last, so glad to be back and our new section today, and I see your new posts were not lost, after all and I'm so glad, they are sooo good, want to throw out some questions (I agree, Hats, lessons all over the place!!) on this next section which are driving me insane, just insane, so you can be thinking on them, (let's just go up to page 314, it's a natural break in the plot and also in the book, at the end of Chapter 17) and then get to your WONDERFUL thoughts, Welcome back, Pedln!! Hope you had a great trip!

    Absolutely on FIRE to talk aobut these characters (how CAN she reconcile this with Stevens in Remains of the Day, you ask) but let's get up the stuff for this section in which we have ALL sorts of things happening!!

    It’s like a kaleidoscope, what should we look at FIRST!

    We may need to keep a list or something! One of the most intriguing things to me is the author talking about dramatic tension in the book and how it's created and manipulated, I almost feel as if she's talking to us about THIS book, parallel stuff, love it, not to mention both Margaret AND Letty change!!??!!

    And I did like Harriet's point: for all Letty's faults she is not deliberately setting out to hurt anybody. OR are you the type of person who says people who spend tons on parties, and dip into the children's college funds while their children sleep on a colorful mat on the floor and they themselves only have a futon are actually NOT too concerned about hurting others?

    You could get into a whole THING about child raising here.

    Boy this part is subtle, you'd not think so at first, it's more like a jackhammer? The roller coaster has definitely crested the rise and is plummeting down.

    What is it that makes Margaret decide to write the book at the cost of her friend? Margaret is quite aware of playing the snake here, she speaks in metaphor on page 270, “My words slithered, unstoppable, from between my lips.”

    She knows what she's doing, she knows what this action makes of her, WHY is she doing it?

    You know Dante put Cassius and Brutus with Judas in the lowest section of the Inferno, is what Margaret is doing equal to that or not? What’s the difference??

    What of Letty (who, by the way DOES in this section ask after Margaret: (page 228) "Have you heard from Gordonhurst?"...

    Look at Letty's "voice" on page 244? And compare it with her voice in her emails on 245 and 246? She's different, in her spoken desperate plain flat and kind of depressed and in her florid emails. Actually in one place she and Margaret, when they talk, are indistinguishable in this section, I thought that was a fabulous touch, they've both changed, they're both out of control, (look at Margaret, she's obsessed now with the novel and her own back work LexisNexis is just as on hold as the bills are in Letty's futon) they are both spinning out of control: Margaret encouraging Letty to spend, giving the advice that Letty has counted on all this time (or was it the other way around) then taking the responsibility for the Gensalen, and then she talks Letty into the stock, why did Letty trust her? What's happening to the dynamics of this relationship?

    Why did Ted shake his head when he read the ms (page 312)? Why did he say, "Oh Margaret!"

    Does he know Letty's situation at all? Does he realize what's happened? How much does Ted know here?

    And I loved this, "But the best part, he said, is that they have no idea how they got themselves into this disaster."(page 313).

    Did you love that? I can’t tell: is that a nod to the reader, too? Now WE know, don’t we? Do WE know how they got themselves IN this, but do THEY??

    I'll tell you what, my colored inks are now out and running overtime in my text. Boxes of colored areas. For instance, Letty's emails (we DOO have a "Margeret Email!" in this section, too, how is it different: is it the first one we've seen from Margaret? Why is it appearing now? What does that signify?

    But in Letty's emails we have all sorts of "disclaimers," almost like a Greek chorus, I boxed them up and there are so many I'll need a separate page, but it's stuff like this:

    I also bought an orange-picker at the flea market, o we'll be ready when the oranges come. This will be some time after we plant the trees against the side fence. Which will be after we install the side fence. Which should be sometime next week. One cannot buy fruit north of Wiltshire from the shopping carts of illegal immigrants, at least I've not seen any yet, so I've decided we'll grown our own. The children can pick the oranges for juice , after their morning tai chi workout with Michael. I'm going to enroll him in a class that meets in Glenview park at dawn next month and once he gets the basics down he can teach the kids. This, in any case, is my plan, although it means that Michael will have to become an early riser....

    And so on. We have the constant and continual ...would you say tension...of the juxtaposition of Letty's bright and unrealistic plans with her own admission that they are not realistic. It's fascinating.

    Then we have AGAIN Margaret being filled with a huge sense of loneliness concerning Ted and I can’t FIND it, where was it that she was on the phone and Margaret was betraying her and looked at Ted sleeping and felt, again, so alone? I wish somebody would tell me WHY she feels so alone in these two places, hopefully some of you remember where that was. Then (it’s amazing how much is in this) we have a parallel in Letty’s admission that she, too, feels alone now that her own marriage and life has collapsed, “I’m glad, at least, I’ve told you, Margaret. It’s too frightening to know this alone.” (page 300) Oh boy.

    And then we have …what’s the climax of this book? The turning point from which there’s no going back? The point from which everything changes? What would you say it is? I think it’s in this section, which one IS it?

    And we have Margaret taking responsibility saying to her brother on page 274, about getting Letty to buy the Gensalen stock, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Warren. Don’t be so dramatic. "I’ll be responsible." How ironic is that? Love it.

    Then we have stuff like this, from Letty:

    A party for the museum people is a brilliant idea.


    (See who that came from?)

    Something outdoors , obviously, since the kitchen is still just a shell and Michael and I will be sleeping in the living room, (where, as I've mentioned, I also make toast) at least until Christmas. We just have to put in a terrace and some plants, which we were going to do anyway. Scheduling a party will give us a firm deadline, so we'll avoid the trap that lots of people seem to fall into, letting projects like this go on and on.

    Notice now that Margaret has taken the active roll in suggesting parties, etc, that happens several times. Why do you think the author chose to do Margaret's.......iniquity this way? I find it fascinating. What effect does it have on the reader?? Slips up on you actually, very clever.

    And Letty's humor in this section, there are funny things in this section, but the humor is rueful, it's bitter, it's so different, at least to me.

    OH and I actually sat right up on this!!

    Look at Letty!!

    You're scrolling forward impatiently. "The party, the party, you're muttering. Let's hear more about the party." (page 283)

    Letty realizes something here, hard to put a finger on it, is she writing this for entertainment value? Does she realize she she we unconsciously (or consciously) try to "entertain" sometimes in email or even HERE?

    Oh gosh there's so much in this section, I guess I better stop or this post will be 1000 miles long, except to say, listen, I think the book is haunted, my own life is beginning to resemble the book! Yes!! Just this morning early the phone rang, and we've had company for the weekend and I was just in a zombie state and a voice said "HI!" and I said hi and the voice said are you ok? Yeah, I said, well you don't sound that good (voice sounded very happy and familiar) and I said I'm fine and voice said, "Don't you think that eleven hundred dollars is too much to pay for wedding flowers?" Now I really thought Letty had come to life for a minute but you have to know we just SENT flowers to an out of state funeral and the florist and I went around on the cost, me saying "nothing ostentatious" and her saying with that price ($50) you don't have to worry. I had heard NOTHING back, and vaguely wondered if she had to go over 50, so I never heard the "wedding" part and thought oh my gosh they spent $1,100 on funeral flowers.

    Nearly fainted. And you know the very next thing that popped into my head?


    I swear I'm turning into Letty.

    You know how your mind will do things? You'll THINK things at the strangest times and places and occasions? You'd never say it out loud?

    I thought, jeez for $1,100, you'd think somebody would have mentioned them. hahahahah

    Listen, we are in Margaret's head, her subconscious, her every thought, that's a rare thing. It may BE that her goal is not ours, it may BE that we would NEVER do what she did, but we're IN her head, can any of us say our own heads never have these errant thoughts? Ever? (Or is the step she took between the head and the action where she fell?)

    And what of Letty? Are we in HER head or does she tell everything confidentially to Margaret? Does she trust Margaret? And Michael trusts Letty. That's why she destroyed him, I tell you what this is SOME book, talk about dramatic tension and there's EVEN MORE MORE...I pause for breath so you can have something to say!! (And Ted trusts Margaret) It’s a house of dependent cards and Margaret’s the key card. So whose is the greatest sin here, the greatest betrayal and why?

    Whew!!! (and there's more!) $1,100 for your thoughts?? Hahahaha


    June 16, 2003 - 01:32 pm
    I am angry with Margaret because of her selfishness. All of Letty's pain is fodder for her novel. But Letty and Michael bare responsibility too. They are responsible for their financial troubles.

    Who really is to blame for our mistakes? Doesn't the blame really fall on our own shoulders in the end? Margaret's selfishness is her character flaw. Being materialistic are the flaws of Letty and Michael. I don't know if it's fair to blame Margaret for Letty's financial ruin.

    Nellie Vrolyk
    June 16, 2003 - 01:56 pm
    Hello all! I just got the book a few days ago and am reading furiously to catch up with you all.

    I do a lot of smiling as I read, and Margaret is the one who makes me smile the most. She's never created anything new in her life and she wants to write a novel... of course she can't do it.

    More later...

    betty gregory
    June 16, 2003 - 05:16 pm
    Speaking of Margaret, Ginny writes, "and then she talks Letty into the stock, why did Letty trust her?" That reminded me of your question about Letty trusting her real estate agent. I see Letty "trusting" all these external voices directing her because there is nothing strong enough, substantial enough, inside her to question those instructions to buy, buy, do what I say, do what I do.

    That's why Letty sometimes doesn't seem very real to me. But she is EXAGGERATED, I remind myself, and then I'm able to recognize all that muddiness and all those mud puddles that some/most of us have walked right in to on a smaller scale, sometimes again and again. Letty just keeps sinking deeper and deeper into this horrible pit of poor decisions, doesn't she.

    A PARTY??? Letty's going to throw an expensive PARTY smack in the middle of the construction mess at her house?? Is her I.Q. at zero?? to say yes to this stupid-Margaret-suggestion?

    This reaction of mine is more about me than Letty. In fact, I love what we're doing with this discussion....letting our individual reactions to these characters be as important to report as our more analytical look at the writing.

    So much of Margaret and Letty pull in me the always interesting AMBIVALENCE of mine (that used to drive me crazy, now I just find interesting).....of empathy and impatience. They should cancel each other out, but they don't.

    On the whole, Hattie's responses to both characters are nearest to my heart....that human connection, the recognition of other fallible beings.

    Except, of course, when I'm busy feeling impatient with gullible, naive Letty, who is putting her FAMILY at risk, and seems never to have uttered the word NO in her life. (And whose creator is exaggerating her weightless existence to emphasize a point, I remind myself.)

    In general, away from this book and discussion, as I grow older, I have less and less patience with incompetence in people who have had ample time and opportunity to inform themselves.....the same impatience I feel when someone with a simple task or job screws it up through laziness or inattention. Since I have to pay someone to run errands for me (no choice), I often have to write out detailed instructions to cover (a) things the errand person might miss and (b) things the pharmacy, for example, might miss. I hate writing out all those details, but have learned that if I'm not there in person to catch the simplest things, no one will on my behalf. When I don't write down all these details ("take everything out of the bag and see if they remembered the 2nd cup of soup and the red sauce".....I wrote this the week after the cashier said, oh, yes, they are in there, and they weren't), then I end up paying for another hour of a return trip, which I can't afford. Everyone's tiny mistakes end up costing me money....the wrong cat medicine for ear mites, but no time to return it this week, so I use it anyway and it doesn't I have to get the right kind next week.

    To the extent that any of Margaret's and Letty's troubles are caused by laziness or shallowness, and a small (medium?) percent is easy to imagine, that's where I lose patience and want to say, "Get a life."


    My experience of being a "best friend" and having a "best friend" has always included saying things difficult to say and hearing things difficult to hear. I'm a little surprised that more of us haven't said, of course that is what good friends do.....they speak up, OFTEN.

    A good friend can say things like....."I KNOW that salary sounds good to you, but remember what you said last year...that you would never again let salary be a deciding factor?"...........or, "I know you keep asking me what you should do, but on this one subject, I can only tell you what I would do for ME.....remember, cars mean something different to me and to you. FOR ME, it's the price. I couldn't do that to my budget. I couldn't write out a $450 check for a car each month without pounding my head on the desk. I know you have to have that car for your business, but what about your budget? Also, don't other companies provide company cars? How could your company require you to drive a fancy car, but not pay for it? THAT would bother me if I worked for them.....Have I said too much? Are you sorry you asked me?"

    A true friend of Letty could stammer through the words, "Hey, I might mess this up, but I've got to find the words to tell you that I think the direction you're going is full of heartache. You know that I know how much you want that house, but I love you and I've got to say I think that house with all the work it needs and with such a BIG MORTGAGE.....I just feel it in my bones that this isn't the right move for you. At the very least, could the decision to buy a bigger house be postponed until Michael receives his promised increase? I'll support you, no matter what you decide, but I had to say this because I care about you and Michael."

    Friends DO say these things to each other all the time. Do the character exaggerations include deficits of qualities? Deficits of actions? Margaret is not a good she proves in this week's section. Giving in to the temptation to use Letty's troubles as a good story line PALES in comparison to the ugliness and deliberately hurtful egging-on that Margaret begins to do. This is more than an absence of friendship....this is mean and abusive. Taking advantage of someone's weakness for your own gain....there are all kinds of theft.


    June 16, 2003 - 05:18 pm
    GINNY, I feel exactly the same about Stevens in Remains of the Day. Also, didn't want to voice this too early in the discussion, but it's almost as if M&L are two halves of one person. Together they make one author? Because an author can't be just a Margaret or just a Letty. Need to catch up with Ginny's breathless pace and intriguing questions.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 16, 2003 - 07:50 pm

    I've thought several times that Letty was writing to herself, putting her thoughts and conclusions in a letter or an email, trying to justify and rationalize her life, and see in words what she was doing. Somehow Letty's doing this reminds me of Stevens and his journal in The Remains of the Day.

    Even though she used Margaret's name in the body of the letters as a sort of stimulus, or even a mirror off which to bounce her own reflection, it seemed to me that her comments to the real Margaret were mere afterthought postscripts. "Have you heard from Gordonhurst?" at the end of an email on Page 228 is an example.

    I think this about Letty because her style of writing reminds me of letters I wrote in the mid-70's when I was recently unmarried, didn't know exactly where I was going or what I was going to do, as well as being somewhat lonely. I wrote to my sisters nearly every day, cataloguing my life so I could see it in front of me. These letters were addressed to my sisters, but I was not really writing to them. When they took me seriously and responded, I paid close attention to what they said, and too often followed their advice, not always to my advantage.


    betty gregory
    June 17, 2003 - 12:52 am
    Yes, I agree, Hattie. In the final analysis, we are responsible for our actions, for our failures, even if we've been influenced, because that, too, is ours to take in or reject.

    Think how often we hear words such as, "He insulted me," or "What she said made me feel so bad," or "I didn't want to, but he talked me into it." It's such a human habit to see "influence" as acting upon us, but, in reality, no one can make me feel bad except me....when I give someone's words power to do that. That's the same thing as giving away power.

    Both Margaret and Letty relinquish personal power....hand it over to other people. Margaret gives away power to others to "notice her."

    Letty, bless her, seems to have completely forgotten what is naturally hers/ours.....that innate sense of wellbeing we're born with and how little is required to have it, keep it. Watch a child at the beach squatting in the sand, playing with a bucket. She knows that being barefoot and wearing her favorite, torn red shorts and feeling the safety of her mother (or dad or sister or loving adult)close by is the sum total of happiness. At lunch she will draw pictures in the catsup on her plate, then take a nap with her raggedy bunny. Her life is filled with people who love her and simple things....a favorite book, raggedy bunny, playing in the sand, visiting birds at the zoo. Dissatisfaction will come soon enough. From television and her friends, at age 2 or 3??, she will probably learn that she MUST have that name brand toy. Mom has already felt a need to dress her in certain in-style clothes. Slowly, the outside pressure to have certain things and look certain ways will begin to crowd out what we know few things are needed for happiness.

    Leaving childhood....adding the dreams of now we are so thoroughly socialized to do things in socially prescribed ways that the simple goals of finding challenging work and starting a family are all tangled up with the "right way" to do them. Letty and Michael are in a special social pocket of ultra high expectations of compliance.

    I'm thinking of my youngest brother's wedding. My sister-in-law's parents spent money they didn't have to meet the life-long dreams of my sister-in-law and her mother. To pay for it, her parents used a savings account targeted for this purpose plus took out a large bank loan.

    On one hand, it was her wedding to have and her parents wanted to spend that much money. On the other hand, I saw it in the larger context of how out of control are the social pressures to spend on a wedding what young couples once spent for their first house. I have really wonderful memories of that Pennsylvania afternoon-into-evening Italian Catholic wedding with the special Italian foods and traditions...all of it so different from my family's plain, southern Methodist weddings....but, my head tells me, that much money could put a child through college.

    I don't know. Maybe money for a wedding isn't the best example of social pressure to conform. Maybe $300 sports shoes (but not for sports) would have been a better example. Or, the commercial Christmas buying machine that begins in October?? Or, the billion dollar cosmetics industry?? AND, AND, has anyone noticed that a BOOK costs so much money? Wasn't it just yesterday that I was complaining that a paperback had reached $3.00!!! I still cannot believe my eyes that a hardback begins around $25. Four books for $100. Buying used books through contractors usually saves me the most.

    Well, I've wandered far away from thoughts on M and L giving others power over how they view themselves. The "being worthy" of notice that Margaret believes will come with a published novel is cousin to similar hopes most of us have had about "being worthy" of notice....once we______ fill in the blank.....lose 42 lbs., finish that degree, get the promotion, move to the country, get the nose job, start working out at the gym again, whatever. Ironically, there is a strange sort of payoff from attaching being worthy of notice to a point in the future. In a way, you're off the hook. You've given away power to a thing or point in the future....and, hey, what can you do? Your hands are tied, right? Sometimes it's easier to think that way than to think, "I do have power over my life but am doing nothing with it."

    An aside to this unorganized un-flow of thoughts. A few years ago, when I was doing a few months of therapy (my own), I learned the most helpful thing about myself. I know it's universal, but my memory of the ah-ha moment makes it seem particularly "mine." Whatever it was at the time that I was complaining about.......usually, one of the fill-in-the-blanks from above. My thinking was, if I could just get busy and do ____ and ___ and ___, then I would be happy. I was in therapy to work on the details of one of the blanks. The ah-ha was the discovery that being happy came first, then filling in the blanks came naturally. In other words, I have to be happy to, for example, lose weight. Being happy makes working on a goal easy.

    It would be stretching things to try to apply this to Margaret's situation, but roughly (and over simplified), it would be something like........when Margaret feels worthy of notice by herself (from herself), primarily, and maybe from those special, close people in her life who love her already, she could enjoy the adventure of writing a novel. Finishing it and having it published would bring great satisfaction, but would have nothing to do with making her feel worthy, or feel worthy of notice. Her worth is not tied to what she is able to produce (which includes fame and earnings), but to such things as how she cares for her husband and herself, her integrity and skills as a teacher of children, her ability to be a good friend when her friends need her.

    Wonderful writing, Christina Schwarz, to draw from us such interesting, primary, fundamental issues. And how cool it is to have you here with us!!

    I was thinking, it is true that most of us, I guess, would like to hear the words, "Congratulations on your new book!!," yet why wouldn't it mean as much, and shouldn't it mean as much, to be told, "What an incredible friend you are. I'm so glad you're my friend." It clearly didn't mean as much to Margaret. Have our warped social expectations made the simplest joys meaningless?


    June 17, 2003 - 04:46 am
    Betty, there is so much of your post that I would like to requote. It speaks to me, and I understand exactly what you are saying.

    As far as Margaret, if you always need another person's applause or praise while you are carrying out a hobby or project, you won't last doing the quilt or the writing or whatever. You have to be able, in the end, to carry on alone. In other words, would you do it on a desert island or all alone and still feel satisfied.

    Emily Dickinson wrote poetry, and she had no idea it would be published. She wrote for years on tiny pieces of paper. Her inner self was satisfied. She did not care about applause.

    Margaret was writing, not because she enjoyed writing, but because she wanted others to know she existed or that she was good, the best of the best. Writing was her way of improving her self esteem. All of these are wrong reasons. She did not experience the joy of writing.

    As far as Letty. I feel we are responsible for our lives. Growing up we try to blame our mistakes on the dog, a friend, a grandmother who died, a sibling. Then, we become older and we blame our parents, our environment.

    Usually, there is another guy who lived through worse conditions or circumstances, and he or she was not influenced to lose their morals. The big word, in my book, for Letty and Michael is responsibility.

    No matter how much it hurts I am learning to look at me, to analyze where did I go wrong. Why did I listen to that person? What made me so weak that day? It is still hard to do this. There are days when I blame the cat, the family, friends or a neighbor. Like others, I am a work in process. It's more fun or easier to blame someone else when I mess up the Thanksgiving dinner or forget to buy a birthday gift. But in the end, at the end of the day, I am stuck with the fact that I make boo boos. I do dumb stuff.

    The lesson is to learn to say I am sorry, own up to my mistake and try to do better next time.

    June 17, 2003 - 05:20 am
    Betty, that is exactly what I wanted to say.

    "Have our warped social expectations made the simplest joys meaningless?"

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 17, 2003 - 06:40 am
    On Page 263 Letty thinks, ". . . . I found myself more than once uneasily recalling a passage from Confessions I'd translated years before. It seemed that to Westwood I had come, where there sang all around me a cauldron of unholy loves."

    Letty is referring to the work by St. Augustine, and I don't know it well enough to find the section to which she refers. Immediately after this, she rationalizes why she should have what she does by thinking that Margaret reminded her the house would be the "place our children remember when they looked back on our lives as a family." Here we have the consumerism sinner and the sinful perpetrator who makes sure the first continues to over-spend.

    It is more than the writing of her book which makes Margaret do this to her friend, and I'm not sure what it is. If Margaret were to fail, did she think Letty should fail, too? Or if Margaret were to succeed as a writer, regardless of the source of what she wrote, did she want the woman she considered her best friend to fail? It's hard to understand this without thinking there's some kind of madness involved.

    I have tried to remember back to the time when I lived in a big house married to an up-and-coming, successful man. His status purchases were big things -- houses, cars, the Steinway piano I've mentioned before, things like that. Mine, of necessity, were small because I never had much money to spend or anywhere to spend it. We lived in the country; I did not have a car. My husband was of the old-fashioned variety that thought a woman's place was in the home. Driving a car was not a necessity for his wife. In fact, I was prevented from trying to get a driver's license until I was over forty years old. Please keep in mind that when I was old enough to drive, cars with automatic transmissions were not being made. I cannot drive a car with a clutch and a standard gear shift. I was not surrounded with "a cauldron of unholy loves", though I lived in one, if that makes any sense.

    Betty talks about what constitutes happiness, and Hats talks about blame. I don't know if I posted here or somewhere else what soprano Beverly Sills said when asked if she was happy. She said, "No, I'm not happy. I'm cheerful, and I'm content." Cheerful and content seem like very good goals to me. I think happiness is elusive, ephemeral and overrated. Cheerfulness and contentment are lasting, and can't be bought in any store.

    Hats talked about blame. After years of blaming a controlling and restricting husband and demanding kids for my particular plight, in 1975 I was on my own. There was no one I could blame for anything except myself. I began wondering why it was necessary to blame anyone or anything for what happened to me, anyway. Blame implies guilt. Contentment doesn't live well with guilt. Since I knew I am responsible for choices I make in my life, I began looking for answers to problems I had. The answers also couldn't be bought in any department store. Consumerism on my part wouldn't solve my problems.

    Buying things didn't solve anything for Letty. Pushing Letty to buy, and stealing the writing about that buying she did, didn't solve anything for Margaret, either. Today I own very little -- books, an 18 year old car, a brand new computer, thanks to my New York son, old hand-me-down furniture, some pottery treasures, paintings a friend of mine and I have done. Like Beverly Sills, I am not happy, but I am cheerful, and I am content, and feel as if I've learned something Margaret and Letty did not know.


    June 17, 2003 - 10:03 am
    Nellie! Welcome, we are delighted to see you here, so you think “of course she can’t, huh?” hahahaha Is your seat belt strapped on? YOU’ll love this one!

    Wow wheeo and wow, what exciting perspectives and moving thoughts, I’ve had to read back a little bit, I missed some of your marvelous posts, so am playing catch up, feel as if I am rifling thru bright sparkly gems washed up by the ocean. How I love this! I really think there is nothing finer than to discuss the issues in a book with intelligent readers, thank you all for your wonderful thoughts. And I am really so proud of how wonderfully you’re all conversing with each other about the topics each one brings up, it’s absolutely fabulous, the entire thing, can’t imagine anything better.

    First off, they are still working on the server so I still cannot add any question you may have to our Questions Page for Christina, and I have a few and I see you do, too, so if you like, please just indicate when you have a special question, by *** or something to set it off, so I won’t miss it. I’m dying to know if that Lexis Nexis is something that editors use in Literary Magazines, had never heard of it, have you? Here’s the website, what’s it FOR? Can you make it out? Lexis Nexis

    Learned something there!! I would think google would return anything published, maybe google only works on stuff on the internet, and not, say a published book or article?

    Amazing what you can learn!

    ALSO amazing this morning am using the Print Page on the left of the split screen and Word on the right and can see everything very nicely, first time I’ve tried that, you look good! It looks good in that skinny way, maybe I should make the entire heading skinny? hahahaha

    Marvelle, what an incredible theory! Fanstastic! Margaret and Letty being two sides of the author? Wow, I’m wondering since you said that if Margaret and Letty are two sides of all of us? A little? Exaggerated so we can see our own faults and excuses?

    Harriet I loved your take on the Margaret/ guilt thing when the bid was accepted so quickly, I think in some cases the bid can be accepted that very day, in our case it certainly was accepted immediately and my husband said the same thing Letty did: we should have offered less! But that is a delicious scene you mention, is your conclusion that Margaret deliberately did not send the email and then got caught up making excuses by the real fact of the quick acceptance? Maddening, some times our moral decisions are and how beautifully expressed in the text, huh?

    Malryn, this fit in, I think with what Hats was saying, “It amuses me a little that we don't want Margaret to be "bad". And Hats was saying that she was angry at Margaret. I think some of us were pulling for Margaret so that when she failed we felt angry or actually even were unwilling to SEE that she was doing something wrong: it was painful to read, we don’t want her to be “bad.” She’s a dreamer too, and up until now she’s been funny, charming, we hate to see her go wrong.

    I wonder? I wonder if that’s the reason the author put her actual “suggestions” to Letty in the form of Letty’s responses, as in “I told Michael what you said about the table being a work of art and an heirloom we can hand down to the kids, and he completely agreed.” (page 252). So there again, we are not deliberately seeing Margaret and the forked tongue, only the reaction? Why??

    Malryn, you said, “I truly think this is what Margaret is going through with trying to write a novel, this realization. The trouble is that she won't accept it, and it is that lack of acceptance that leads to her "borrowing" of Letty's writing and the consequences of that act.”

    So now do you see Margaret’s motivation is…that she cannot accept that she is NOT different?

    That’s interesting because that is pride, right?

    Oh Hats, what a beautiful and healing post about the death of your parents and your regret, I think that’s something that a lot of people torture themselves with. I know my own mother, to her dying day at 91, kept on about how she had just visited her mother at the home where she was (my grandmother lived with us until way in her 90’s when she was so incapacitated by Alzheimer’s she had to live in a facility) and nothing was different and she left to come home and her mother died. My mother never got over blaming herself for not being “there,” but there was no way of knowing when that would happen or that it would happen.

    So her “inner demon” came forth all the time, and I know you are right, my own inner demons used to wake me up at night in a sweat, ( I think that's one thing about getting older nobody told me about: those doggone mouthy demons at night which come out). I’d torture myself into tears over it till one night I said, listen, if it bothers you that much just don’t ever do it again and make it up if you can to who you hurt and that helped. Some. At least I can sleep.

    I loved this:

    I am beginning to think that in every part or stage of our life a new struggle or inner demon arises. We lay one battle to peace and another battle begins which seems bigger than the last. Something else we can not conquer or face.

    I agree, I agree I agree, by George, just about the time you think you have that inner demon conquered, a new one arises, seems like it’s the journey, after all, that counted and we were aiming for the prize!).

    And you know what, Hats, you’re the first person to say (I think, am I right?) Ted is harsh? I’ve kind of seen him as the support, do the rest of you see him with new eyes? Yes, to say “its too late” is devastating. It’s never too late!

    LOVE this:

    I think Margaret's biggest demon is she can not accept herself. Maybe "All is Vanity" means nothing is worth more than knowing ourselves and accepting ourselves. Vanity is working to prove ourselves to the next guy.

    Oh I love that, Hats!! And I also agree about hearing the voices of everybody else EXCEPT ourselves, Letty lost her own reality , too, didn’t she? She tore into Michael, hitting him where it hurt and destroyed him, that’s not “Letty,” and neither is the snob, she lost herself too, listening to Margaret and other voices she should have ignored, Margaret’s “sin” there is large.

    Whose "sin" here is the greatest of all of those characters we see in the book?

    June 17, 2003 - 10:14 am
    Andrea, “A malignant spirit inhabits us throughout each and every stage of our life. We become rascals and rogues in various ways and of course with varying severity.

    Who hasn't become maniacal and had their passions aroused?”.

    Nobody, if they’re honest.

    What causes this to happen and the spirit to take over (and you know it does everybody)? A slight? A wound? A hurt and the defense mechanism (I am, TOO , good, I’ll show YOU what I can do) springs into play with disastrous (usually) results.

    Oh I LOVED this Andrea:

    With each stage of our lives a different drama unfolds, the limelight changes and the theatre act begins.

    What could be next for Margaret?

    We need to make that our last question!!! What next, I wonder!

    Callie, was that YOU I heard murmuring, Yes Yes hmmm so true, well I don’t know about that. Definitely. Hmmm. Yes? Hahahahaha, I agree, that’s how I feel when I read what everybody says here, I’m blown away this morning, in rereading these super thoughts.

    Do catch up, we need your sharp eyeball@!

    Pedln, even tho you don’t identify personally with any of the main characters, as you say, there are a lot of elements of ‘been there,” there are a lot of recognizable things we all can relate to. Hold on to your own perceptions and see if they change at all? Especially at the end, especially with Letty. I always love your thoughts, is there a difference in being self centered and selfish, do you think??

    Harriet, LOVED that about Letty becoming three dimensional!

    I agree the book is a tour de force, and I’m so glad we have you all to read it with!!

    The power went off here last night and it was the pits, I loved your giving up your theory and your not wanting to attribute malice to Margaret, that's the best thing about "Reading Along with Mitch" as we do these discussions, we can actually see and participate in the changing of the reader's perceptions as he goes.

    And this was really a good point, “In Margaret's mind, Letty has BECOME Lexie and she uses her to further her own writing ambitions.”

    Did you notice a strange thing in the book on page 269 about the credit cards that Letty had mounted up, 12 in all?

    “Twelve!” This shocked even Lexie.

    I thought that was neat, sort of….here Margaret is speaking for Lexie….I don’t know what happened there but I like it. Do authors speak in the voices of their characters, become the characters vicariously, in order to get the character right? Shades of what Marvelle said earlier?

    Betty you’re seeing Letty as weak, not strong enough to trust herself? I’ve seen Letty as the strong one up until she changed, maybe, just maybe she’s been weak all along?!? I agree with you on the PARTY with the construction I think that’s why I got so angry at that woman who writes about Tuscany? Florence something? Hated that smug book, parties with plaster dust falling into the gnocchi while they entertained flawlessly or whatever it was, hated it, why don’t we hate Letty?

    This reaction of mine is more about me than Letty. In fact, I love what we're doing with this discussion....letting our individual reactions to these characters be as important to report as our more analytical look at the writing.

    I agree, and I want it all, don’t you? Hahahaha ALL!!!! Because the characters ARE so moving I want the entire experience. And I love it when it comes together!

    You’re right about best friends, they do speak up, why aren’t they this time??

    Betty you see Margaret as going beyond giving in to temptation, which of the two friends do you think is the most to blame?

    On Stevens, the protagonist of The Remains of the Day, I don’t want to belabor the point now (tho I will admit I totally missed the journal/ epistolary style connection, well done, Marvelle!) in in case some of you have not read it, but both characters, Margaret and Stevens, have some similarities we might want to compare at the end: they both seek a goal and the goal is, itself, going to produce for them a desired status in the world. They both sacrifice personal relationships to seek their goal, at great personal cost. They both try to make amends and “fix” things too late, and the jury is still out on whether or not, when they realize that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is dross, what they do about it. Stevens, to me, was an idealist and what he did when he realized his dreams were dross justified his former behavior. I’m not so sure on Margaret the idealist, yet (you’ll scream at me but Idealists come in all stripes, they aren’t all saints) and don’t all do saintly things; we shall see )…anyway, enough of that!

    And if you can’t help it and have finished the book to see what happens, do read the Interview in the heading in the Atlantic Magazine and see if you have any questions because of it?

    Malryn you see Letty writing to HERSELF to justify, do you think that she at all was trying to impress/ amuse/ Margaret?

    Betty that thing on personal power was super, and I loved this:

    I ronically, there is a strange sort of payoff from attaching being worthy of notice to a point in the future. In a way, you're off the hook. You've given away power to a thing or point in the future....and, hey, what can you do? Your hands are tied, right?

    Exactly so, WHEN I lose that 20 pounds I will be stick thin and THEN, and WHEN we get the kids through college we'll travel and WHEN....OH boy that’s good. And now, NOW Letty’s WHEN has come, the car is towed away, Michael has been destroyed, she’s tapped into the kid’s college fund, she’s taken a job, but she’s not at the bottom yet. Is Margaret, do you think?

    And Hats, everything YOU said was quotable, too, I loved that about how “As far as Margaret, if you always need another person's applause or praise while you are carrying out a hobby or project, you won't last doing the quilt or the writing or whatever. You have to be able, in the end, to carry on alone.”

    Oh that is so good, so do you think that people who DO praise then actually weaken?? !!??

    Does praise and applause actually WEAKEN the spirit?

    (I’m in trouble, aren't I? hahahaah I gush constantly (when it's worth gushing over, that is) haahhaah …hahaha but heck there’s SOO much good to GUSH over here, how can you not!)…ignore me lest it weaken your own spirit! Hahahaa

    I loved that Work in Progress, too, Hats, we’re ALL Works in Progress, and we all make mistakes, and who pays for them the most? Is Letty paying for Margaret’s mistakes or is Margaret going to pay the highest price? We won’t know until the end.

    Which one is the worst?

    OH Malyrn good point on the Confessions reference, I flew over that one trying to see what HAPPENED, let’s type in “caulron of unholy loves” into google and see what it says, maybe that particular passage (whatever it is) has meaning for this section.

    And you mention “sin” and “blame” and “guilt,” we’re coming to the last, are any of the characters without any of those?

    Super super super converstation, could NOT be better, have we missed anything? Let’s hear it, if so??

    OK!! Note the firebrick font color!! Hahahaah It’s fish or cut bait time!!

    WHOSE is the greatest responsibility here? Hats says Letty and Michael are responsible, they can, after all, say No, is it fair to blame Margaret? WHO’S at fault? Whose is the responsibility?

    AND what IS the turning point from which everything changed and there’s no turning back!!

    I have a theory! What's yours?


    PS: By the way, I didn’t understand the SUV accident at all on page 242, did you? If you did, can you explain the “backing up thing” to me?

    June 17, 2003 - 10:19 am
    5. Dante put Cassius and Brutus with Judas in the lowest section of the Inferno, is what Margaret is doing equal to that or not? What’s the difference??

    I'm going to say no. I'm going to say when Judas betrayed Christ he did so knowing that Christ would be killed, his life lost, he sold him for silver (which you might make a parallel on ) but Letty is alive. Dum Spiro Spero (the motto of SC) While I Breathe I Hope.

    Cassius plotted out of jealousy and envy, Margaret does not envy Letty (or does she) and he and Brutus (who was moved by flattery, Letty is not moved by flattery , is she?) plotted to KILL Caesar and did.

    Three actions that brought about murder.

    Letty's not dead. She may have "killed" Michael but I don't see her as dead?


    Do you?

    Maybe a better question is "Is what Letty did equal to what Judas and Cassius and Brutus did?" After all, Letty is not blameless either?


    Nellie Vrolyk
    June 17, 2003 - 11:37 am
    Hello all!

    Ginny, you are always full of interesting questions. I'm thinking about this one:

    Letty is not moved by flattery, is she?

    I think that she is moved by flattery, for all of Margaret's suggestions, which Lettie follows up on, are a form of flattery. Margaret is constantly telling Lettie that she has too much taste to buy the cheap stuff -we only get the knowledge of these suggestions indirectly through Lettie's e-mails.

    I also think that Margaret controls Lettie like a writer/author controls a character in a story, through her suggestions as to what Lettie should purchase and do.

    Do authors become their characters vicariously? I'm a writer and not yet an author -though I'm not clear on the differences between the two -and I become my characters, and right now spend a lot of my time being a male alien character called a synth. I have read somewhere that in order to be a writer/author, you also have to be an actor because you have to become the characters you write in order for them to be life-like.

    Margaret becoming her character Lexie, who is but a poorly disguised version of Lettie... is Margaret becoming Lettie? I think that Lettie has the life that Margaret wants and that Margaret lives vicariously through Lettie's e-mails.

    Just a few random thoughts

    June 17, 2003 - 01:02 pm
    is, roughly, "To Carthage then I came, burning, burning. . ."

    Has anyone mentioned that even the name "Lexie" comes from Letty who writes to Margaret that everyone is always getting her name wrong? "Lexie" is one of these mistakes. ("I will present them [the homemade preserves] to people who think my name might be "Leslie" or possibly "Lexie"(172).

    June 17, 2003 - 01:21 pm
    Here's the actual quote. Augustine spent his 17th, 18th and 19th years in Carthage:


    "1. To Carthage I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves bubbled up all around me. I loved not as yet I loved to love; and with a hidden want, I abhorred myself that I wanted not. I searched about for something to love, in love with loving, and hating security, and a way not beset with snares. For within me I had a dearth of that inward food, Thyself, my' God, though that dearth caused me no hunger; but I remained without all desire for incorruptible food, not because I was already filled thereby, but the more empty I was the more I loathed it. For this reason my soul was far from well, and, full of ulcers, it miserably cast itself forth, craving to be excited by contact with objects of sense. Yet, had these no soul, they would not surely inspire love. To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I succeeded in enjoying the person I loved. I befouled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I dimmed its lustre with the hell of lustfulness; and yet, foul and dishonourable as I was, I craved, through an excess of vanity, to be thought elegant and urbane. I fell precipitately, then, into the love in which I longed to be ensnared. My God, my mercy, with how much bitterness didst Thou, out of Thy infinite goodness, besprinkle for me that sweetness! For I was both beloved, and secretly arrived at the bond of enjoying; and was joyfully bound with troublesome ties, that I might be scourged with the burning iron rods of jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and strife."

    Seems like an appropriate allusion, no?

    betty gregory
    June 17, 2003 - 09:59 pm
    Ginny, you ask in several places who is to blame and "Who is more to blame?" I am guessing that you want to hear a judgment of motivation as well as who has suffered more at the hands of the other, possibly?. Another question has the word "worse," so you want us to rank them.

    I don't see them ranked on one sliding scale from 1 to 10 (1 is good, 10 is the worst) where closer to one end will be Letty and closer to the other end Margaret. In fact, I see them on their own separate scales from 1 to 10.....not compared to each other.

    Both have made such rotten decisions and are suffering for it.

    Who is to blame for Letty's mess? Letty, 100 percemt. Who is to blame for Margaret's mess? Margaret, 100 percent. On separate scales of integrity and being a loving friend, Margaret will score very low. She is to blame for wretched, ugly, abusive behavior toward a friend, but is not responsible for Letty's decisions. If Letty was a child of, say, 12, we could say, yes, Margaret is to blame for some of Letty's decisions/behavior. Letty is an adult woman and has to take full responsibility for letting herself be swayed by outside pressures to behave in certain ways.


    Christina Schwarz
    June 17, 2003 - 10:06 pm
    I was so excited to see that Ginny mentioned Yates's Revolutionary Road. I just read that book about a month ago and am recommending it to everyone (so far, no one has listened to me--most frustrating!). I'm actually hoping it'll influence the book I'm working on now, so it's interesting that Ginny sees a parallel to All Is Vanity in it.

    I'm intrigued by the question of whether the societal pressures in All Is Vanity exist only today--whether it's very much a book of its time. I would have assumed so, except the Howell's quotation (as Ginny points out) certainly suggests otherwise. And then, as Margaret says, there's Madame Bovary. I was thrilled to see that someone sees a parallel with House of Mirth, because I love Wharton--and I thought of Lily Bart, too. One difference I see between Lily, on the one hand, and Margaret and Letty, on the other, is that Lily really is boxed in by society's expectations--if she doesn't live a certain way, she literally won't be allowed access to the people she wants (perhaps mistakenly) to be with. A big part of Margaret and Letty's problem--particularly Margaret's--is that they, being modern women, really can do and become whatever they're capable of--and this makes them put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to prove their capacity. If you could become President, mightn't you be considered a failure if you don't?

    Along these lines, to my mind, Hats has hit the nail on the head with her assessment of Margaret, both when she says that Margaret listens only to others' thoughts (or what she believes to be others' thoughts) rather than to her own, and when she says that Margaret's problem as a writer is that she isn't doing it because she wants to write, but rather because she thinks it will prove something to all those others. At some point--and perhaps you're not there yet, but here goes anyway--Margaret says that the difference between her childhood pursuits--those she finished to her satisfaction--and her adult pursuits, on which she seems unable to concentrate--is that she did the former purely because she was interested in doing them. She didn't care a whit what other people thought of the results. She loses that lack of self-consciousness, as I think most people do, somewhere along the way.

    I'll try to answer a few more questions--although I don't dare go back to look at them. There was something about my name being on top and whether I wanted to run into bookstores and shout "I am she!" My name is on top because the publishers hoped that people who'd bought Drowning Ruth (thanks to Oprah) would buy this book, too, because they recognized the author. It is a little bit thrilling, I have to admit, to see the books in a store, particularly when I'm not looking for them and just happen to see them displayed. In this way, it actually gets more thrilling as time goes on, because I look for them less often than I used to. The most exciting moment like this was when I saw Drowning Ruth in my grocery store! It's also quite exciting to see people reading it, which has happened only twice. The first time, my husband went up to the woman while I hid behind a pole and asked how she liked it. She said, "Well, it isn't very well written," which you would have thought would have taught my husband a lesson, but, no, he also asked the second woman we saw carrying the book. She hadn't even started it. Very anticlimactic. (anticlimatic?)

    I think Marvelle had a question about the epitolary form. I did think I would use that pretty much from the beginning--one friend stealing what another friend wrote was part of my original idea. Of course, I ran into problems with the form immediately. In books like Clarissa, for instance, the letter-writing characters record every moment of a scene, as if they were narrating a story (which, of course, they are), but that is, in fact, a very unnatural way to write a letter. If the letter-writer doesn't create a scene, however, than there really isn't a story anyone would be interested in reading. I looked at Michael Frayn's "The Trick of It"--now there's a well-done, modern epistolary novel--which helped me see that it's essential to capture the personality of the writer AND the reader in a letter, and also showed me the "trick" of interrupting a letter with the immediate events going on in the writer's life, breaking off, for instance, if someone has come to the door and then coming back to the letter to report on the visitor, to make the letter come to life. (This, by the way, is, as Letty would say never-before-revealed information.) I'm not sure if I've said this before or if this was in my lost post, but I especially like the way letters are written for a specific audience. At least mine are. I would write in a certain tone about particular things to one friend and in a different tone and about different events to another. I think it's important that Letty's letter-writing voice is put on especially for Margaret.

    I know there was an outline question--I may have answered it, but if not, the answer is "no outline" for Drowning Ruth (part of the reason it took so long to write, I'm sure). "Yes" for All Is Vanity, because I was paid to deliver a first chapter and an outline. It was pretty general--about a page and a half--and I didn't stick with it rigidly, but it did give me the overall shape and direction of the novel, which helped a lot. "No" so far for the book I'm working on now. Not having it makes me nervous, but I just don't know what's going to happen between chapter 5 and the end, and not knowing did work for the first book--finally. I have a love/hate relationship with outlines. They make me feel more secure, but they also make me feel instantly a little bored--"I still have to do this and this and this," I think. "How will I ever get through it." I'd rather make it up as I go along. But that, as I said, invites bit problems, too. Even for college papers, I liked an outline that consisted of five or ten words, enough to give me a sense of where I was going, but spare enough to allow me to come up with the connective tissue as I went along.

    Christina Schwarz
    June 17, 2003 - 10:14 pm
    OK--I know I just wrote something very long, but I want to say one more thing about the outline. Writing helps me to think. I can't figure out what I want to say in any meaningful way until I've tried to write it down in real, connected sentences--as having to add this additional comment after writing scads about the subject proves.

    June 17, 2003 - 11:40 pm
    Christina, re post 306: Me too! I never really know what I think until I write it out and then read it over. Sometimes a lightbulb will go on over my head, 'oh, that's what I'm thinking.' And then I can refine my writing and spin out the thoughts.

    Your unfolding of the epistolary form is a wonderful gift to us. "[It's] essential to capture the personality of the writer AND the reader in a letter .... [And learning from another writer's work, there's] the 'trick' of interrupting a letter with the immediate events going on in the writer's life ...." As we've gotten deeper into the novel, the interruptions in letter writing do make for a breathless, dangerous pace. We KNOW that something's radically wrong and changing for these two women.

    Modern women do have more opportunities, unlike Emma Bovary. And some women put too much pressure on themselves like L&M who seem to believe, or act, 'if you have a shot at being President and aren't, you are a failure.'

    About Vanity readers: just picture SN posters (Vanities as Ginny might say, has said?) engrossed in reading Vanity. And Ginny has her colored pens, busily marking the pages!


    kiwi lady
    June 18, 2003 - 12:35 am
    Don't you think that our society runs on influence by others. We are deluged with all types of advertising to influence us to consume more. We are shown and told we should all look like stick thin models with beautiful skin and we should preferably have blonde hair.

    A survey was done about how we look and our employment opportunities. The result was that if you are one of the beautiful people (according to the above description) you are more likely to land a job. You will have a better social life if you own a big home, live in the right area, wear designer clothes and so on. Teens for instance are influenced by their peers and hardly ever by their parents.

    Isn't Letty just an exaggerated example of todays yuppie society?


    June 18, 2003 - 05:12 am
    Well welcome again  Christina:  Not only have you won our hearts with your novel, you are fitting right into our dialogue.  Isn't it fun to have your thoughts focused  in so many different  directions?  Each individual post encourages another train of thought and you have responded admirably.  Thank you for your presence here.

    I cracked up reading about your husband approaching the woman who did not think  your novel was "well written."  Oh good grief, what a comedown; hiding behind a pole anticipating kudos, galore, only to be horrified at such a remark.  (Oh, what did she know anyway, Christina?)  My daughter was horrified because I approached a  woman reading The Little Friend at the pool on Sannibel Island.  I wanted to know what she thought of the book (plus get her interested in SeniorNet) and she did NOT respond the way that I wished, so I stood there and argued my points in favor of the novel as my daughter put her book in front of her face, slid further down into her chaise and groaned aloud.  How did you restrain yourself from coming out from behind that pole and darned near choking her?  It left me with great joy thinking about my reaction to that.  Does your husband still insist on such approaches?

    I agree 100% that we write for our audience.  We communicate with each friend differently, I believe, whether it be on paper, the phone or face to face.
    We have a kaleidescope of interactions, depending on the remarks, the contents and the individual we are exhanging thoughts with.

    An outline!  Good grief, sometimes I need a blueprint to just get through the day.

    betty gregory
    June 18, 2003 - 06:13 am
    Christina, thank you so much for letting us in on your experiences of writing both books, especially the part played by outlines. So interesting to hear it directly from an author about specific books!!

    I do want to say, in response to your comment that in today's world women can be anything they want to be, that Carolyn's (Kiwi) comment about the societal influence of others (societal pressure) is instructional. I believe both societal messages are out there.....that a woman can be anything and that a woman's life is still carefully scripted. The billion dollar cosmetics industry plus the pervasive, impossibly "perfect" airbrushed female images suggest strongly that looking a certain way is still valued above anything else. The plain way I say it to my nieces is that looking pretty is still valued more than being smart.

    You are so right, though, that women hear it all the time now, that they can be anything they choose. I think it's part of a complex, pervasive backlash (some intentional, most not, I think) that says, now that you have all this power, where are your results? In general, often when an issue of women's rights is mentioned, in many places, the response is, "Didn't we already do that? Now that women have their rights, why don't they shut up?" I think it would genuinely surprise many to learn that some of the progress of the 60s and 70s has disappeared. Especially for poor women.

    Across the board, fewer women now would have the financial freedom to live Margaret's or Letty's lives. More Margarets would have to attempt the GAN in the evenings and on weekends. More Lettys would run into the credit brick wall sooner. (Oops. That is my seeing Margaret and Letty as real, not exaggerated. However, the exaggerations could be stretched in fiction to cover any financial class. Right?)

    Isn't Christina a good foil for Margaret? The folly of Margaret's venture into writing is instantly clear when reading the sophisticated thoughts of a writer as she considers other protagonists and writers' styles, and virtually all of her comments are about process.

    (Ah Ha!! I spotted a Letty moment in your "letter" writing, Christina, since you told us you wrote letters like Letty. The husband walking up to the woman reading your book as you hid behind a pole....only to hear that the writing wasn't very good!! Hhahaha. How funny!!)


    kiwi lady
    June 18, 2003 - 08:46 am
    Betty - you are right about choices - if you are poor in todays society your choices are limited really. My daughter keeps herself stick thin, well dressed , has her skin tended to by a beautician regularly besides this fact she is very smart (A Student in her degree) She recently landed a job where there were 1,000 applicants all with A degrees there were 80 finalists who had to sit exams, be interviewed by all the partners in a panel situation and endure a very formal social occaision to see how they acted socially. She was one of 12 chosen to begin work next year. She said all the successful applicants fitted the mould I outlined in my previous post. My daughter is a blonde too! I would add that my daughter personally does not think that looks should play such a big part in selection processes but she knows its reality so she plays the game. She hopes to one day be a partner and she will then have some influence for change hopefully.

    June 18, 2003 - 09:25 am
    Good morning, "Vanities" (do we all have clean "drawers" this fine day? hahahahaha (Bad Callie! Go sit in the corner until you can behave!)

    Bits and Pieces as I get ready for son to come for lunch, overnight company from out of town and an Okie SeniorNet Lunch Bunch gathering on the other side of the state tomorrow.....

    Favorite quotes I thought of while reading last week's posts

    "There are lots of ways of being miserable, but there's only one way of being comfortable, and that is to stop running round after happiness. If you make up your mind not to be happy, there's no reason why you shouldn't have a fairly good time." ....Edith Wharton in The Last Asset

    "For all sad words of tongue or pen,
    The saddest are these: 'It might have been'."
    ...John Greenleaf Whittier

    Observations about this week's pages:

    When Letty calls Margaret about the car accident, Margaret cannot really listen as a friend because she keeps thinking about how to work what Letty is telling her into The Novel.

    Pages 246-248: Letty sounds like Margaret did at the beginning of the book when she begins to write about her need to get organized - except other things always get in the way.

    Letty is really annoying me and I would like to turn Margaret over my knee and give her a good old-fashioned spanking! (Of course, in today's world, I would be smilingly turning my tongue into Swiss Cheese while I tried to think of some way to express myself in "When you......., I feel....." terms - since "You ought to be ashamed of yourself; stop this nonsense immediately" is no longer p.c.!)
  • ************************

    CHRISTINA: I am one who asked about outlines. Since I am a visual learner, it has always been easier for me to write from a basic outline - but I will revise and change as I go along. I still prefer the good old yellow legal pad and a pencil with a good eraser for first thoughts and draft - takes too much time to do all the necessary key punching to change things on the computer!
    Love the mental picture of you hiding while your husband asked the lady about your book. Has that experience found its way into your writing, yet?

    I am soaking in all the posts like a sponge! Each one is so good for my daily brain-stretching exercise. Thank you all.
    My responses to the ones I've read so far this week are (in no particular order), "Yes! I agree! Good point!"
  • kiwi lady
    June 18, 2003 - 10:59 am
    I don't feel like I want to shake either character in this book. I did want to shake Madame Bovery however! I have met both Letty and Margaret in my lifetime (figuratively speaking) maybe they will both get wiser with age! However in saying this- one Letty I know of spends spends spends gets into difficulty - borrows more on her house and then continues the same behaviour until she has to borrow more money. There is now very little equity left in a house she once owned more than 50% of and though she looks down her nose at me and my modest lifestyle I have more collateral than she has by far. There is no understanding some people. Unfortunately I can see the day when the bank will dig in its toes and foreclose- will Letty learn from her present experience?

    Some of you have said Margaret should have been more of an advisor to Letty but in my experience with my Letty everyone has tried to advise her and she takes not a blind bit of notice. I don't think Margaret would have prevented Letty from buying the house - her haste in signing up for the property showed her determination to have it come what may.


    kiwi lady
    June 18, 2003 - 11:02 am
    PS don't we get carried away with these characters - they are Christina's creations after all and their destinies are already mapped out for them! Here we are trying to change destiny! LOL

    June 18, 2003 - 01:14 pm
    I don't understand why Letty's husband, Michael, is getting away with so little blame from all of us in their financial mess. The original stimuli for all the spend, spend, spend syndrome was his new job at the Otis. Up until then Letty may have yearned for more, but she and Michael were actually the very paragon of a careful, modestly living couple. Letty's luxuries were tasteful but inexpensive knick knacks. They both saved and thought ahead for their children's futures.

    Didn't Michael and Letty bid on the new house BEFORE Margaret began her incitements? Didn't Michael go along with the expensive status ideas that Letty got from Margaret? Where was HIS good sense? I mean, he LIVED through the same time period as his wife...he must have chosen to turn off all of HIS mental cautions when the designer furniture arrived? Somewhere in the book it's mentioned that Michael made the final decision about having a full bar stocked with next-to-best quality liquor at their party. He insisted that Letty buy designer clothing to impress his new colleagues. He pointed out a lot of the elegant furniture they bought to HER. He came up with his share of the expensive ideas. They looked at the price tags together and they BOTH counted on his job raises that hadn't happened yet.

    Maybe Letty hardly needed Margaret on her back to encourage all their spending...because she had Michael leading a baying pack of dogs to destroy their lives right behind her selfish friend. Maybe even AHEAD of her selfish friend?

    So how come Letty was afraid to tell Michael the actual extent of their debt? Why did she hide the bills from him? She DID NOT buy this stuff alone. By gosh, when she first recognized financial reality and got so scared, why didn't she throw those bills right on their imported octagonal maple dining room table to face TOGETHER? Why did Letty feel so guilty and alone?

    Letty writes to Margaret:

    "Michael is not the sort of person who cares only about the bottom line and what's in it for him. He is a generous modest man, who doesn't know his own worth." (298)

    That's a loving evaluation from Letty of the guy who jointly presided over their disaster. It leaves out a few things like his enthusiastic participation in their consumerism.

    None of this can excuse Margaret for her betrayal of Letty's welfare. That's still the pits, but why should Michael get a free ride?


    June 18, 2003 - 02:13 pm
    Harriet, I agree. In a way, Michael corrupted Letty. She was very simplistic. He wanted her to wear more expensive clothes, etc. It's not fair just to blame Letty. Michael is a big part of the problem.

    June 18, 2003 - 03:11 pm
    Harriet and Hats, yes Michael is a big part of the problem. And yes to Carolyn about the influences and responsibilities.

    I believe it's Letty who handles the money in their family (like Ted except Ted isn't secretive) and, from the way Letty speaks of him, she sees Michael as somehow floating above the natural world in a space all his own. So she is the treasurer of the family. I'd say big mistake there EXCEPT the first to be seduced the Otis was Michael, oh that honey panelling; and the first big expenditure was Michael's new upscale Saab. Michael is definitely part of the problem.

    In some ways being poor is beneficial for me. I don't want to keep up with the Jones's...but, then, such temptation isn't accessible to me anyway. No home or car decisions to make. What extra coins I can squeeze out of my budget goes to books, and books are not socially upscale unless you're a famous collector like Getty. Instead, I search for comfy looking used books, well-loved and the cheaper the better.

    The one comment that rankles me is when Margaret tells Letty that purchasing the house will give the children fond memories of their life in it as they mature. The kids loved the old house; they were happy there! And Letty eagerly grabbed at that alibi of 'buying memories for the children'! Okay, okay, they aren't real flesh-and-blood people, but still....

    Ginny, the accident with the SUV and Letty's tin Toyota? The SUV hit the Toyota at a stop, from behind, and the woman screeches about Letty backing up (which she didn't) and how Letty was trying to claim insurance...screech screech screech. And Letty is upset because she's going to be blamed?

    I think the scene shows how someone, the woman, ASSUMES PRIVILEGE and another person, Letty, IS COWED BY THAT ASSUMPTION. Letty still feels like she climbed over the tennis court fence to where she doesn't belong and isn't welcomed. And the woman who caused the accident acts secure in her privileged position. She's worthy, Letty is not. Letty remembers that a tony commercial was filmed at the SUV owners house ... which again proves to Letty her lower status.

    "Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves" -- Nathaniel Braden


    betty gregory
    June 18, 2003 - 04:29 pm
    Carolyn, true, Margaret may not have been able to dissuade Letty from purchasing a house, but I was thinking........the measure of a friendship might not rest on a campaign to talk her out of buying the house, but a note written to say, "You've been on my mind," and other admissions of genuine concern about the decision to buy the house.

    I know we keep batting back and forth the question of what to say to a friend, how much to say, how "real" to be. We ask what Margaret could have said, but that's only half of a transaction. The other half is what the receiver of the message, Letty, would do with the information. Margaret would be responsible only for her part....and who's to say what the response would be. "Doing the right thing" really should be measured without knowing what the response would be.

    Aren't those fine words? And I believe them entirely. What I personally struggle with all the time, and I mean all the time, is how real to be. I wish we all could do more of it, and yet, it seems to me that we've practiced saying what is safe and kind for so long that it's jarring when someone does venture into saying something difficult, maybe even uncomfortable, even if said gently.

    I wonder, and I don't know the answer, if there is ever a time for such things as......"Letty, you exasperate me. You complain about needing money for those remedial reading Saturday classes for little (Bob?) and the next time I hear from you, you've spent $80 on Brazilian miniature peaches just to impress your new friend at lunch?? Do I need to say this to you? If that "friend" needs Brazilian peaches to be impressed with you, then I have to wonder if you need this "friend"! Letty, you're so bright and the most creative person I know. What's going on out there?? You seem to be turned inside out, dare I say it, with all this spending!"

    What's on my mind is the price of withholding an honest reaction. If an editor only addresses the most glaring errors and withholds other valuable instruction, the writer misses all that wonderful information. One writer might be hurt, but another writer might take the instruction to heart and become a better writer instantly. More is at stake emotionally with friends, but still, there is a price for never being real just to avoid upset.

    On the receiving end, we need people to be real to us. We need that information. If someone is always causing heartache and trouble for herself, yet no one speaks up to give her authentic feedback about it, think of the lost possibility for change. Maybe she never realized that she often came across as irritated and critical.

    This is awfully important stuff, huh? This ability to be authentic impacts marriages, employment, friendships, and, maybe most importantly, knowing oneself. I can't think of anyone in my family who is good at this. For 20 years or so, I've been working on my mother, struggling to get her to be real when we talk. It's like pulling teeth.


    June 18, 2003 - 06:34 pm
    Betty, I agree with the concern over safe responses even if such responses aren't helpful to a friend. I'd used the example earlierbout a drowning friend. If they ask for an anchor, do you toss them the anchor (what they want) or a life preserver (what you feel may help)?

    As you said "there is a price to pay for never being real just to avoid upset." And there's also a price to pay for being real with stress and the potential ls of a friend.

    How much of a friend is Letty? As Callie mentioned, Letty doesn't ask about Margaret or include M in the marvelous stream of words in the Letty-emails.

    There are betrayals by Margaret with identity theft and encouraging harmful behavior; and betrayals by Letty with lack of personal interest in Margaret, a kind of selfish blindness by Letty, and lukewarm support of M's writing.

    I'd like to ask Christina about the idea of two people, Letty and Margaret, who, when their traits are combined, equal one writer. Was this a consideration of Christina's when developing the characters? Two halves of a writer's persona? Or perhaps two halves of any person's personality?


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 19, 2003 - 03:52 am

    Good morning, everyone. Interesting thoughts here yesterday. Though I don't believe that this book is about writing or that women can be and do anything they want, this week I have embarked on a program that hopefully will help me be what I want to be -- walking on my own two feet for a change. My sedentary complacency and working hours will soon be invaded by numerous helpful people who will try to goad me into doing exactly that. No more resting on past laurels and calloused rear end for this old lady!

    If Margaret wanted to prove something about success to the world and herself, why did she choose writing? I read recently that only 200 writers in this country are successful enough to make a living by writing. Agents and publishers are almost impossible to get without contacts or knowing a friend of a friend of a friend who knows someone in the business. Why didn't she choose computer technology or television psychology like Dr. Whats-His-Name?

    Margaret and Letty have impossible dreams that can't really be achieved without either working hard or indulging in some kind of fraud, it seems to me. Letty wants to be rich the way the American dream says we all can be if we work hard enough. Since she doesn't really want to do that kind of work because she's a busy, happy housewife doing what busy, happy housewives do, she'll settle for the trappings of the rich and pledge all her money to credit card companies, and make them rich instead -- or lose her shirt.

    Margaret wants to be a best-selling writer without first spending years writing whether she feels like it or not, and peddling articles and stories to publications nobody ever heard of, which pay three dollars up to fifteen bucks for stuff, so she can add these accomplishments to queries she'll send out when she tries to sell her book to an agent or publisher, hoping that lofty person will be impressed by what she has done before. It's very, very hard for a writer who hasn't already been published to get published, if that makes any sense. Neither one of them is willing to work for what she wants, and neither one is willing to work at being the "best friend" she thinks she is.

    Friendships need nurturing in the same way that grocery store philodendron you buy to put in your kitchen window does. Without water and food that plant will die. Without care, so will a friendship. If neither of these women cares enough to tell the other what Betty suggested so well, the friendship between them will wither on the vine. I still maintain that these two adult women are not really friends any more. They use each other as self-seeking sounding boards and stimuli, and that's not enough.

    Last night I was re-reading parts of this book for the umpteenth time, and I began to laugh. There is such serious business in this discussion that we appear to have forgotten how funny this book really is. Comedy is right next door to tragedy. We seem to have opted for the tragedy, thoughtful, serious people that we Vanities are.

    Letty says, "To prepare breakfast I squat over the toaster on the living room floor. It's probably best that I've not yet purchased aforementioned lavender housecoat, since it would draggle in the plaster dust" and "Remember, even ten thousand dollars over thirty years is only ninety-one cents a day" when she's rationalizing the purchase of the perfect cooling and heating elements needed to make the perfect meal. (Page 248.) She also says about the bills she's found (Page 267), "I mean, I knew about the ones in my purse -- at least I knew I kept dropping them in there, thinking that I'd look at them later -- but these others . . . . it's like they're self-generating." I don't know why these incongruities amuse me, but they do.

    When learning of little Ashleigh's triumphant acceptance for publication by the Paris Review, Margaret says on Page 258, "Rather than spontaneously burst into flames or melt in in a greasy puddle at Ashleigh's feet, I had to show her the Xerox machine and explain the idiosyncrasies of the fax and the filing system." Wry humor. This book is full of things like that. Am I the only one to find them funny? "Is it possible to be in four-wheel drive without knowing it?" Doesn't that sort of make you laugh?


    June 19, 2003 - 05:34 am
    Hi Betty and Mal,

    Betty, I love what you said about being authentic or "real." I think it's hard to find a friend who will tell you the truth. I think the reason why people aren't honest to one another is because it takes time to make a friend, and people don't have the time anymore. They are too busy making all that big money. They don't have time to write a note, a letter or make a phone call much less a personal visit.

    So, when they get a friend, they become very protective of that friend's feelings. If they tell the friend the truth, they might lose the friend. The time or willingness is not there to go out and make a new best friend.

    My son complains that he can not find the right girl. I tell him the girls are out there, but he is too busy making big money. He works all the time. So, I guess consumerism and our lack of time have made us choose the wrong values. Being true to a friend has been put on the back burner. Tell a lie and keep a friend.

    Focusing on being the importance of being "real" makes me see another great lesson in this book that I can put to personal use.

    Mal, while reading, I laughed too. Christina Schwarz does have a great sense of humor.

    June 19, 2003 - 07:42 am
    So glad that people are noticing the humor in this book. I've been LOL throughout Vanity. I especially love the hilarious writing 'advice' that people keep giving Margaret, even Berginsky is deliciously obtuse with his need to constantly prove himself.

    Berginsky's response to Margaret's writing assignment, a scene of 2 school girls with one cheating on a test: "Some reference might perhaps be made to the Native American experience, as compared, for instance, with the Khmer Rouge -- the Red Man and the Reds, as it were .... My advice to you is to juggle the odd sizes. Swim with the chickens. Turn the details inside out until they smoke, threatening combustion. Also, don't use so many adverbs."

    Oh my gosh, that is priceless. Berginsky goes off into the stratosphere, brings in Shakespeare even (especially?), Red Man and Reds, two worlds -- all babblespeak -- and he closes with the grammar suggestion. He totally forgot the story of the school girls for which he was providing 'advice', as he was too busy impressing himself with his own comments. In a postscript he shows his complete disengagement with M's actual story: "How do the cheating little girls fit in?" ROFLOL

    I like what you say, Hats, about the easy road to friendship which is of dubious merit: "Tell a lie and keep a friend." It's a balancing act then, this friendship road? Be supportive of a friend's interest yet tell the truth as you see it? And be a cautious sounding board?

    How many betrayals, big and little, there are in "Vanity" and in life!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 19, 2003 - 08:17 am

    Yes, Marvelle, the Berginsky scene is a high point of the book. I mentioned it some time ago. I think several of us did. Not only is it typical of the gobbledygook I have come across in the hallowed halls of academe -- especially when visiting my sister and her English professor husband -- it is representative of disinfo, hard sell America. My point this morning, I think, was that despite the crescendo into crisis, the humor continues.

    Letty mentions talking to Duncan's wife, who tells her she's the director of the Center for Democratic Change. When asked what they do, the woman tells Letty, "Essentially, we form a bridge between progressive political views and the entertainment community." (Pp. 279-280) Why should that make me laugh? I don't know, but it did.

    So did finding out Michael has spread the word that Letty is a marine biologist. Where does this guy get his inferiority complex, I wonder? He tells Letty she specializes in plankton. Plankton? Well, I guess!

    Later Letty says, "I thought I needed new glasses, but it's only the sawdust fuzzing the windowpanes." (P. 283) To me this is especially funny because this is the house where they're having the mammoth party around the swimming pool which isn't one.

    When it comes to small talk, Letty says, "My exhaustive knowledge of important human affairs, gleaned through hours of dedicated flipping through People magazine during checkout-line waits, is useless at these affairs. Sophisticated, blasé poking of fun at herself. I love it.

    Letty's writing about bidding for her children's artwork (". . . slap their hands in the paint and then onto the paper for this project" over a period of five seconds) is good, too.

    Neat little bit of foreshadowing on Page 293: "We are rotten at the core. The rug, in fact, the very floor, has been chewed out from under us." Letty, honey, you're going to end up in the cellar. "Miss Wiggins has used one of the club chairs as a makeshift litterbox." (Page 293) Everything's going to rack and ruin in a most amusing way.

    Is this novel going to end up as a tragedy or a comedy? We'll soon find out.


    June 19, 2003 - 09:19 am
    Marvelle, you wrote what I wanted to write. Honesty is so important in a friendship. I like your thought of being "a cautious sounding board." If we really try, I think there are ways to tell the truth and keep our friends. I don't think Margaret and Letty found that happy balance.

    June 19, 2003 - 10:46 am
    Harriet M:( post #315) In chap.17 we learn that Letty did plan to discuss the huge credit card debt together with Michael when she gathers all the statements together for review. However, at this point in time Michael has not received his salary increase nor the originally promised ( his director/ boss) remainder of the salary. To make matters worse, he is told by him that he has received a job offer by a Metropolitian museum and will begin by Christmas. Therefore, he cannot make any promises to Michael. " His replacement may want to hire his own people". Michael becomes depressed over job outcome and becomes depressed. He removes him self physically from Letty and goes off by himself in another part of the house. Therefore, Letty is not able to " discuss together" the debts as she had planned to do. When Letty tallies the bills her self they total " $145,685.64. Michael's unfortunate job situation is not unusual. Promises, promises, promises. Also I can remember moving on to another career opportunity when a new director was hired and it became obvious that this individual wanted to employ his/her own staff who would be assumed to be loyal to them. Some of you may have had similar experiences ?

    June 19, 2003 - 11:16 am
    Ted tells Margaret that her novel in progress " is a great story, is very well written". "These folks have no idea how they got themselves into this disaster, the best part, very realistic".

    Our of the mouth of a man that is very detail oriented and frugal to a fault, documenting the smallest expenditure in a ledger, the intent of his response is that could never happen to him unknowingly.

    Margaret realizes that she and " Letty are striving for the worlds respect and she "has been an enemy to Letty" Too late to make amends?

    kiwi lady
    June 19, 2003 - 11:28 am
    I don't think it is ever too late to make amends. I am struggling with my pride at the moment to make amends with our estranged father. It was nothing that we did - he is an alcoholic albeit a wealthy one- when we were kids we were kept poor by his drinking and gambling. He in his turn has cut us out of his will ( that does not bother me) because we told him years ago a few home truths about how his drinking affected us. I have a father who at odd times in his life showed me great understanding - he was not judgemental of any of us regarding our life decisions etc but these incidents were very few. I don't know my father. I don't know if he ever loved me and old as I am I want to find out. So now as time runs out I have to decide whether to swallow my pride and forgive him and write to him or to let him die without ever finding out what his reaction will be to my letter. No I don't think really its too late to make amends. If I am rejected I will at least have tried. My father does not live in NZ so I can't just go to his house and talk to him.


    June 19, 2003 - 01:55 pm
    Carolyn, what a tough choice for you. Whatever you decide, I wish you the best.


    Frugal, in continuing with thoughts re question 8, I think that Ted knows who Margaret is writing about even though he calls them 'these people' 'These people' are Lexie and Miles, aka Letty and Michael.

    Ted was in Los Angeles to see the frentic lifestyle beginning. Although we don't see interaction between Ted & Letty/Michael and I wonder how close he feels to them; Ted knew of the too expensive housebuying (225). Right after the LA Christmas trip Ted brings the Ledger and Margaret together to talk sternly about Kitchen Tiles -- influenced by Letty's expensive kitchen remodel? Probably.

    Letty emails Margaret that Michael's job/salary is in jeopardy and that she'd confessed to him their great debt situation. Margaret wants to fly to LA.

    And Ted knows of this cry-for-help email too, Margaret told him? 'Ted did not see the point of rushing to Los Angeles. He sat on the couch as I paced between the bedroom and the living room, arguing with [airlines reservation and packing a suitcase] .... "Did she ask you to come?" he wanted to know.' (301)

    Just as Ted knows the reason for the proposed emergency trip to LA, he knows, therefore, that 'these folks' in Margaret's novel are Letty and Michael. His "Oh Margaret!" is disapproval and disappointment, I believe, knowing the writing is a betrayal of friendship and not an 'original' novel.

    However, Ted never directly confronts Margaret with 'you're writing about friends. Should you be doing that?' He keeps up the myth of the novel and the myth of fictional characters and he does his own betrayal: "It's a great story -- the expensive home, the new schools, the SUV, the Teutonic dishwasher .... On every other page [I read] I just wanted to jump in and warn these poor people." (313) But he doesn't warn them, does he? Was the warning remark a dig at Margaret? I don't know; he stopped her after all from flying to LA. Is Ted supporting or betraying Margaret by ignoring the Letty inspiration to her novel? Surely he knows only disaster can come from that theft. Is he betraying friends by his silence?

    Ted even points out the difference (warns M) between 'these people' not knowing how they got themselves into disaster and his/Margaret's situation with the infamous Ledger.

    So many different ways to betray and support; and differing levels of responsibility.


    June 19, 2003 - 01:55 pm
    Frugal, your 326 and Carollyn, your 327, and Marvelle, your 328 were posted while I struggled with this offline, will get back to them tomorrow!! What decision, must reread!!

    Talk about long posts, this thing is a killer, I'll break it up.

    Well dadgum it, I just lost a whole post! That is the MOST frustrating thing!

    Christina!! Revolutionary Road! Yesssss!! Yes so frustrating trying to get others to read it, one of the reviewers of The Corrections really did the world a favor, I think, when he compared it to Revolutionary Road (I sure don’t see the connection) but it brought RR to people’s attention. We here read them both together to compare and it was telling which we got the most involved in.

    You’d think that with all the new books out on Yates, the Richard Russo Collected Stories and the two new biographies, just out, that people would be flocking to read him again, and maybe they will. I read once that somebody said nobody does yearning like Yates, Russo says, “Yates suggests, it may even be this worst of night terrors-of ending up alone in the world and trying to smile—that is responsible for our most tragic human blindness, our eager willingness to confuse what is true with what we want to be true.” (The Collected Stories of Richard Yates)

    Now certainly that has applications for this book too. And again we had Margaret in two places feeling the ache of sudden loneliness, one in the last section, and one in this one, I’m going to find both of them and let’s see WHY she feels lonely, they are both lonely: look at Letty, not wanting to go thru that “alone.” She has Michael, but she’s alone. Margaret has Ted but sometimes she, too, feels alone. Yates would say we’re all alone, maybe.

    There are other parallels, the biggest one in April Wheeler and Margaret, big difference in the support of the husbands, tho, that alone would make a good discussion, then there's the question of luck in Yates’s writings, and in Vanity, the concept of how big you should dream: Yates seems to say when you dream big you fail, better to dream small, shows what failure does to you and what the fear of it impels us to do, and I loved this of Russo’s:

    In the end I think it is Yates’s relentless, unflinching investigation of our secret hearts, and his speaking to us in language as clear and honest and unadorned and unsentimental and uncompromising as his vision, that makes him such a great writer. (The Collected Stories of Richard Yates)

    And when you look at THAT you realize that that is exactly what Christina has done through Margaret, we’re IN Margaret's secret heart of hearts, all the time, that describes Margaret, to a tee. And that makes the writer of THIS book great, too!

    Oh and for the record, Christina, you can’t write “too long” a post? You could write three books and we’d love it! Write on!! Oh that was SUCH a post, so rich. Thank you for explaining the difference in Margaret’s ambition and her childhood projects, too!

    That’s important.

    I loved, like Marvelle, and Betty and Andrea and all of us, the “hiding behind a pole” story! Just loved it, that’s so…I don’t know the word, humble. What were you going to do if the reader said oh yes, I adore it? Jump out? Hahahaha That’s a good lesson to us all, if that ever happens to us we’ll all remember to gush just in case the author is behind a pillar or post (or we can first run behind all pillars and posts and look but that might diminish our opinion in the author’s eyes if we run madly around the store first? Hahahahaah) What a dear story, thank you for that.

    I can’t imagine seeing a display of your books in a bookstore, what a thrill. I’d have 50 copies of my own all over the house. . (In fact I can’t imagine seeing ONE copy of Vanity since the stores here are relentlessly “out but we can order you one.)”

    Betty, you make a good point and I’m not sure why I keep seeming to ask about “guilt” and “blame,” I think it’s because Hats said earlier that we can’t really blame Margaret if Letty follows her advice. And your post on being true, like a lot of other things you add to the discussion, is sticking in my mind ringing a bell, but what can it mean? Really illusive but I have learned when you say something I need to pay attention, there's something important there but it's swirling, who is TRUE in this story, we all need truth in our lives, somebody to be true, who IS true here?

    Would it surprise you to learn I feel nobody’s particularly at fault here? I mean, as Maryal said earlier, choices. Choices made and you have to ride them down, happens to all of us. We all make choices, some of us have made awful ones. You pays your money and you makes your choice, but what happens when your choice affects friends? (IF it does? I think you all did a super job with the dynamics of the relationships and guilt and blame and Michael). Ted seems, so far, to be the only one who nobody blames for anything? I think Hats did, and Marvelle did also, but I'm not remembering anybody else?? Ted, to me, is the one true person in this thing (cf. response to Betty somewhere below)

    Somewhere way back there Malryn mentioned if the neighbor got an oriental carpet, her aunt did, too, etc., and I agree with Carolyn that today’s society prizes superficial things. I don’t think we can discount the very real pushing that society does, it’s very subtle, and using the milieu of a museum was the perfect choice, as we learned from Thomas Hoving. (For those of you not here in our Books in 1998, Thomas Hoving, the former director of the Cloisters in NYC and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was absolutely wonderful when we had have lunch with and then to hear him speak at the Cloisters on how he acquired the Bury St. Edmund’s Cross). His book Making the Mummies Dance talks about the type of people Michael and Letty are having to associate with, and it’s clear the perfect stage was set for them. I agree with Hats and Harriet, as well, that Michael, caught up in the day to day …hope of great things was to blame, and that he and Margaret really were the double whammy on Letty but she, I repeat, destroyed him, too, she is not above censure and we will see her final censure at the end, and I wonder how you will feel about her then!

    I very much also liked Malryn’s comment that we forget how funny the book is. I sometimes vaguely worried that we might be losing the way at first, here’s this bright happy quicksilver funny book but in this section I think we’ve come a long way from bright happy and funny tho Letty has some wry lines but to me the funny is tinged with bitterness, she’s sad, her perspective has changed. Desperate. Big change, to me in this section.

    Nellie, that’s an excellent point that Letty is listening to Margaret, what makes Letty think that Margaret has the last word in high flying society? Margaret and Ted get their furniture from the street and Ted counts gum as an expenditure? Why does Letty endow Margaret with these powers??


    Now THIS is interesting:

    I also think that Margaret controls Lettie like a writer/author controls a character in a story, through her suggestions as to what Lettie should purchase and do

    Let me ask you all a very hard question? Who is controlling whom in this thing? If Letty STOPS writing these letters where is Margaret? Who is controlling whom?

    You think that Margaret lives vicariously through Letty’s emails, what a thought, Nellie!! It’s a symbiosis, which is the parasite that ends up killing the host?

    Oh Maryal, you are so sharp eyed, no I missed entirely the part where people might think her name would be Leslie or maybe Lexie. Thank you for the St. Augustine reference, and quotes!!

    Wow, “hidden want,” and “the more empty I was the more I loathed it.”

    "I befouled, therefore, the spring of friendship…and yet, foul and dishonourable as I was, I craved, through an excess of vanity to be thought elegant and urbane.”

    Wow. Little bit more to this book than a few laughs, huh?

    Definitely seems an appropriate allusion!

    June 19, 2003 - 02:19 pm
    Christina, this was fabulous, you say, “A big part of Margaret and Letty's problem--particularly Margaret's--is that they, being modern women, really can do and become whatever they're capable of--and this makes them put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to prove their capacity..”

    OK now here….here you touch on something that we’ve not discussed in that you’re saying that a person CAN do and become anything…but then you qualify that with “whatever they’re capable of.” And so…boy I loved this, “this makes them put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to prove their capacity. If you could become President, might you be considered a failure if you don’t?”

    But WHO SAYS you can become President? Why you and nobody else or why YOU and not your neighbor and who gives YOU the feeling that YOU are called to be President? Just because YOU want it? Does "luck" play any part? That's out of your hands, right?

    (May I say, Mrs. Schwarz, that that was a HECK of a post?) Thank you for that! And thank you for this, too, a SeniorNet Books Exclusive!!

    (This, by the way, is, as Letty would say never-before-revealed information.)

    I did think I would use that pretty much from the beginning--one friend stealing what another friend wrote was part of my original idea. Of course, I ran into problems with the form immediately. In books like Clarissa, for instance, the letter-writing characters record every moment of a scene, as if they were narrating a story (which, of course, they are), but that is, in fact, a very unnatural way to write a letter. If the letter-writer doesn't create a scene, however, than there really isn't a story anyone would be interested in reading. I looked at Michael Frayn's "The Trick of It"--now there's a well-done, modern epistolary novel--which helped me see that it's essential to capture the personality of the writer AND the reader in a letter, and also showed me the "trick" of interrupting a letter with the immediate events going on in the writer's life, breaking off, for instance, if someone has come to the door and then coming back to the letter to report on the visitor, to make the letter come to life.

    Thank you also for pointing out that Letty’s letter writing voice is put on especially for Margaret.

    That was some post, can’t WAIT to read your next book, very exciting to hear Revolutionary Road may have influenced it!

    Andrea, I can see you now arguing your points of a book with somebody who didn’t agree, hahahaah all of America will now be alert for a man approaching who asks about any of Christina’s books, if he approaches us our eyes will probably run in circles looking for her behind pole and post. Hahahaa

    I agree, Betty, Christina’s voice is very sophisticated as a writer and it’s VERY exciting to me to read it, just a thrill really, she’s something else. I must not gush I promised I would not. Ahahahha

    Carolyn, social situation too for your daughter? Wow, I have heard about dinners and situations where they gauge the applicant’s response and manners.

    But we can’t all be….we can’t all BE what we want, can we?

    I’d LOVE to be a famous author. Would love it, I am not thinking that will happen, if it doesn’t does it mean I was not capable of it? Snort?

    Callie, hahaha “Vanities?” hahahaah I love your takes on the discussion!

    C arolyn you raise an interesting perspective, do you think that Letty then is acting more on her own and less under the influence of Margaret? I’m trying to ask if Letty is the manipulator here after all?

    Harriet, excellent point on Michael’s part in all this. And this is so true, “Maybe Letty hardly needed Margaret on her back to encourage all their spending...because she had Michael leading a baying pack of dogs to destroy their lives right behind her selfish friend. Maybe even AHEAD of her selfish friend?”

    Y ou ask why she was so afraid to tell Michael about the bills and why she felt so guilty and alone? Wow super question! Let’s put it up in the heading!

    I would say offhand that Michael trusts her because she does the books, as Marvelle says, in that family. But what could she DO with him happily running amok?

    L OVED this:

    It leaves out a few things like his enthusiastic participation in their consumerism.

    G ood super perspective as always, our Harriet!!

    SOOO maybe it’s NOT all Margaret, after all. Maybe Letty is feeding her own ego and she simply can’t do it? A parable of consumerism, Margaret egging her on, she needs Margaret because she herself feels so alone?

    So she continues to fabricate her emails into stories. But her phone calls are different.

    M arvelle, thank you for explaining the SUV accident, the woman screeches about Letty backing up and Letty lets her? Why? Where was the policeman taking both statements? Where were the witnesses and why is Letty sleepwalking thru life totally out of control? I think you’re right, Letty is cowed by assumption, period. Goes back to her roots as a Larue, not being as good as Margaret’s family, which seems pretty odd, to me, I loved the “modern Margaret family perspective,” THAT’s more like The Corrections than RR was. Hahahaha

    G ood point, Betty, on what Letty would actually do with the truth, what would she DO with the information?? You, here, “What's on my mind is the price of withholding an honest reaction.” Are actually talking about the sin of omission? This IS important stuff, there’s a lot of important stuff in this book, I’m so glad we’re discussing it together.

    O K I have a REAL crisis here in that not only can I not upload (YET) to the server (nobody can) but I can’t add to Christina’s page of questions and although I have diligently copied each of your questions they are now lost in the million and one copies of your posts. May I ask you PLEASE to restate them to me in an email today? I’ll write you and ask? Any question you asked in your post which did not make the June 11 deadline and get up on the page, and is, in fact, not showing ON her page of Questions, will you please PLEASE email them to me so I can send them to her?

    Malryn, good for you with the walking, go for it@!@ I think Margaret chose writing because it’s one sure way to be immortal? It captures forever that you were here and what you said.

    Thank you also for bringing this up, “Remember, even ten thousand dollars over thirty years is only ninety-one cents a day" …that’s in the book a lot and I ‘ve never heard it before it seems specious to me, have any of you heard of that kind of reasoning? I laughed when she first said it, surely it’s a joke?

    Or is it?

    I agree Malryn on the humor, on Margaret’s part, anyway, with the spontaneously burst into flames or melt in a greasy puddle, actually that part there following the “although the word “mortification” suggests death, it does not actually cause it.” I (page 258) leads up, I believe to the climax of the book and I would like your impressions on whether or not you agree??

    And thank you for all those super instances of good writing, they are so real, the question on the 4 wheel drive, back in the days when you had to get OUT of the vehicle and change it physically is the only time I’ve ever known how to tell, by the way, so that’s not as comic a question as it might be tho I agree it’s wonderfully written. Each of the little comedic vignettes has a little whiff of truth about them that you can relate to. And Letty is NOT all wrong. The thing about musical instruction? I was shocked to hear (be alert all those of you with young children, grandchildren etc) my cello professor say about a month ago that a child can’t expect to take up cello in high school and major in it nor go on to a performing career. IN other words if you’re going to take strings, start early. (I guess there’s no hope for me?) hahaha Start early with strings, it develops the brain anyway, just heard a long thing on NPR about it, even different brain waves for performing versus learning, Malryn may have more to say on this)…anyway start YOUNG!!

    H ats, my youngest (who started violin at 4 hahaha) is busy working too, too busy to find a girlfriend, etc., works all day goes to school, he IS busy but I bet if the right girl came along he would be less busy!

    Frugal, I agree, that was a very realistic, actually, job situation that Michael has, so considering his situation what do you think of Letty’s attacking him as she did, and, essentially placing the blame for their entire existence on him? We can see his reaction? What do you think of her anger?

    Ok this I have to know have to know , Christina, have to know:

    (There’s something elegant in the way she writes to us, isn’t there?)


    Page 313:

    Had he noticed the sly way I’d structured a particular sentence so that it sequed into the next chapter?

    OK DID you do this in Vanity? If so I did not see it and want to give a prize to whoever does find it if it’s there? Are you speaking thru Margaret there to the reader?

    Talk about Inquiring Minds wanting to KNOW!!

    OOK here I go out on the end of the diving board, taking a chance (you might say I’m standing up in the roller coaster). Will I fall OUT?

    Climax. What is the climax of this book? This book does not have a Study Guide extant. WE will write one with your comments to add to our already burgeoning list of them when thru, but there’s nobody to tell us except the author (who of course is the best person anyway) IF we get this right, sweaty palms here on the keyboard.

    Climax. The point at which everything changes, there’s no turning back (Maryal am I half right?) and to which all the action builds up.

    I think the major turning point in the book occurred right after the Ashleigh Incident that Malryn mentioned, on page 258.

    And here it comes:

    “Ms Snyder?” (page 257)

    Anybody who has ever taught knows that sound and knows what comes after it, and in this case, the images of somebody who might “spontaneously burst into flames or melt in a greasy puddle at Ashleigh’s feet,” are perfect metaphors for almost unbearable (to Margaret’s eyes, anyway) mortification.

    (I have actually, when asked “Weren’t you Miss XXX,” said “no” when I look particularly bad hahaahahahah, but Margaret doesn’t have that choice, she’s stuck).

    (note the spelling of Ashley: Ashleigh)

    Margaret is mortified and humiliated. It’s the last straw.

    Ashleigh, already among the chosen. Ashleigh, who’d’ not even had to supply the self-defeating SASE to land her work in some of the most sough-after publications in the country….I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich at my desk and, driven purely by my envy of a twenty-two year old girl, added several paragraphs to Lexie’s story.”

    Here it comes….

    Until Ashleigh appeared at In My Dreams, [ Don’t you LOVE the irony there, the double entendre?] I ‘d had lingering qualms about Lexieing Letty. Whenever my pages had surged ahead, infused with Letty’s reactions, even sometimes with her own words, I’d reminded myself that this was only an exercise, a means of teaching myself how to create a character, a skill I would then apply to a far different character in far other circumstances. My reunion with my former student, however, wiped away all such niceties. A novel must be produced. Quickly. And this one was clearly under way.

    I believe at this point Margaret throws away her chance to retract what she’s doing, and abandons the pretense that she’s just “practicing,” and begins in earnest to steal, like the Thieves in Dante’s Inferno, the “tuum” which is somebody else’s identity, and co-opt it for her own (”meuum”) In the Inferno the Thieves paid a heavy price. I wonder, as Malryn says, if this will end in comedy or tragedy? I believe this is the point at which Margaret decides to steal deliberately, and she KNOWS she’s wrong, note:

    The story that was emerging from Letty’s e-mails was a parable of American consumerism. Like Madame Bovary, Lexie (why am I suddenly reminded of LexisNexis) was attempting to conjure for herself the elusive life she thought she glimpsed through other people’s French doors by copying their furnishings down to the doors themselves. It was a simple notion, really, but had it not led, at least once before, to a masterpiece?

    That it had also led to the agonizing demise of its protagonist was a detail I somehow managed to overlook.

    W e just read Madame Bovary here in our books, in French and in English. That paragraph is very interesting as it seems to me to combine both Margaret (the protagonist: would you say Margaret is the protagonist of this book) with Letty who desired to copy the French doors…(are there French doors in Letty’s life? I believe there ARE!) both want to have and to shine…Madame Bovary killed herself by swallowing arsenic, I believe she wanted to BE, and had a lingering hideous death, it will be interesting to see what happens here, we’re almost thru. (I hate that).

    Do you think this is the climax of the book or do you think there’s another one? Does it depend on whom you consider the protagonist? Dramatic tension, rising action, falling action and barely 50 pages left in our wonderful journey here. I hate for it to end.

    What do you think about any of the topics in the heading, DO you think that’s the climax, suggest your own topic, please email me any question you have for Christina so I can email them to her since I cannot upload them to her page?


    kiwi lady
    June 19, 2003 - 03:21 pm
    Here is a thought! Michael- I think Michael may be one of those men who shirk their responsibilities when it comes to the financial details of the partnership. This is an incidious type of behaviour. What it does is allow Michael to spend up large too but blame Letty because she is in charge of the money. I know men like this because their wives have told me about the problem they are having! Letty may have spoken to Michael (apologies Christina but as usual the characters become real to me) and he may have not wanted to even talk about finances. Maybe Michael has a lot of blame on his shoulders in reality about the financial mess he and Letty have got themselves into!


    betty gregory
    June 19, 2003 - 04:44 pm
    I keep thinking of head vs. heart....cognitions vs. emotions. What does anyone make of the seemingly polar opposite interests of Margaret and Letty.....Margaret with her cognitive goal of a book (thinking, brain, head) and Letty with her obsession with aesthetics (the pleasure in how things LOOK, the APPEARANCE of success through car, house, clothes, etc.). It's difficult not to notice the geographic regions chosen to match these polar interests.....New York and southern California. Of all the physical locations that could have been chosen, these two carry the strongest stereotypes, don't you think? Brainy New York vs. La La Land of the rich and beautiful. Writing a book vs. dressing up house and self.

    So, all bases are covered and they're all doomed. The pursuit of social acceptance through either cognitive or aesthetic achievement leads to the same emptiness, the same futility? All is futile, all is vanity.

    Of course, neither Letty nor Margaret reach "achievement," but maybe that's a companion message.....unless our heart is in what we're doing, unless we're engaged in the journey/process, our dreams for achievement.....are, what, doomed?, polluted?, compromised? tougher to complete?

    Hahahahaha. I don't know. I wrote the above, but it doesn't add up, exactly. I mean, it doesn't feel finished. What's missing?

    What is it, exactly, that's futile? Seeking acceptance (being worthy of notice) by conforming socially, doing what we think is required, sure, I can see the futility in this. Ok, but what of the people who DO reach a certain acceptance directly related to their achievements? Is the key difference motivation or intent? Yes, that fits. Example, voice no. 1. I thoroughly love teaching and have enjoyed being noticed and appreciated for my skills as a teacher. Voice 2. People always respect teachers, so I became a teacher.

    Next, my brain says back to me, aren't we all living more or less within (to some extent?) what society permits? The notice that Margaret anticipates....or the accomplishment that will bring exempt do we claim to be?

    Next, I'm thinking about studies on women and achievement that speak of a gender effect. This has been in the back of my mind since the first of the discussion, but I wasn't sure I wanted to "go there.". I remember reading that "badges of achievement" sometimes bridge the power gap between men and women. Patently unfair, yes, but a woman's business resume of socially sanctioned achievement (badges of achievement) could open the door to an interview. Maybe her math degree is from Princeton, which could make her seem equal to a male candidate whose degree is not from an elite school. Studies show that these perceptions are often not conscious....the most dangerous kind of discrimination, in my opinion.

    So, what am I saying. There are legitimate reasons, given the gendered world in which we live, to seek acceptance/notice in goals that might not be our heart's choice, but that pave the way to a final goal that is important to us. I can't see patterning a whole life in this way, but for a specific goal, it may be just smart politics. It also involves awareness. Margaret didn't have awareness.


    June 19, 2003 - 04:44 pm
    Great point, Carolyn. I'd said earlier that Letty put Michael in the category of being above the world, in his own stratosphere, and so she took care of the everyday concerns such as the budget; but it's true that Michael also puts himself in that stratosphere. It's a great way to avoid responsibility.


    kiwi lady
    June 19, 2003 - 04:56 pm
    Betty I am growing disgracefully old! Prefering tights T shirts and sweaters to pants suits and skirts. If I don't want to do my housework I read (no time for reading for so many years). I buy second hand furniture now not new. I surround myself with things I feel sentimental about ( clutter says my DIL). I have my house full of animals most of the time. I don't have the disposable income I once had now but I am not that much changed ( apart from never wearing the business suits I had to wear) I never cared much about houses. We had big boats and a very ordinary house. Loved taking to the Gulf- wearing ragged shorts and TShirts watching the stars so bright in the sky away from the city lights. Liked the solitude, collecting shellfish and making meals out of what we gathered, fishing, and just being close to nature. I like the leaves to stay on the back lawn I like things wild not manicured. Its nice to be able to not give a hoot! My mum is worried however and gives me really nice clothes so I don't disgrace her when I go to her house. To mum to be beautiful, well dressed and having a hectic social life with loads of superficial friends is the be all and end of of life. Me, three or four really good friends, my computer, my animals, my books, my trees and birds that is riches to me! I never go without and I thank God he always seems to provide.


    June 19, 2003 - 05:05 pm
    Ahha--The point of no return strikes again! I think it happens a little earlier, back when Margaret writes the five pages, three of which (or maybe it was two) are stolen from Lettie. When I read that, I saw nothing but more theft. I suppose it could have turned around, but I was pretty sure that it wouldn't. She has taken the first false step, and it works. She will go on.


    kiwi lady
    June 19, 2003 - 05:26 pm
    Yep Maryal - the second time will be easier and the third easier still. On the road to betrayal!

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 19, 2003 - 07:31 pm

    I had a very strong feeling that this novel was at a real turning point when Margaret found the box in the attic and Letty's camp letters, but for me the climax comes four pages beyond this week's limit. I just realized that, so deleted what I had said about it on this post. Oh, well.

    Ginny, about music: That's your teacher's opinion, and I agree only partially. One can certainly major in music in college after first taking up an instrument in high school. My college roommate majored in music just as I did. I had twelve years of music study behind me when I first went to college; she had only a few. Her aim was not to be a performing musician, but to learn and use what she learned about harmony, counterpoint, theory, analysis, composers and what they wrote. If you want to end up playing in Carnegie Hall, as very few musicians do, it takes more than practice, practice, practice. It takes an overwhelming urge to be a performer that's almost an obsession. That my roommate did not have. I did, and performer I was.

    As a former music teacher focusing on the piano ( only one of my "careers" ! ) I think a child is too young at age four to learn an instrument because the hands are not fully developed; neither is the ability to transfer what the mind says to the fingers.

    People like Mozart are few and far between. Six or seven is what I always suggested as a good age to begin. I had adult students who had never studied, and after a year or two, they were able to play well enough that they satisfied their need to play music, and play they did.

    I was so pleased that Callie posted the Edith Wharton quote about happiness, especially since I had posted essentially the same thing. It's not settling for less when one opts for contentment rather than happiness, and it's not settling for less when a woman says, "Rather than aiming for the White House, I'll be the best lawyer I can." When I was in high school I wanted to write and produce musical shows, and I did -- successfully. Not on Broadway, though. Some people's goals are blown all out of proportion. I think Margaret's and Letty's were.

    Ginny, I know why Margaret chose writing ( I think! ), but it's one of the most difficult fields in which to succeed, for all the reasons I gave earlier.

    Funny, I had always thought of California as the place where there were the most creative, cognitive brains. California to me, as I visited various universities and talked to people there, seemed freer, less restricted than New York does. To me New York City is a place of business now. Writers can write anywhere as long as they can afford to buy a pencil or pen and a pad of paper -- even in North Carolina.


    betty gregory
    June 20, 2003 - 03:13 am
    Mal, several things.....

    On California. I was giving the stereotype of southern California. (I did say "southern California" and "stereotype.") The generalities (and stereotypes) of northern California would be similar to those of New York, I suppose.

    I think I remember Christina saying that her choice of cities held little relevance to the story....but, I still had to notice how they seemed to match the separate Margaret and Letty stories. I mean, where else but La La Land and where else but New York.....their stereotypes include exaggerations and our story is about exaggerations......

    On what a woman can be. I heartily agree with your statement "'s not settling for less when a woman says, "Rather than aiming for the White House, I'll be the best lawyer."

    It's funny. As a culture, we might see women in a larger range of roles, but that doesn't mean getting there is barrier-free. Even less has changed for men....the range of roles for men hasn't changed that much and those who attempt a non-traditional role still encounter many barriers....this, despite saying how wonderful it would be and how much we need fathers more involved in their children's lives.

    On "happiness".....what you write about contentment for yourself sounds so interesting; it's clear that you've put a lot of thought into it. It has never occurred to me to find a more specific way to describe levels of happiness. The word must have a more amorphous quality to me. Recently, and this is just for me, an absence of physical and mental pain means happiness. The relief is so great. Also, and thank goodness for it, because it's always been this way.....when I do feel happy, it's a deep, certain, life-affirming, familiar memory of who I am. I count on that, especially when circumstances outside myself cause so much heartache.


    Carolyn, oooohhhh, I love the description of your comfortable, indiviualized life style. More power to you!!

    On the letter dilemma, which touched me so much and rang a few personal bells, here are my first thoughts (I often trust my first thoughts).......(a)You probably already know the answer, (b) Are you certain you can't go in person? Unless the two of you have a long history of good letter writing, an in-person visit has a better chance for a spontaneous revelation, if there is going to be one. Also, there are many ways a feeling might be revealed besides words. (c) Maybe there are things you need to say (write?), no matter what his response might be?? Things you need to say for you?? (d) Love, as I think of it, is about behavior. I like the plaques that say, "Love is a verb."


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 20, 2003 - 05:06 am

    Betty, I love this: "Love is a verb." Yes, it is.

    In an earlier post I mentioned what opera singer Beverly Sills said when asked if she was happy. She said, "No, I'm not happy. I'm cheerful and I'm content." It seems to me that many people think happiness is living in a kind of rapture on a Cloud Nine. This is too great an expectation that's bound to be temporary and ephemeral. People seem unable to realize that contentment is enduring and brings more peace than that sort of happiness ever could.

    I know what you mean when you say, "Recently . . . an absence of physical and mental pain means happiness." For me contentment is much easier to realize when there is a lessening of physical pain, not an absence because for me there never is an absence of it. Lessening of physical pain in my life means lessening of mental pain, too.

    What Margaret and Letty think will bring them happiness is an exaggerated idea, I think. I doubt if Margaret ever thought about what would happen if her book was published and did make the best seller list, and she became famous for the "fifteen minutes" purportedly allowed to us. How would she feel, and what would she do after the applause died down; people read her book, then went on to something else, like the next best seller by somebody else? Would she have the determination and stamina to write another novel so she could feel the same thing over again?

    What about Letty? I think Letty's and Michael's compulsion to buy, buy, buy is like being addicted to alcohol. One drink is never enough; there always has to be more, and even that is not enough. If this pattern continues, it is harder and harder to achieve the high a person addicted to alcohol or drugs or credit card buying wants. Is Letty able to stand withdrawal should she finally decide to sober up and come down cold turkey from the drug of consumerism? Is she able to do without her fix? Will Margaret be able to if she sells a successful book?


    June 20, 2003 - 05:21 am
    Oh good another climax, now we have three, and Malryn hints at a possible 4, let me get the three Points of No Return in the heading, does anybody see another possibility? Am struggling now with my Stevens/ Margaret parallels since the author has clearly said...Margaret is doing things now for the opinion of others (in that way she matches Letty) when at first she did them only for herself. That's a change. But Stevens was, too. The ISSUE is...the issue is did Stevens knowingly do wrong? Remember the guy who questioned him, SURELY you saw, SURELY you knew, you aided and abetted Lord whatever, no said Stevens, I didn't. Yes said Margaret I did! THEREIN may lie the difference but I'm not through worrying THAT bone, just wanted to throw that in? (If you haven't read The Remains of the Day I apologize for this intrusion, do read it? You'll not regret it)

    BACK in a mo with more on what YOU said, anybody else see a major turning point (climax) in the book>?

    Let's draw BACK (Malryn I believe he was talking about strings and as you say a career in "Performance" only, that's his focus, he has to turn away high school hopefuls from majors, I guess that hurts, and he's trying to warn future cellists, not the personal enjoyment angle, hahaha after all, he's still got me there haahahha)...Let's draw BACK and look at the major characters dispassionately? Who changes and why, if we can?

    Back in a mo!@


    June 20, 2003 - 08:42 am
    I think the main climax of the story is yet to come, and it will be an action not influenced by any outside source.

    June 20, 2003 - 08:57 am
    Margaret finally gets a clear realization of her perfidy toward Letty on p. 313. Ted tells her what she has longed to hear. He praises her novel. Then he adds: "It's really very good, Margaret. On every other page I just wanted to jump in and warn those poor people."

    Loyal Ted has decided to back up his wife's yearnings even though he's uncomfortable with what she's doing. It doesn't seem to occur to him that he could praise her writing and still question her on her use of Letty's situation. Somehow, when he makes his decision to SUPPORT Margaret and HELP her betray Letty and Michael, it brings Margaret's own perfidy into totally clear focus to HERSELF. Maybe she needed to see her own behavior acted out by another person to get an unbiased look at the extent of her betrayal.

    "Blood rushed into my head at those words. My ears rang, as if Ted had struck me. Finally, however, I realized one key fact. It was not Jeanette who was Letty's enemy. It was I."

    Ginny, you were mulling over the nature of ambition. Can we all be what we want, you asked? Must we all try to achieve what we are CAPABLE of? If only we could all figure out what we're REALLY capable of...?

    I feel the line between ambition and wishful thinking is a blurry one and lots of the troubles that people have throughout their lives stem from their problems in finding a reasonable definition that is right for themselves.

    There are millions of people in this country, but there is only ONE President of the USA. If we all insisted on aiming at being President and considered any lesser life accomplishment as a personal failure of our capabilities, we're sure setting ourselves up for grief and depression. We have to accept thst people have different capabilities. Yet there's nothing wrong with attempting to better ourselves, right?

    So how do we find our own personal definition of accomplishment? And isn't that definition modified by what each of us needs to feel content and to have a satisfying personal life while we're pursuing OUR kind of excellence? There are so many variables to choose among in our life and attitudes that it's a miracle MORE of us aren't a Letty or Margaret...aspiring unrealistically and making ourselves miserable by grabbing for things that are out of reach, or things that ultimately make us unhappy because we're trying to meet what we believe is society's concept of "SUCCESS", with a capital "S".

    Letty and Michael just can't get their concepts straight about the difference between what they WANT and what they NEED. Later, as their money problems proliferate, they have more difficulty figuring out an even tougher problem. How do they choose between what they can AFFORD and two or more things they actually NEED, like a child's college fund or braces on a child's teeth? Unfortunately, it's possible for them to be in a position where they have completely legitimate needs, but few are affordable. They have some rough times ahead of them.

    Oh gosh, too long....


    June 20, 2003 - 10:11 am
    Re: Ambition and Margaret

    Remember when Margaret wanted to dump her novel and wondered about medical or law school for a productive career? Remember how Ted squashed her? He told her that it was "too late." I've been thinking about that.

    Like many of you, I feel it's never too late for Margaret to undertake a change. But maybe it was too late for Margaret to start another major life change within the context of her marriage? If one of us had a spouse with a consistent history of short-lived, uncompleted ambitions...if that spouse's ambitions operated with a strong dose of unreality mixed with wishful thinking...if you've ALREADY backed her to the max with her yearning to write a novel, maybe, just maybe, enough is enough? Maybe it's HER turn to prove HER loyalty and determination by taking some courses at night while working at a day job? Maybe it's up to Margaret to prove her dependability instead of Ted going out on a limb for her again?

    There were many wonderful touches about Margaret's problems resolving ambition vs. reality in the book. I loved the scene after she throws her novel down the air shaft and then makes a few future plans.

    "In the morning, I would convince Ted to leave New York for someplace more wholesome and together we could do something that didn't stink of ambition. We could open a bed and breakfast in Oregon or a diner in Ohio. We could bake pies..."

    Oh Yes! What a multitude of fantasy ambitions! She wants to write the GAN, go to med school or law school, run a bed and breakfast and operate a diner? Maybe she can be a ballet dancer and the president of the US too? Margaret thinks like a very young child where ambition is concerned, She's a lovable, selfish menace.

    Margaret fantasizes about pulling up stakes and sees nothing wrong in urging Ted to abandon his job... their sole remaining source of income... to invest in a field that neither of them knows anything about! She's finally upset over betraying Letty, but she's essentially unchanged...still unable to distinguish between her fantasies of what she is or isn't able to do.

    She's infantile, she's basically good-hearted...and THAT'S when she promises Letty the money from a novel that no one has agreed to publish. Margaret is just unable to distinguish between what she would LIKE to see happening and reality.


    June 20, 2003 - 10:44 am
    I found it totally crazy when Ted told Margaret that it was too late to go to law school! She's in her thirties for heaven's sake. I know several people who have started law school in their forties, one in her fifties.

    Perhaps Ted is just worried about what law school will COST? And the time it will consume? If Margaret were to go to law school, it would be a number of years before she would be contributing to the household income.

    But we don't have enough information, really, to figure out Ted's remark. At least I don't.

    June 20, 2003 - 11:29 am
    Maryal, Margaret had a history of getting enthusiastic about a goal and then losing steam. She doesn't complete things that she starts. Ted has already seen her difficulties and evasions about the progress of her novel by the time this scene occurs. He now has reason to be suspicious about his wife's dedication when things get tough.

    It's absolutely true that the same amount of time will pass no matter how many years it takes for her to go through law or med school. I don't think that's the issue in this particular case. I think Ted has been learning more about his wife's lack of persistence since she quit her teaching job. Ted behaved admirably when Margaret wanted to quit work and write a novel.

    Maybe now it's up to Margaret to show that she can stick to a goal before she gets an all out offer of support? I agree that a man of Ted's temperament would definitely be worried about the money.

    Sure, I also agree with you that she can try for law or med school, but maybe she should work and contribute to the family income while taking some preliminary courses at night? Then they could BOTH see if her determination holds up? Maybe it's HER turn to do extra exertions to fulfill her ambitions.

    I feel it would be nuts of Ted to go all-the-way in supporting a new ambition until SHE gets her act together. Within the context of their marriage, and in view of Margaret's demonstrably poor ability to evaluate her own capabilities, It IS too late for her to expect the same all-out support she got for writing her novel. I think Ted has been bitten by Margaret's ambition and he's now wary.

    Anyhow, that's how I interpret Ted's "too late" response.


    June 20, 2003 - 12:08 pm
    Harriet, now, I understand Ted's words "It's too late." I understand what you are saying fully.

    At first, I thought his words were too harsh. Still, I get a cold chill writing those three words down. Maybe he used a poor choice of words. I think Ted should have given Margaret some options. His choice of words really, really bother me.

    I don't think he meant to sound so harsh. I think he spoke without thinking. I think when we speak impulsively we are bound to say something that is too cold. What could he have said? I don't know. I do know he could have said something that didn't sound so final. It's like he's telling her to give up any future goals.

    I think Ted is a very understanding and encouraging husband, but in one split moment, he came down too hard. His choice of words makes me think of the importance of how we speak our thoughts.

    Like Ted, usually, I speak impulsively. Through hurting others in the past, I have learned to run in the bedroom and bite my tongue before I blurt out the wrong words. Words that don't encourage us stay with us longer than words that encourage.

    Without this moment, Ted would have seemed like a perfect character. Christina Schwarz, I think, used this moment, these words, to make us realize that even the most perfect person can make a mistake. Ted, to be human, had to be flawed in some way.

    June 20, 2003 - 12:11 pm
    The Genslen stock failure:Letty's financial loss: Letty's attitude" you win some, you lose some". It was Margaret's idea but her decision. Excusing Margaret for the financial loss. Forgiveness in the name of friendship?

    Margaret experiencing guilt: Feels guilty about encouraging Letty in her expenditures. Egging her on to pursue a life to make her feel equal to her friends. She will need to make amends for her role in this disaster. Guilt as a motivator for resolution of the problem to achieve forgiveness and maintain the friendship?

    Letty coping with the debts: Returning the expensive Persian carpet for a partial refund of money and sustaining a large monetary loss. Considering returning of some expensive furniture. Finally destroying the majority of her 14 credit cards. Her car repossessed for non payment. Needing to use her employer's car to perform her job as associate event's coordinator. Has decided to sell the house. The down ward spiral of achievements begin for Letty ( chap. 17 ). I really felt sorry for her.

    June 20, 2003 - 12:59 pm
    Hats, I think you're right about the impulsive harshness of Ted's words.

    Ted is a guy who counts the expenditure of PENNIES in his ledger. He must have gotten really uncomfortable with the thought of all the dollars that Margaret would need for law school. He may have dreaded the thought of an indefinite period of financial hardship? Yet he's generally a supportive husband and might even have changed his stance if Margaret had behaved differently.

    What is Margaret's responsibility here? Should she only undertake an ambition when the conditions are perfect? She COULD have contradicted Ted. She overcame his objections when she wanted a year off to write a novel, didn't she? If she really were determined, she could have allayed Ted's skepticism by working in the day time and starting some classes at night. Difficult...but not impossible?

    Margaret gave up the instant Ted indicated his emotions ...and she never brought the subject up again. Again the question of Margaret's determination arises.

    The thing is, I'm not sure if Margaret really wanted law school, or if she merely wanted a prestigious, ego-saving OUT from the difficulties of novel writing.


    Nellie Vrolyk
    June 20, 2003 - 01:39 pm
    Am here reading all the good posts and thinking about some of the questions...

    Mal, I love this: "People seem unable to realize that contentment is enduring and brings more peace than that sort of happiness ever could." Beautifully put. For a very long time in my life I have been content and at peace.

    Since Vanity is a book in part about a woman who wants to achieve fame and immortality through writing a novel, I think this question of mine is not too much off-topic. I was just wondering why it is that almost every person, when they want to become famous and gain some type of immortality, thinks of writing a book?

    But the one's who do write, often do it more for their own pleasure -like me- than with thoughts of fame and fortune in mind. They write because the stories are there and they must come out into the light of day.

    Ginny, very good question. Whom controls whom? Does Margaret control Lettie, or vice versa? For her book to exist Margaret needs Lettie's e-mail letters, and if they stopped coming the book would grind to a halt. But Margaret's 'prodding' Lettie to go further and further inti depth provides the conflict and tension in the book she is writing, and without that there also would not be a book.

    Perhaps neither one truly controls the other?

    A few thoughts at random as usual.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 20, 2003 - 03:01 pm

    I think what's between Margaret and Letty is dependency.

    Margaret gives Letty something which is different. "Margaret always had to be different." (Page 57) On her own Letty would never be able to do some of the rather audacious things Margaret does, like sneak on the tennis court or quit a good job to write a novel. Christina successfully blew holes in my hypothesis that Letty is writing letters to herself, so at this point in time, Margaret gives Letty an audience for her letters. Letty needs these things, and Margaret provides them for her.

    Letty has given Margaret a kind of prosaic stability in the past. She also gives (or gave) Margaret a contentment she has in herself and her life that Margaret has never had because she's never satisfied with what she is. Letty is also a very convenient patsy for Margaret. She'll do anything Margaret tells her to do. Of course, now Letty is giving Margaret her book. Margaret needs these things, and Letty provides them for her.

    I was not at all perturbed at what Ted said to Margaret when she suggested either going to medical school or law school. I thought it was right in character. Ted appears to be a practical man, and, to my mind at least, Margaret's suggestion was pretty far-fetched. She didn't want to do the apprenticeship at a corporation job, and she didn't want to get an education degree, (Page 30) so she took a job with a private school that required neither, which would would tide her over "until I decided on my true career." (That translates to me: "When I grow up.") Ted knows knows darned well that Margaret would not be able to face the tedium of studying law or have the stick-to-itiveness to get a law degree. It was too late for her to be many things because unless something really drastic happens, Margaret is not going to change, and Ted knows it.

    Harriet has mentioned some things which come after Page 315, the stopping point for this week. Since she has, I want to talk about what I think the climax is, or one of them, and what I wrote and deleted this morning.

    Margaret throws her manuscript down the airshaft.(Page 316) "So I won't be a writer," she decides. An email comes from Letty about the deep financial hole she's in, and Margaret decides she'll give the advance for the book-which-has-no-publisher to Letty as her redemption. She can't retrieve the printed manuscript, but she can and does retrieve her files in the computer and begins writing the final chapters of the book. Margaret had a chance truly to redeem herself, but blows it by convincing herself she'll save Letty, the one she's helped destroy. I think this is the point of no return.


    June 20, 2003 - 07:04 pm
    Callie what an intriguing statement, you mean there’s a 5th possible climax? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many submissions on the turning point which influences every other action in the book from which there’s no turning back in any other discussion except House of Sand and Fog, love it.

    Can’t wait to see what you think it is and Malryn have put yours up, too, I love thinking about all these delicious possibilities!

    Harriet, when Ted said what he did, about wanting to jump in and help, do you think that he suspected? He knew Letty’s situation, right?

    I am so glad to see you all talking about Ted and Michael, it interests me the way the characters are described in the book or how they are presented (for instance do you notice that Michael almost always "speaks" only through Letty's description?) ...and what that might mean?

    For instance, Margaret’s actual acts of betrayal are reported to us by... Letty. As responses in Letty’s letters. Almost all the time? Only once do we see an email of Margaret’s a direct email, very short very sharp, can anybody find it? And what that might mean?

    I loved Harriet zoning in on what caused Margaret’s realization of her own sin: the irony of Ted (or was it) saying that he had compassion for the Lexie family when Margaret had caused it (or had she) in real life.

    I loved this, Harriet: There are so many variables to choose among in our life and attitudes that it's a miracle MORE of us aren't a Letty or Margaret THAT is so true.
    ...aspiring unrealistically and making ourselves miserable by grabbing for things that are out of reach, or things that ultimately make us unhappy because we're trying to meet what we believe is society's concept of "SUCCESS", with a capital "S".
    So would you say one of the cautionary lessons of this book IS...what??

    Harriet, you are a fearsome analyst, this was likewise fine: “She's finally upset over betraying Letty, but she's essentially unchanged...still unable to distinguish between her fantasies of what she is or isn't able to do.”

    This Margaret is just unable to distinguish between what she would LIKE to see happening and reality. is strange, and wonderful: how sure…how sure is the grasp of any of us ON reality? Really? Is THIS real? Are WE real here? How do you know I’m from South Carolina? I might live in New Mexico? What constitutes REALITY, isn’t it just in YOUR own perceptions? Your reality might not be mine.

    Maryal, Ted stopped ME in my tracks, too, by saying “it’s too late.” I recall my own husband telling me something of the sort when I was 37. You can’t have everything, he said. I cried. Why not? Why ever not? Why can’t I have it all? Maybe Ted meant it was too late for them? He couldn’t support any more of her dreams by himself, still, it IS startling, great point! How do you see Ted?

    I really liked Harriet’s take (and I won’t keep on repeating her but do, Everybody, read the last two paragraphs of 345 again) on Ted’s position on Margaret, doesn’t it remind you of the song:
    When are you going to come down?
    When are you going to land?
    I should have stayed on the farm, I should have listened to my old man.

    You ought to hear Mr. Anderson on the subject of projects taken up and discarded, I very much like Harriet’s implication that it would be nuts for Ted to support a new ambition like he did the writing, very well said! He's supportive but he's a realist, too, they have to live. I had missed the implications of her saying let's move away from it all, that's super work, Harriet!

    Gosh Hats, what a thought, “Words that don't encourage us stay with us longer than words that encourage.” It's funny how I remember Ted's "It's too late," more than any other in the book so far, too. LOVED your take on why Ted said these words, he had to be flawed, too, and if you all have read the Interview in the heading you see she deliberately made Letty flawed! Let’s read the rest in the next few days and then the interview, I think you will have tons of questions on it, alone!

    Frugal, good POINT on the forgiveness in the name of friendship!! You hit the nail on the head there, who is the most forgiving, I wonder, in this book.

    I felt sorry for Letty, too, because it seems real, I keep wondering where the phone bill is, I’m very bad with bills, can’t imagine seeing your car towed away, but you see it on the news all the time. I feel sorry for all of them, actually. Is it a tragi-comedy? Is it a tragedy? We’re about to find out? Where do you suspect, if you have not looked ahead, this is going?

    Nellie, good point, why do people think of writing a book, there are other ways to be famous: you are saying Margaret’s motivation is wrong! It’s Vanity. Good point on the co dependency articulated so well by Malryn too!

    Malryn, don’t you love when you have to change your own theories, I do, but I struggle to the end too with them@ hahaah Trying to make them fit, still struggling with one. Oh I liked your thoughts on Margaret is not going to be able to change! Is Letty going to change? Will they be different when they’re older and wiser? Will any of these characters change as a result of this life experience? I know quite a few people in their late 30’s who think it’s “too late.” WE know it’s not? But I’ve heard 20 something’s say the same thing, it’s typical of that age, but WE know it’s never too late till you’re dead.

    OK we have Margaret’s “mortification” paralleled in Letty’s humiliation with the carpet, (there are actually a LOT of parallels in this thing) and it WAS some kind of humiliation, wasn’t it? and it really rang true, with me. I loved that scene, it was so real, and it of course reminded me of similar incidences (thankfully rare) in my own life, boy that was a good scene.

    THIS was a jolt: “I was all for giving credit where credit was due: I took a break from the novel and set to work on a draft of my acknowledgement, expressing my thanks to Letty.”….(page 299)…? Ouch, what do you call that? Irony? And that’s right before a passage in which Margaret expresses a twinge of conscience saying she can’t bear to “watch” much more and she was glad Letty would be getting the money.

    OK can somebody explain what has caused Margaret to feel this way?

    Page 266:

    I glanced through the bedroom door at Ted sleeping undisturbed beside the mass of comforter and smashed pillow that marked where I had been. I was overwhelmed suddenly with a sense of loneliness so powerful it brought tears to my eyes.

    Why? This is the second time I have noticed Margaret remarking on this strong sense of loneliness, do you know WHY she feels it here? What does this mean? I’ll go find the first time (were there others?) these things seem in parallels for a reason, I want to know why? Does anybody know??

    Out of time, more tomorrow!


    June 20, 2003 - 08:33 pm
    Oh Mal, Ginny, everyone...I DID jump the gun on this week's pages! Mea culpa...I apologize. I should have checked more carefully.

    Thank you, Mal, for bringing it to my attention.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 21, 2003 - 05:28 am

    Good morning, everyone. I had an interesting talk about plagiarism with a friend who called me last night. He maintains that Margaret's lifting of what's in Letty's emails for her book is not plagiarism because emails are substitutes for face-to-face conversation like phone conversations, not intellectual property like what is found on a web page and what's in my electronic literary magazines, for example. He said that if a writer uses the content of a phone or email conversation in her or his book, it's perfectly all right, just as it's all right if a writer uses a face-to-face conversation in her or his writing. It's an interesting premise and something to think about. What Margaret did was certainly ethically wrong, but was it legally wrong?

    Margaret's taking of Letty's letters and putting them verbatim in her book is legally wrong in this way, though. It constitutes breaking of copyright laws. According to copyright laws, anything that is written in an email is the copyrighted property of the person who originally wrote the email.

    If anyone forwards an email to someone else without first receiving permission of the person who wrote that email, copyright laws have been broken, and the forwarder could be subject to lawsuit on the part of the writer of that email. The same is true if anyone copied an email verbatim, pasted it to another email and sent it to another person without permission of the author of the email. Taking a sentence or two or a paragraph and quoting it and giving the source is not against copyright laws.

    Many people do not know this, though I've told many people about it. As a publisher on the web it has to be my business to know something about copyright laws. Mine is only one small voice among millions, though.

    What my friend said to me last night has made me think, though, since a lot of what I've said about Margaret and ways I've felt about her were based on the idea I had that she committed plagiarism, something that is very offensive to me.


    June 21, 2003 - 06:01 am
    Harriet, Malryn, not a problem!! We changed the pages, actually, originally they ran thru 336, and I think we do need that information in order to form our own theories here.

    Well, tomorrow's the beginning of the last week, and we're nearly at an end. What a ride!

    My own life has careened out of control right along with the events in the discussion, (not bill wise or purchase wise) but out of control nevertheless and just as it's finally getting itself back into shape, all hotels in Europe booked save one, dog came thru surgery sort of OK, NOW at last I can concentrate on what we’re doing, you’ve all been champs!!

    We're at the last 50 or so pages. Did you see in the interview Christina wrote this ending following the birth of her son in a fog because she had a contract and had to finish it? I simply can’t believe she could do this under those circumstances!? See, again, that's something I did not know, you'd think they could wait, wouldn't you? I don't know squat about the world of publishing, but it seems it's a REAL job with deadlines no matter WHAT your own personal situation, like the birth of your first child for Pete’s sake, maybe Margaret was aiming in the right direction, after all?

    If YOU were writing this book, and you had all this momentum going and tension, how would you bring an end to it? I am wondering if the end is going to be telling, also, in more than one way?!

    Here's Margaret's one and only email, at least it's the only one I can find. (Page 275). On page 274, in another one of those curious and unique parallels with the Lexie book and Letty’s life (you are never really sure if the author is talking to YOU the reader about her own book or Margaret is talking only about Lexie: as a literary device it’s quite intriguing and I have asked Christina about one place where she says she continued a sentence into a new chapter, want to know IF that actually happens IN Vanity).. but anyway Margaret, musing on Lexie’s purchase of Genlock…

    Once she’d purchased the stock however, it wasn’t very interesting to watch her simply keep track of her growing fortune on the monthly statements. There’s only so much a writer can do with the opening of an envelope, the satisfied nod. The sips of black decaf while pondering: should I sell now or hold? I stretched various poker metaphors this way and that; I put a letter opener shaped like a tiny saber in her hand; I let one statement get lost in the mail for a few tense days, but the chapter drew dull, Robert-like. I sent an e-mail. “Letty,” it read, “what’s going on over there?”

    This is the ONLY time I can see Margaret directly asking Letty for information, or prodding her directly? And I want to know why?

    For instance we’re doing a pretty fair job so far, I hope, of Lit crit on this thing, we’ve talked about Point of View, Voice, Plot, Tone, Humor, Theme, Climax, various literary allusions, but here we have…Maryal is it a conceit? Of an author describing the writing of a book WHILE writing it. You can see the author describing the judicious use of metaphor, the careful choice of phrase, and that makes me want to be sure I have not missed something. I fear we have. What, in fact, do you think we may need to look at that we have not talked about?

    I’m going to say what my theory is and I’ve lost more theories in this book than I have won. We start out in Margaret’s head. Who of us has not secretly wished for our 15 minutes of fame? Who of us has not wanted to write a book, secretely? Margaret is funny, she’s charming, we pull for her in the first part of the book, even tho we may shake our heads, we pull for her. Then she changes, instead of regarding the praise of others (I still contend, she may as a child have been interested in doing things because she WANTED to but she got something out of it, too) and in her adulthood she wants that feeling again, teaching does not completely do it for her: she wants it again. So we’re in Margaret’s head and we like her, and so when she does start to do wrong we don’t want to believe it and we want to shift it to Letty and so it’s thru LETTY’s’ letters that we see Margaret doing wrong: it’s as if the author also wishes to protect Margaret against our harshest criticism, she’s protected, but she’s always been open with us, about who she is and how she feels; it really is a very subtle delicious thing happening.

    It’s LETTY who is really getting the shaft, why? What was her overweeing sin? Let’s look at the “Carpet Incident” on page 308, and look at Letty…and who she really IS caught in strain? I think Letty is fascinating, let’s look at her this last day (I keep SAYING this but Margaret consumes us all!!)

    So far I would have to say Letty is the innocent in this thing, caught between her own husband and Margaret, LOOK at her wanting to stop the “dancing” which the clapping did produce in the store. Did you think the Carpet Owner’s mocking her was an exaggeration? Or not? Why is that in there, we have learned at this point, if not from the author then from Margaret, that nothing is here haphazardly.

    It’s a measure, to me, of the strength Margaret has, she really IS a strong presence in the world of literary figures) that Letty ALSO has to change for the worse: if she didn’t Margaret would really look like a louse, right? Letty has to change so that, even in her perfidy, Margaret can shine. That’s my take on it, what’s yours??

    Can’t WAIT to see what you come up with tomorrow!

    (PS: Just read the Kirkus review of this book which keeps referring to "Lydia," it's a nasty spririted review but I didn't see a Lydia in the text and I sure as heck don't see a parallel with Madame Bovary, other than the one the author mentioned in the text: if the reviewer can't even get the names of the characters straight, how can the reader trust him/ her? Madame Bovary killed herself in a particularly nasty way. April Wheeler did the same, with a twist: she took a chance, she risked it all, she trusted in luck: she misunderstood. Margaret is lucky she's married to Ted and not Frank Wheeler (hope I recall that right). Is that going to happen here? Do you fear that?)

    We will write our own review of this book, and we'll do our own Reader's Guide and we'll have our own page of Author Comments, and when we write the review we'll call the characters by their correct names, as we've taken the time to read, mark, and inwardly digest this very intriguingly presented unique powerful book.


    June 21, 2003 - 06:05 am
    What my friend said to me last night has made me think, though, since a lot of what I've said about Margaret and ways I've felt about her were based on the idea I had that she committed plagiarism, something that is very offensive to me.

    Malryn, that is SUCH an important point! It touches everything here, actually. IS what she did so bad? The "borrowing and enlarging on a real life experience?" IS it bad at all? Where do you draw the line when you "borrow" a life experience, aren't you supposed to "write what you know?" and does it having first as you say BEEN in email change the "borrowing" into plagarism? Wonderful point especially today with all the charges of plagarism rampant in the country.

    IS this borrowing itself worse than what she did to Letty? Or....pushed Letty to do? I think that is a VERY important point there, I am loving all the converstaions on right and wrong this book presents, I, too, am arguing with friends about it. ahahahah Thanks for raising that!


    June 21, 2003 - 08:01 am
    She is not borrowing, she's stealing. She is deliberately misappropriating Letty's life. I see it as plagiarism and plunder. She took possession of Letty's personal life for her own gratification and use. It's theft. There was no permission granted!

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 21, 2003 - 08:38 am

    I don't consider Margaret's taking of what Letty wrote "borrowing", either. Borrowing implies return of the items borrowed, and that would not ever happen. How could it?

    However, I don't think Margaret ever thought what she was doing was stealing. Any guilt she had was over the fact that she did not have the talent as a writer to write something original, and that she pushed Letty to continue and even increase the destructive things she was doing, while at the same time continuing and increasing destructive behavior toward herself.

    In point of fact, how many writers really do write anything that's original? While browsing through various discussions here, I see many similarities among the books being discussed and have seen such similarities among books many times before.

    Life is not ever black or white; it's shades of gray. There are so many gray areas in this book that it's hard to tell here what or who is right or wrong. Laws cover what injure people and who or what injured them. In this case, both Margaret and Letty are the injured parties, not just one.


    betty gregory
    June 21, 2003 - 12:04 pm
    Ok, think of a time in your life when everything seemed to be going down hill, a time that gives you the shivers just to think about, a time about which very few people know the painful details. For the purpose of this hypothesis, let's say that that awful period ended about 6 months ago. This morning you learned that your close friend Maggie confiscated all the details of this painful time in your life and produced it in story form as a work of fiction....a novel.

    The primary issue here is friendship, not legal questions. Now, on top of that wretched time so recently endured is a betrayal of friendship.

    I'm afraid if it happened to me, I'd be asking myself, was this ever the friendship I thought it was? How could someone I counted on as an intimate friend be so thoroughly insensitive to my needs, be so sneaky to do this without attempting to ask permission?

    I'd be thinking....she has put me in the horrible position of having to file a lawsuit to stop the details of my private life from becoming public. I'd be, after all I've been through, I have to face this new monster, I have to face the loss of a dear friend, face humiliation if a certain few readers identify me, and do it all without the support of a close friend I've just lost. I'd be thinking....what was going through her mind when I was crashing down hill, how long ago did I lose her real friendship? Has she ever been my friend?


    kiwi lady
    June 21, 2003 - 12:38 pm
    Betty - that is true - it must have been the ultimate betrayal!

    Yesterday I did a big long post to this discussion. I was very pleased with it but unfortunately I have a new keyboard (present from Ruth) and it has function keys which I have no idea of their purpose. To cut a long story short I accidentally hit one of the keys and lost my entire post! I have not the heart to rethink it and redo the post!


    June 21, 2003 - 01:47 pm
    I'm in agreement with the betrayal folks. Yes, Margaret betrays Letty. First she takes her words and finds that she can write if she uses that voice. Then, and here is the worst betrayal, she eggs Letty on, encouraging her to DO things so that she will have a PLOT. (Remember back when she was writing about Robert? She couldn't think of what to do with him.)

    It's the very worst kind of betrayal, I think, because as Betty pointed out Letty trusted her with details that she kept husband, whats-his-name, in the dark about. On the other hand, Margaret does NOT tell Letty that she, Letty, is in fact LIVING out the book that Margaret is writing. Nope. She instead finds that her writing falls completely flat again--turns back into the writing she was doing about that odiously boring "Robert." So--what to do, what to do, she eggs Letty on. Come on, Letty, make another move, tell me about it, etc.

    At the point where Letty becomes "Lexie," she begins to lose her reality in Margaret's mind. She has become Lexie-in-the-book. Sad.

    June 21, 2003 - 01:59 pm
    Ginny There is another email from Margaret, on page 236. After Letty writes about spending megabucks on the children's haircuts, Margaret replies, "L, treat yourself. Go to Edwards. You should have hair at least as stunning as your four-year-old's."

    Granted, it's not asking for info, but she is encouraging spending that Letty cannot afford.

    Malryn That's an interesting point about lifting material from e-mail. It's not plagerism, but it is taking copyrighted material. No doubt there is a fine line there, but I'm having trouble finding it. For me, Margaret'biggest "sin," if you want to call it that, was not warning Letty about the financial mess she was getting into. Like Ted, she should have wanted to jump in and warn her. For me, the turning point of the novel came when M declined advising the MacMillans not to buy the house.

    ChristinaYou grew up not far from my old stamping ground and it was fun to read about bratwursts there in Racine. Next month I go up for a 50th HS reunion -- and will have to ask where we used to go for bratwursts in beer.

    June 21, 2003 - 02:29 pm
    Oh well said, Betty and All, well said. I'm going to spend the evening thinking about what Betty said, trying to put myself in Letty's shoes, how WOULD I feel? We're pretty united on the "betrayal" part, (so far those responding are) and Maryal has eloquently said the motivation but I do like the idea of putting YOURSELF in Letty's shoes. I can't IMAGINE that happening, let's all try to see how it would feel!

    Of course you know I'm back from the Garden Center where I was actually laughed at? Young man with no manners asked me why I didn't want (I wanted a systemic rose product you did NOT spray on the leaves) to spray on the leaves and when I told him that I wasn't used to it, we had a vineyard and grew grapes organically he burst out laughing.

    Letty flashed in my mind, the whole megillah flashed thru my mind. My giving up my rose garden when my youngest was 6 because he liked to thrust his sweet face into the blooms and I worried about the sprays, flashed thru my mind. Should I entrust that story to Mr. Derisive? Nah, no pearls among the swine today.

    DID I ask him what was so derisively funny? No. He wasn't worth asking. So what DID I do? I said something ameliorating about what I was buying being a long way from organic, huh? And left. And bought cookies and ate them?

    And I was not, am not, and hope never to be in Letty's shoes or situation or vulnerability: imagine how I would have felt if I were? People who sell things or who deal with us unworthy public need to get a grip, not because they are paid and that insulates the customer, but because people need to treat each other, and consider each other, more kindly.

    Just for tonight, let's put ourselves in Letty's shoes and see what we see, how we feel, how we react. I'm not in Letty's place, and it still made me angry and humiliated, because, in essence, Young Man in Garden Center who didn't know his XX from XXX (that was obvious in his discussion of fungicides) had no problem reducing me in an instant to an Object of Derision, let's try to figure how we might feel in Letty's shoes at this point?

    So we'll be in a better position when we read the next 50 pages, good suggestion, Betty!!

    Pedln! Well done on the other email!!! Again pushing her tho, well done are there any others??

    Carolyn I am so sorry you lost your post, we would have loved to read it. I know exactly how that feels, my big "ergonomic" keyboard has a button somehere around my fourth finger on the right hand, if you hit it everything disappears, it's so frustrating you could scream! So sorry!

    Hopefully you can recall a couple of things you said in the next week, I hate to miss a word.

    I'm going to be Letty tonight (and start by finding that doggone phone bill, I have an uneasy feeling about it, if you don't see me in the morning, carry ON!!) Seriously!


    June 21, 2003 - 02:47 pm
    Betty, and for the sake of our hypothesis, what would it do to you to realize (and when would you) that your best friend had egged you on for the purposes of writing her own book?

    I don't think you CAN sue for fiction?

    Is there ANYTHING your friend could do to make it up to you?

    Any offer?

    If you fail to forgive her, the sin is on you, right?

    Thorny questions to begin the last week with, thank you SO much!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 21, 2003 - 02:56 pm

    I don't have to imagine how Letty felt about creditors on her neck and threatening lawsuit because I've been there in a much smaller way -- but not for the size of my income, and not because I lavishly decorated my trailer-at-the-time and me.

    If at the same time I had found out that someone had "borrowed" the idea for the book I was writing that I had trustingly told her about in emails along with details about the plot and the characters, so she could write her own book, I'd feel more than completely defeated. The debt I couldn't pay was enough to defeat me already. I can't describe how desolate and alone I felt.

    Not only would I look to the skies and ask, "Why me?", I'd be thinking life wasn't worth living. Debt I couldn't find a way out of, a friend who betrayed me ( that has happened to me, too, in a very serious, but different way ), I think I'd be wishing I were dead like poor, misguided Lily Bart.


    June 21, 2003 - 03:37 pm
    I am Not reading this book but I can relate to changing a few words and calling it your own as I am Very sorry to say that it has happen to me with the song Traveling Man, To have fought it would have been vanity and for monetary gain which I know will do them No good as there monetary gain will lead to bad news for them as the thoughts were mine and so were the words Until they changed just a few words. Please forgive the interuption but I just had to speak my piece.

    I do observe all our discussion and enjoy Your Posts. Thank You So much as I am leaning so much from you it is almost like being in school (sp) again.

    Thanks, Ginger

    June 21, 2003 - 04:53 pm
    I am reading this book but am behind all of you because it took so long for the book to become available after I placed a reserve on it. Where I am, Letty and Michael have moved into their new home (the beginning of the end) and one credit card is already overdrawn, and Margaret is writing her book using Lexie. As a psychologist, I'm probably spending too much time discerning the psychological motivations of the 4 main characters.<G> I just started reading your comments several days ago.

    I can't help but compare what is happening to the characters to my own situation. My Mum got caught into what Letty is getting caught into.....the false 'friendships' in AAUW, in would you believe, LA, the bigger house to impress those 'friends.' Dad went along with the house, but put his foot down on Mum's other expenditures. I was more like Margaret in school, so it's painful to me to see that she is unable to find a focus and goals in her life, although I do approve of her lifestyle over Letty's. I actually migrated to Australia as I felt like Mum was trying to draw me into her 'fake' lifestyle, and control my plans and goals for life.

    I feel both Letty and Michael were caught in 'American consumerism.' I had 30 years here where it wasn't like that. Unfortunately, it's now becoming like that here as well. I don't know what the ending will be but since I feel the books messages are the disasters which occur when on the one hand Letty and Michael are caught into the falseness of consumerism and being better than the Jones, and on the other hand, Margaret is an example of a very intelligent woman who has lost her way, who is scattered, chops and changes and can't seem to find her focus, goals or purpose in life, I would assume that the ending would not be that all live happily ever after.

    I want to congratulate Christina Swartz for making her characters so alive that they make me feel uncomfortable.....Letty and Michael's false lifestyle, Margaret's being lost on the sea of life. It does make me feel that I'd like to have Margaret as a client and help her focus her life. I find it sad that the only 'success' she is having is to write a novel through living vicariously through Letty and Michael's downfall into false values.


    betty gregory
    June 21, 2003 - 11:35 pm
    Here's what Ginny wrote....

    "Betty, and for the sake of our hypothesis, what would it do to you to realize (and when would you) that your best friend had egged you on for the purposes of writing her own book?

    "I don't think you CAN sue for fiction?

    "Is there ANYTHING your friend could do to make it up to you?

    "Any offer?

    "If you fail to forgive her, the sin is on you, right?

    This is very difficult to imagine. I've watched this blinking cursor for almost an hour, trying to imagine being in as serious financial and personal trouble as Letty and, at the same time, being conned into digging myself in deeper by someone I thought was a friend.

    I can't do it. Failed experiment. I'm too much in charge of my decisions to be swayed. When I was younger, I'm sure there were smaller decisions with fewer quickly to trade in the old for a new car....but that doesn't fit the experiment's requirements. (Edit....though I can't imagine it happening, I guess I can imagine the feelings, if it did. See below.)

    Another reason I can't do it is because I know what betrayal by negligence is and the consequences are so heartbreaking, so much more painful than I ever expected life to be....that I simply cannot fathom a "friend" going beyond negligence to willful action to cause harm.

    I moved back to Texas to be near 3 brothers, 2 of whom I felt certain I could count on to assist me physically in small ways, then, as needed, in larger ways. By the time I moved, I was close to needing the "larger" ways. I'm not finished being surprised that I cannot count on them for anything, not even emotional support, not even phone calls. There is no interest. I've spent a lifetime showing interest and offering every level of help to them as needed, so I will hurt about this until I die. (At least it feels that way now. I want so much to be able to just accept and move on.)

    Your last question, Ginny, is about forgiveness for that "friend." In my book, there is no friend, if she/he caused harm by conning and misleading. Nevertheless, for the emotional health of the one doing the forgiving, I would say it has to be done sooner or later. It's not about repairing or healing the relationship, because there is no relationship. Friends don't do that to each other.

    As I said above, I cannot imagine this happening to me. If it did, however, sometime before the forgiveness stage (talking about this so-called "friend" who betrays in such ways), I would expect a great, noisy stage of earned anger!! As an ex-wife of a controlling preacher, all kinds of growling curse words come to mind. It makes me furious just thinking about it....someone to deliberately push me in the direction of further financial ruin????? FURIOUS! ! ! ! ! !


    June 22, 2003 - 02:03 am
    I've finished the book now, and Betty, I feel Letty would have kept buying and getting deeper in debt with or without Margaret's urging. The main person who was pushing her to buy and buy was her husband. My own feeling is that if Margaret had done the opposite and had discouraged her, Michael would have resisted and tried to end the friendship in any case...talking about Margaret being low class, etc.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 22, 2003 - 03:43 am

    As I understand it, Letty's husband, Michael, didn't know as much about his and his wife's finances as Margaret did. He comes across to me as a man who had his head in the clouds when it came to anything practical about how they lived, the direct opposite of Ted. Didn't Letty hide the bills from him? In the MacMillan family, Letty seems to have been in control, not Michael. Though he did make the first credit card purchases, Letty seems to have been the instigator for most of them afterwards, with Michael following her lead. Yes, I think she was greatly influenced by her friend, Margaret.

    My debt was run up when I was taking care of and supporting my elder son who had suffered a brain injury in an automobile accident when he was in his 30's. I had only enough money to support myself, but in my mind there was no question or choice about taking care of him when he appeared on the doorstep of my trailer in Florida, penniless, unable to work and very sick with no one to help him. I took him in and helped him for several years.

    Betrayal and forgiveness. My husband and a relative of mine, with whom I had been very close, fell in love and had an affair. He asked for a divorce so he could marry her. Admittedly, our marriage was somewhat shaky before all of this happened, but I couldn't believe they would do this to me. Nor could her husband, a good friend of mine for many years. He refused to divorce her, and it ended up with me divorced and alone and the man who had been my husband marrying someone else.

    It was ten years before I could bring myself to communicate with this relative and twelve years before I saw her again. Though badly wounded and with scars that only bother me now, nearly 30 years later, if I think about them (which I don't most of the time), I loved her too much not to forgive her. I don't think there's that kind of love between Letty and Margaret. Of course, they are not blood relatives.


    June 22, 2003 - 05:52 am
    First off, Welcome, Ginger!! And Bobbicee!! all the way from Australia!! We are very glad to have you both here.

    Ginger, I think this may have hit a chord with a lot of people, thank you for coming in to say so.

    Bobbicee, I would be interested in your thoughts on what makes Margaret the way she is, since she seemed to enjoy a precocious childhood? That gives us TWO psychologists in this discussion and I always say two psychologists are better than none! And boy do we need EVERY eye peeled in this last section, here's the place that all those accumulated life experiences you all have need to come flying out!

    Oh and Bobbicee, you mention that you’re reading the posts, that’s good on you to try to catch up, not sure if you know this, but if you look in the top right hand corner of every page on SN you’ll see the words Print Page and if you click on them, you won’t be printing but you will see every post there is (you may miss a few at the beginning) and you can easily find Christina’s remarks as well as check out the last 100 or so of the conversation, so you’ll know where we are, and we look forward to seeing where YOU are, as you’re reading it all at one whop so that also is yet another POV and it’s very fine, thank you for joining us!

    We are lucky here to have so many fine points of view, we have Lou whose book is long gone, going on her memory, we have Frugall whose book is gone but who took notes, and we have those with the book taking notes (in some cases in many colored ink) and I don’t think there is any doubt that this book can stand the test of elongated analysis and wow what a whammy of an ending.

    I have a million things to say. I’ve read this 4 times. I have a million questions of you, and the author! Every time I read it I see something different, so I’m only going to ask you all one thing, give me a minute to get it in the heading. Again I do apologize to all of you and Christina that I can’t upload to the server so you can’t see the old questions and she can’t see your new ones, we will remedy that asap.

    If you will also now please read the Interview in The Atlantic Monthly Magazine (thank you Pearson) you will find more to ask about in the scant week we have left.

    And now the roller coaster car is approaching the shed, the ride is almost over, the car is slowing down, the bar is lifting, but what HAPPENED there? Everybody is wild eyed. What HAPPENED? Nervous laughter all around. What HAPPENED? What DIDN’T? WHY?

    Stay tuned for ONE question today!


    June 22, 2003 - 06:15 am
    First I'm going to give some of my many thoughts on some of the elements in the jam packed ending, then I want to address yours and then I hope to put up the one question in the heading which will allow your OWN wings to fly, I really want, I really need to hear your takes, every one of you, on this last part of the book.

    In reading the ending for the 4th time, different things jump out at me. I'm interested in how the writer makes such tension palpable, there were some amazing things done here at the end, and some just flat out splendid writing.

    I laughed out loud when it seemed our old Margaret was back. That passage where she walks through HER city, she belongs at last, is just lyric. Lots of changes for Margaret: she changes her motivation and writes not for her own aggrandizement (page 320) she now has an altruistic purpose, gosh at the parallels, they continue in a breathtaking way:

  • Once again Margaret is on the brink of confessing her ”nefarious deed,” and doesn’t. Once again “technology” stops her, even in her new altruistic state. The old Margaret is still there, isn’t she?

  • Margaret “extrapolates” again in counting her chickens (money for the book) before it’s even opened by the agent,….her theory, “it seemed suddenly know there was hope—“ (page 320) That’s been Margaret’s song all along, she lives on hope and extrapolates it into certainty, her life will be a continual disappointment, I'm afraid, does she stop that at the end or not?

  • Letty of course desperately succumbs to temptation in a droll way finding the famous erasable pen after a long hunt, she embezzles (once again borrowing something with the intent of paying it back).

  • Both Margaret and Lety feel they have BECOME the person they wanted to be! The passage on 334 made me almost get out of my chair and dance around the room, the bottom paragraph, so beautifully, lyrically and joyfully written. A direct contrast to the "not belonging" statements about NYC before, Margaret has arrived. “I was a different person now.” Is she? She belongs.. My fancy overpriced pharmacy...."

  • Letty also says she is the person she wants to be, by virtue of having bought her way. Her own song is less joyful. (page 342) If they sell the house then everybody, her sister, the baby sitter, would know that “we were not the sort of people we were supposed to be.”…."I did want what was appropriate for our station in life.”

    Margaret and Letty seem to have changed. Which one for the better? Which one has not? Which one has learned the greatest lesson?

  • The structure of this section is breathtaking.. Letty suddenly speaks to us? She speaks to us like she did in the beginning of the book, she’s no longer talking to Margaret. She speaking directly. And as the tension mounts, the little chapters change in length and intensity till it does seem a contrapuntal conversation, it’s just doggone good.

    And then Letty stops sleeping on February 7 and stops eating on February 10 and reports that to us, the helpless reader, in a flat unemotional tone.

  • Oh gosh and that bit in the museum where things start to swirl…”How had Jeanette managed that?” (page 361)…..I’m telling you, if this is not a tour de force, I don’t know one when I see it, that was likewise magnificent.

    OH gosh and there’s SO much more SO much, let’s see what you all found because of course the MAIN issue (what IS the main issue, here, to you?) is…..redemption and forgiveness.

    The book ENDS with Margaret’s rejection letter. When the Afterword begins, (did YOU know who wrote that letter just from the first paragraph before details were shown? beginning tantalizingly on page 365? Did you think you did?) After all we’ve seen Letty’s italicized letters throughout. I knew immediately whose voice it was, did you? Were you shocked at the signature? I was, every time.

    It’s the signatures I’d like to ask you about and what they mean, hold on a mo, and I'll get it up, while we all catch our breaths.

  • Malryn (Mal)
    June 22, 2003 - 06:50 am

    The Breughelesque party-at-the-museum scene beginning on Page 359 is one of the most powerful, dramatic, ironic and Jean Cocteau surreal pieces of writing I've seen in a long, long time. What contrast there is between what's going on there and the picture of forlorn, desolate Letty waiting for a phone call and salvation by Margaret, which will never come. That one scene is worth one hundred times more than the price of the book.

    Margaret finally acknowledges that she is Peggy, a dull penny like all the rest. Letty has become Letitia, proud in her exile. Robinson Crusoe and Friday are dead and gone.


    June 22, 2003 - 10:07 am
    Way back in the beginning of the book, (p. 8-9) Margaret talks about her hero/sidekick relationship with Letty. At least that's how SHE sees it. She reminisces about their childhood together and the differences in their relative ambitions that may have contributed to that pattern.

    "Letty was never so driven, which was at least in part the fault of her family. I think her parents must have had big plans for her when they named here Leticia, but there was never that much get-up-and-go in the Larue household, and they let her name lapse into Letty almost immediately."

    Margaret, on the other hand, was forced to answer ONLY to her full name by her purposeful mother. At times she longed for a more casual nickname. Her father, baffled and a little hurt, would ask her:"Don't you like your name?"

    "I realize now that it wasn't the name I didn't like, but Margaret herself, who I was beginning to find a bit bossy. Margaret was admired, but Peggy, I believed, would be well-liked. The way Letty was."

    I feel that these passages have something to do with the final signatures on Margaret's and Letty's letters, but I don't have it all formulated clearly. Does Margaret want to turn over a new leaf...have a friendlier, more ethical self-image as Peggy? CAN she have enough self-awareness to truly change? Or is she, as Mal suggested, just accepting herself as more ordinary, less admirable?

    What about Letty? She never personally expressed any wishes for a name change...we only see how Margaret perceives Letty's name in the earlier part of the book. I thought the Leticia signature in her letter to the judge expressed a barrier of formality that seems to spill over from her legal case into her final relationship with Margaret.

    Yet the poignancy of the final sentence...Letty still treasures the mutual affection that she USED to be sure was between them and she still misses it in her life. But how can old times ever be recovered when she knows that Margaret is capable of such betrayal?


    June 22, 2003 - 12:14 pm
    I can finally share something that really popped out at me on the very last page of the book. I don't think I'm really satisfied with my interpretation, but this is the best I can do with it.

    Back on pages 247-249, Letty tells Margaret she needs to organize a system to keep track of paperwork. Almost immediately, Lexie buys a "canary yellow accordion folder tied shut with a yellow ribbon".

    In the very last paragraph of the book, one of Letty's last comments is that she keeps Margaret's checks, "along with her Christmas card, in a small canary yellow accordion file".

    What a fabulous way for Christina to indicate that, although both Margaret and Letty had admitted their own failures and have broken the dependency on each other (along with the friendship), there is still a tie between them.
    Since each husband's "position in life" was drastically diminished, I don't think there will be an attempt to reconnect. But I wonder if, sometime in the future, they see each other at...say, a class reunion...they will find a way to do so? Or, if one is widowed, the other will reach out and the life-long friendship will begin again on a different level? I hope so.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 22, 2003 - 12:42 pm

    CALLIE, the canary yellow accordian folder was among the first credit card purchases Letty bought. Didn't she originally buy it to help her to keep her accounts in order? I think it's ironic that Letty is keeping Margaret's checks in it.

    I don't think that Margaret thought being "Peggy" would make her less admirable, HARRIET. I do think assuming the name means that Margaret has finally come down off her illusionary bossy, high horse and has accepted herself for what she really is. Letty, on the other hand, has realized because of Margaret's sin of betrayal that she is not as low as she thought she was and that she deserves to call herself "Letitia". Both ends at last have met in the middle, at least symbolically.

    I don't foresee any close relationship between Peggy and Letitia in the future. As I said before a couple of times, I haven't seen what I'd call a true friendship between these two women since they have been adults.


    betty gregory
    June 22, 2003 - 08:15 pm
    Is this a time, as readers, that we're supposed to suspend a test of reality? The coincidence of both women changing their names was too much....coincidence...., especially, as Harriet noted, Letty never expressed a wish to change her name. (Change of name is a drastic action.) Also, were we suppose to think "ESP" when Leticia brought out her yellow accordian file, or did I miss an exchange of information? As Callie noted, Margaret had "Lexie" purchase one after Letty mentioned needing something to keep herself organized. Did Letty know this part of Margaret's novel?

    Is there a dream-like quality to this ending? I want to understand the options an author has beyond strict reality and have been struggling all along with the allowances permitted by exaggeration.


    I was at first confused by Letty's saying she missed the affection between Margaret and herself that she was once sure of, because, like Mal, I never saw a deep, intimate friendship between Letty and Margaret. After thinking about it, though, I see there's the possibility that Letty did what is easy to do....idealize the friendship, see it how she needed to see it. Then, too, there are many levels of friendship and phases of closeness throughout a friendship.


    June 22, 2003 - 10:30 pm
    Because, in my own opinion, Letty has gone back under stress to being Letitia, just like Ginny goes back under stress when it's time to circle the wagons and be more formal to Virginia (you could hardly expect her to write the judge familiarly as "Letty" would you? I certainly don't sign letters to judges as "ginny," she doesn't either).

    She's become Letitia, her mother's own Letitia, who fulfilled her mother's prophsey in Week III, she never got out of it. She has not changed one whit.

    And I contend it was a friendship. She got to broadcast to Margaret, share her inner life, her thoughts, she was not alone. That was all she wanted. We've noted that she rarely asked about Margaret, she wanted a shoulder to lean on, she got it, that was her idea of friendship, it may not be ours.

    Jeryn has posted a quote from Marlene Dietrich, I think?, in the Library, "a friend is somebody you can call at 4 am." Letty called Margaret at 4 am. Margaret satisfied Letty's need for friendship I believe.

    And she won't forgive Margaret. Why? Because Margaret preferred the opinion of the world to her. She says so, note what the judge said HE thought was Letty's motivation, I found that fascinating.

    To me it's Margaret who has changed, she's once and for all thrown off "Margaret" which her own mother insisted on, and is now Peggy Without Pretense of Being Special. She knows she's the dull penny in the cash drawer. At last. She says so. I don't think she is, actually, but she seems content. Not Letitia. Too rigid about being not preferred to forgive, but wistfuly saving the checks as the last connetcion to Margaret: that is the kind of relationships she has.

    That's how I see it (wonderful posts, eveyrbody, Malryn that gave me CHILLS, super post). Couldn't sleep, came on in, dying to see what you wrote, I can't believe it's 1:54 am!! See you all tomorrow, CALLIE and the folders!! Well done, more anon, can't see the print. ahahaha

    Virginia (I don't konw how you feel about names but NOBODY but nobody calls me Virginia and if I sign Virginia it's a definite head's up, a protection, a formal declaration.that may NOT be the case with Letty, but I do sense a rigidity, a formality that I have not seen before.

    kiwi lady
    June 22, 2003 - 11:44 pm
    Ginny - I love Virginia as a name. I shortened my name for years and now I am back to the name I was given and my mother still uses. I like my full name much better as there are too many Carol's.


    June 23, 2003 - 12:44 am
    MALRYN…….I know you’re right in terms of the author’s meaning that Letty was influenced by Margaret rather than her husband. And, in reality, my Mum was influenced by all the poshy houses her ‘friends’ in AAUW had, despite Dad’s resistance to what he called ‘your mother’s false principles and values.’ I do feel that Letty was influenced by all the poshies, such as Jeanette, etc as well, and Margaret just ran with that. However, Michael also encouraged Letty’s ‘false values’ by wanting to keep up with the Joneses, have Letty dress more appropriately as well.

    I’m wondering whether Margaret changed to Peggy because she felt chagrined, or whether it was finally a rejection of the ‘better than’ values her mother had insisted upon, plus remembering that as a child she felt she’d be more popular, translation, more a part of her chosen world, if she changed to Peggy.

    GINNY…………In re what made Margaret the way she was, my assessment. In her family of origin, I see it as both her Mum and Dad instilling in her that she, and they, were ‘better than’ others. This often leads to what Margaret was experiencing in adulthood……low self-esteem when interacting with peers, a feeling that she needs to excel (like teaching wasn’t good enough), and chopping and changing as she tries to find one area where she can excel (and fulfil her parent’s expectations for her), and with a continual feeling of failure and inability to face reality. I found her character and her constant chopping and changing very disturbing. This chopping and changing started in early childhood, continued through teenage and into her adult years.

    Like you said, she lives on hope but is unable to settle and focus, or even participate in proper goal setting, etc. I do believe that Ted tried to get her to focus but she resisted him continually, accused him of trying to keep her down, stifle her. Like you, I feel Margaret’s life, even as Peggy, will continue to be a disappointment unless and until she can fully deal with all her issues. At the end of the book, she was in shame and punishment mode. She will either continue in self-defeating behaviours to punish herself, or will soon be off again on more unfocused and delusional adventures.

    In re Letty, I feel that her idea of friendship was to be dependent on another person, and IMO, that is NOT friendship. It wasn’t for Margaret either, who chose to be the ‘counsellor’ in that one-sided relationship, and who refused to be honest with Letty about what was going on in her own life. I tend to feel that Letty learned the biggest lesson, but then, she had the biggest crisis as a result of her actions. However, by refusing to forgive Margaret and place ALL the blame on her, I feel she has not fully accepted the role she played in her downfall. Interesting that she moved to a different state rather than ‘lower’ her standards in her own area.

    HARRIET…….I agree with you… this point, I too wonder if she truly has enough self-awareness to really change. My Mum didn’t gain that self-awareness until she was in her late 80’s, when she was wandering around in her poshy home after several strokes and finally realised that her ‘good friends’ weren’t there for her when she was ill and could no longer play their ‘upwardly mobile’ game. Hopefully Letty has learned her lesson earlier than my Mum did. I'm pleased that I rejected Mum's 'values.' Just an aside, in her early 80's, I took back the programs I'd written and theoretical bases for those programs (I wrote all the Substance Abuse Recovery programs for Corrective Services) for Mum and Dad to peruse. Mum's comment was 'It's nice, but I wish it wasn't for prisoners.' Why? Because working in prisons and writing programs for prisoner's wasn't something she was proud of, that her 'friends' would be proud of. So there you go.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 23, 2003 - 03:57 am

    Why am I going to bed at 1 and waking up at 5? It makes me so disgusted, especially since my "house" (one big room) and my life are lately besieged by health professionals, thanks to a geriatrics program at Duke. These people come in every day to work with me and my muscles so I can get those and the rest of me up on my feet and independent again. Am I destined to be so tired that I can't put my chin on each shoulder, lift my right knee up toward that chin to strengthen my hip, lift my leg toward the sky, and lift my cane from side to side and up over my head to do something or other, and more?

    It also makes me disgusted that after spending some hours searching I can't find the page in this book where Letty buys the yellow accordian folder to keep her bills in. The heck with it, let's talk about concepts of friendship.

    To me real friendship is based on commitment, just as marriage is. Both Margaret and Letty were much more committed to themselves than they were to each other. Now I'm a firm believer in "after me, you come first" as a rule of survival, but when I'm your friend I'll drop everything to run to your side if you have an emergency, however small, and need me, and I think you should do the same for me. I won't lead you astray or into trouble; I'll try to keep you out of it. We're soulmates, and you are almost as important as me. Wrong grammar, but it says what I mean. I don't see that with Letty and Margaret. I see each of them feeding off the other. That's not what friendship implies to me.

    Now, to go on to something else that has happened to me because of reading and discussing this book, and I don't know why. I've made it a point to tell every invisible person in Cyberspace that I had polio as a child and am handicapped. Ask me why, and I'll tell you I don't know. I never talk about being handicapped when I'm face to face with anyone and never have. It's obvious to people that I am, so why talk about it unless he or she asks? Why am I telling the international world that there's a physical impediment in my life, I wonder? To justify my being slower than you when I walk? I'm not walking here. To explain to you why I can't do some things that seem ordinary and easy for you to do without some difficulty? That's not important here, especially since it's obvious in this medium that I am able to do some exceptional things. So, tell me, please, why has reading this book made me think about these things, and how do they possibly relate to Margaret and Letty? If you know, I'd dearly love an answer.


    ( Why do we have nicknames like "Mal"? Marilyn is a perfectly good name, yet when my brother, one year younger than I am, couldn't pronounce my name and called me Malryn or Malowyn, the name stuck and became Mal. As an adult why haven't I insisted on being called Marilyn, except that it's not comfortable and Mal is? Oh, my goodness, I do have problems today! )

    June 23, 2003 - 04:54 am
    MALRYN.......Have you always woken up at 5am? I find that if I go to bed late, I always wake up at 6.30 or 7am. Therefore, I now go to bed at 10.30, read for up to half an hour, and wake up between 6.30 and 7am. I agree with you about your idea of friendship, and that Letty and Margaret did not have a real friendship, by our definition. Perhaps you are telling us in cyberspace that you have the handicap because we can't see you like people around you do, and you want to ensure that those who accept you accept you for who you are inside, rather than for some external handicap. I like nicknames, in fact, most Aussies do. They only call people by their proper name if they aren't friends. Bobbie came about by Aussies calling me first Barbie, then changing to Bobbie. The other name I'm called is Baz....Many Aussies who are liked have the 'az' added to the first initial of their my son is Gaz (Greg), my daughter Kaz (Krysti). The other things Aussies do is add an 'ie' or 'y' to the name, hence Barbie, then Bobbie. Note that both my kids use nicknames as well rather than Krystina and Gregory. My husband was always called Baz (Bill....William). My Mum used to call me Barbara when she was angry at me. I called Greg and Krysti, Gregory and Krystina when I was angry at them. No wonder we like our nicknames, eh?


    June 23, 2003 - 05:24 am
    Mal, I belive that you are sharing your life with the friends that you have so much in common with already such as the love of reading when you tell us here that you have had polio as a child and you are handicapped now.

    Friendship is Very important to you as it is to all of us and Peggy and Litty have misused there friendship by stealing and all that has been discussed here so no wonder it has upset you and so you are showing what true friendship means to you by sharing your personal life with us.

    I think that using our nick names such as Mal, Ginny, Ginger is so much more comfortable like sitting around a fireplace chatting with friends and making new ones.

    I had a better post and lost it so have kinda stumbled through this one but I do hope it helps.

    Your Friend, Ginger

    June 23, 2003 - 05:35 am
    Bobbie, as you can see we were posting at the same time with much the same thoughts, such as stepping in to help a friend.

    Mal, You see already two of your friends are showing there friendship to you. What a wonderful place S/N is making friends world wide.

    betty gregory
    June 23, 2003 - 08:56 am
    it never occurred to me that Letty had another name that she used in formal or business correspondence. After "Margaret and Peggy," it should have, but it didn't. I don't have a set of formal and informal names, as you do, so I never thought of "Letitia" as a formal choice. When I finished the book, I thought Letty had changed her name. Period. When you wrote, how could I think anyone could sign "Letty" on a letter to a judge......well, if her name IS Letty, I thought, what else COULD she sign. I must have been half asleep.

    If Letty normally uses Letitia in her business correspondence, what is the significance of our seeing it? If this is not a change.


    June 23, 2003 - 09:06 am
    The yellow folder first appears in the writing Margaret is doing about "Lexie," on 249. It immediately follows an email from Lettie to Margaret saying, "I need to organize a system [for the various bills], but it's so hard when there's no table, no chairs, no pencils in evidence"(248). In Margaret's following section, writing about Lexie, she has Lexie take her two children to an office supply store:

    "Inside, there are felt-tip markers to test on a little pad of white paper. The children test, whild Lexie asks a clerk, "The yellow folder? In the window?"

    It's fourteen dollars. A ridiculous amount to spend on brightly colored cardboard. But it's so pretty. And useful. And after all, fourteen dollars is not so much in the scheme of things. She won't buy a cone for herself. Then the folder will only cost twelve dollars and fifty cents."

    We can lose track of what Letty does and what Margaret has Lexie do because the reality of Letty's life is so fully co-opted by Margaret and given to "Lexie."

    There's a wonderful irony in Letty's having just such a yellow accordion file in which she keeps Margaret's Christmas cards and the small checks Margaret sends.


    June 23, 2003 - 09:29 am
    Good good good points and questions, Betty, you always put your finger on what bothers me for some reason (do you have ESP?) So this IS a Question!! Does it mean one thing? Just because I had a knee jerk reaction it may NOT mean one thing, aren't we lucky we can ask the author and I suggest we do just that? ahahhaha

    Betty, don't you fool yourself, you're ALWAYS rasor sharp; I spent all night thinking about Letty, trying to put myself in her shoes, how would I feel, how would any of us feel?

    Do you all find it odd that what bothers her, what she can't forgive, is not the betrayal but that Margaret thought more of the regard of others than she did of Letty?

    That in her mind she will always be Robinson Crusoe and I will always be Friday, I can forgive. Who is not, after all, the heroine of her own life? But that she cared for the world's regard more than she cared for me, how can I forgive that? (Page 367)

    What do you think about that? Note she still calls Peggy Margaret. This may mean nothing? It may mean a lot. I bet not all of us turn into Mr. Hyde when our formal name is mentioned. hahahaha Didn't know you had the Hulk among you, did you? hahahaha What's in a name?

    I read once that a huge percentage of people hate their given names, and that that is psychologically telling, I wonder why. I'm just, at 60, beginning to realize that Virginia is a pretty name; still, if we're out shopping or something, (you know how people try to get familiar with you at various offices and call you by name? Well if they or you call me Virginia the person who turns to look at you will not be who you expect (may not be GREEN and bulging [well, actually, MAY bulge just a little but not be green] but will definitely not be who you expected). I am not sure that everybody feels that way about their name!! hahahahahah Sure hit me in the face, but obviously I require Bobbicee and Betty's help! hahahaha oh and speaking of Bobbicee, what a wonderful post, let's look at what all YOU all have said!!!

    On the forgiveness thing, Margaret did not murder Letty's child, why can't Letty or Letitia forgive her? Are there instances where YOU could not forgive? Is this one of them? Isn’t refusal to forgive a sin? Is it a bigger one than the thing done TO her?

    Did you read the Interview? Did you see the author saying

    Letty writes her letters with Margaret in mind. She is, in a sense, making a character of herself in a story for Margaret—in fact, in an early plan for the novel, I thought of having it turn out that Letty had made everything up. I'm still attracted to that idea.

    Wow, now THAT would have been an ending!!! But as it is, Letty cannot forgive Margaret, and nobody will ever see the book, so it's something else than public humiliation, does Letty even KNOW the book was about her? Where did she learn that? In the court? I missed that? On to your super posts!!


    June 23, 2003 - 10:20 am
    Oh golly, it looks like now my laptop is trying to give up the ghost, I don't have too much backup to fall back on, will keep going if I have to go to Kinko's!

    Well here we are at the end, what questions do you want answered? What aspects of the book, the ending or anything else would you like to discuss?

    I'm still sitting here with my hair stuck out all over the place trying to decompress from the ride and reveling in your posts!!

    I agree, Malryn I was particularly struck with that scene in the museum, it caught me up and unawares Page 359) and the writing was just stunning, like being caught in a funnel, it took me a long time to catch on, too. I think it was the club foot of the child or maybe when the guy spit, that was really something.

    So was the passage on HER New York, a really fine set of explosions of tone and writing.

    Yes Crusoe and Friday are dead. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Bit players, the latter, on a track not of their own devising.

    Harriet that's an insight into Letty I had missed, that her parents had big hopes but lacked, themselves the wherewithal to keep her as Letitia. There's one scene on page 318 which is painful where Letty asks for money from her parents and her mother says, "You always had to have the best, didn't you?" And she asks Mother what are you talking about and Mother goes on about a prom dress, old wounds, the old Kabuki dance of the critical parent/ child relationship, and even Letty's statement about "Lottie asked to go to Medical school," in response to her mother's comparison of "Lottie would never ask for money," brings no answer. I have a very bad feeling here about Mom n Dad Larue? If your child asks you for bread will you give him a stone? How can they turn her down? She really is at the bottom.

    Callie, what, as Maryal says, delicious irony about the canary yellow accordian file!!!! I completely missed that!! Thank you for pointing out that parallel and what it means, THIS is one of the great reasons it's so good to read together!

    Oh and good point Malryn on the first credit card purchase BEING the file! Missed that, too. (what HAVE I been reading?)

    Carolyn, my Great Aunt was a doctor and never permitted any person to call her anything other than her name Caroline, and it IS pretty, you're right on the Carols, tho that in itself is very symbolic.

    Callie is actually short for Caroline, isn't it?

    Bobbicee, this is an interesting point: "false principles and values." We don't actually have any person in this book talking ABOUT false principles and values, do we? The reader is left to make those assumptions for himself, from clues in Letty's "realistic asides and qualifications" and Margaret's ingenuous spilling her soul to us, including all her motivations, we're with her, we begin to withdraw, we're aghast and shrieking no no and we're finally at the end…what?

    Where are we at the end, vis a vis Margaret?

    Bobbicee, that's a super point and one I tried to develop (and failed earlier) Dad telling Margaret the others who don't appreciate her are fools, now you say that leads to low self esteem? Why? Because the others she will now meet won't see her that way and she'll just keep trying harder to make them see her for who she "really is?" A person worth their notice?

    What did you see disturbing about her character and the chopping and changing?

    Oh I agree on the Ted stifling her, do you think it's easy for a Margaret to feel stifled?

    I really liked this:

    At the end of the book, she was in shame and punishment mode. She will either continue in self-defeating behaviours to punish herself, or will soon be off again on more unfocused and delusional adventures.

    OK let me ask you, all of you, this same question? How do you see these women in the future? What's the message we should get from this book? Where's the "Vanity" in this book?

    Bobbicee, what IS it that makes a person like your Mom keep on to the end with the things that reassure them they are above the crowd? Why is that important?

    I think there's just enough of Margaret and just enough of Letty in all of us, that we can relate to SOMETHING they've said.

    Another really superior bit of writing was when Letty set out on the road driving. I wondered, in the face of the awful things happening to her if she would, in fact, give up and commit suicide like Madame Bovary, but good for her, her children brought her back. Yet the part where she drove on, to Oxnard, and onward (I've been to Oxnard, I can see that road) and contemplated just running the car off the road, that's good writing there, really good.

    OK we need to talk about "black or dark humor," as one of the reviewers said about this book. What IS that? I have no idea. Is this book black or dark humor? Is it satire? Who or what is being satirized? If this is a parable what's the message?

    more if I can type it in

    June 23, 2003 - 10:33 am
    See post 385. Letty didn't buy the accordion folder. LEXIE did. But at the end Letty does have a small canary yellow accordion folder.

    June 23, 2003 - 10:49 am
    AHA!! MARYAL!! it's just as you said, I got Letty and Lexie confused! That's even BETTER, actually. These 2 am readings have GOT to stop, thanks for that head's up!!

    I dunno, Malryn, here I was at 2 am and up at 7, can't seem to tear myself away, I think this thing is getting to us. Hahaahah You are destined to walk and walk you shall!

    I think you’re right about friendship and the “me first” thing, Margaret says that as well, she realizes that at the last,

    Margaret: It was not that I did not love her. I did love her. I do. But I never gave her my full attention. I never thought of her without being distracted by me….I would be happy now to be dull, and I wouldn’t mind having failed, if I could be a true friend to Letty. But it’s far too late for that. (page 366).

    So here we see that Margaret, knows it’s too late and all she wants is redemption, forgiveness and to help. Letty’s withdrawal of that puts her in the artificial power seat again, maybe?? Not sure?? What happens when you don’t forgive?

    BAZ!! Love it. Ginger, thanks for that lovely post.

    Maryal, well said, here:

    We can lose track of what Letty does and what Margaret has Lexie do because the reality of Letty's life is so fully co-opted by Margaret and given to "Lexie."

    I like that, that makes Margaret a real candidate for Dante’s Inferno, huh? Tuum is meuum.

    I agree on the wonderful irony, the book is packed full of little touches and parallels, do you all see another?

    What would you say the tone is at the end of the book? Is it more realistic or sober than it started out?

    Let’s look at what the judge suggested was the reason that our Letitia spurns Margaret, did you think this was odd, what does it mean?

    (Oh by the way I do see where Letty found out about Margaret fancying herself a Svengali!(page 367)..

    “You ask me to consider whether it was the prospect of living in Margaret’s reflected glimmer, and thereby taking on my own glow, that attracted me from the start. If I am honest, I must admit there is some truth in that.” (page 367)

    What on earth can this mean? Is Letty here saying…what “glimmer?” Is Letty saying she knew all along? Is Letty saying that way back there when Margaret came to visit with a gift and Letty said I have nothing for you and Margaret said I need ideas for the book, IS Letty actually saying that she has known all along, and she might have even been helping? If not what IS she saying?

    Does Ted not know Letty’s and Michael’s situation? Why did he not catch that in the text when he read about Lexie and said Oh Margaret I wanted to warn them?

    Still it is certainly not her failure, as you suggest, that makes me turn from her now.”

    Huh? Certainly not her failure? The judge suggests that Letitia is no longer friends with Margaret because Margaret is a failure? HUH? Wow.

    What do you make of that?

    parable: A simple story that teaches a lesson or illustrates a moral principle. Like an allegory, details of a parable parallel the details of the situation calling for illustration. Jesus’s parables are contained in the Synoptic Gospels.

    Earlier in the book the term “A Parable of American Consumerism” is used to describe Margaret’s book. Is there a parable here at all, and if so, what is it and of what? What is the lesson we are to learn? Did we learn it?


    kiwi lady
    June 23, 2003 - 01:05 pm
    I was analysing why I chose to shorten my name when I was about 17. It was pure rebellion. My mother insisted on my full name and I wanted to pay her back for my miserable childhood and this was one way I could do so. Carolyn was controlled by her mothers behaviour and Carol was going to be a brave new person. Interesting when I thought about it.

    Was Letitia's name shortened to Letty because in her family's mind she did not live up to the name Leticia?

    Regarding the future of Margaret and Leticia's relationship I don't think they will be ever be intimate friends in the future. Maybe they will keep in touch by a Christmas letter or email?


    June 23, 2003 - 01:39 pm
    Carolyn, how fascinating, on your name, Carol was going to be a brave new person!!

    When I was in the 4th grade I named myself Zeta?

    Told the teacher that was my name, would not answer to any other. Seemed logical to me, remember that old Zeta of the Jungle series? Looked like....who was that movie star who dated Frank Sinatra? Gorgeous? Anyway, that was who I was going to be, swinging thru the Jungles of Philadelphia.

    Names can mean things, actually.

    I"m going to make your very interesting question #17 in the heading right now!!

    17 !! Count 'em splendid (hopefully) new Topics Just for Your Consideration in yon heading!! Hope to hear from you on all 17!!

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 23, 2003 - 06:06 pm

    13. What happens to you when you don't forgive? Well, one thing that can happen is that the thing or person you don't forgive can haunt you and eat at you the rest of your life.

    Lottie is a diminutive of Charlotte, I believe.

    You're right. I had Lexie confused with Letty. Had Margaret imitated Letty's writing so well that I was completely taken in?


    June 23, 2003 - 06:18 pm
    GINNY……….Why can’t Letty forgive Margaret? IMO, because Letty is unable to date, to fully accept responsibility for the choices she made. She still wants to place some of the blame for her ‘downfall’ on Margaret. At the end of the book, it seemed clear that Letty had many unresolved issues about Margaret. She was still blaming her, yet was grieving about the loss of the ‘friendship’…..more correctly the loss of her ability to be dependent on Margaret and her decisions. I prefer to think of refusal to forgive in terms of the effect, psychologically and emotionally that that failure to forgive, in other words, the continuing resentment, which that produces. Margaret is still ‘living rent-free’ in Letty’s head, and she is still re-sensing the ‘betrayal.’ Unresolved issues and their accompanying emotions are buried alive and continue to affect the person, and can even result in physical illnesses. I always suggest that my clients remember ‘To err is human, to forgive is divine, to forget is foolhardy.’ In other words, let the resentment, the re-sensed sense of perceived injustice go. Stop projecting (blaming), justifying, rationalising, denying…..and learn from the experience, otherwise it will be repeated until one learns the lesson.

    "false principles and values." …….’American consumerism’ is mentioned, then is expanded on throughout the book. Also throughout the book, Letty continually talks about her previous values vs her current lack of same. Margaret is also aware that she is denying her values in order to get the material for her ‘successful’ book.

    The better than/less than dilemna. Dad telling Margaret that those who don’t appreciate her are fools, is only one example of what Margaret’s parents did to make Margaret feel she was ‘better than’ as a child. She, and her family were ‘better than’ others in the community. That leads to a feeling that one must be perfect and excel, and to unrealistic expectations about oneself, what she should accomplish, etc. When this is drilled into one as a child, one demands perfection of themselves and tends to incorporate the messages……..if I make a mistake, I am a mistake. If I fail I am a failure. Because nobody can be perfect, there’s always a shift between feeling either ‘better than’ or ‘less than.’ This leads to external referencing, or ‘other esteem’……….acquitision of material goods (consumerism), external accolades, etc. In contrast, those with good self-esteem can enjoy their accomplishments but they don’t define the person, and with true self-esteem, one can be ‘equal to’ rather than rate themselves as ‘better than’ or ‘less than’ each person they interact with.

    What did I find disturbing about Margaret’s chopping and changing? She was unable to find a focus, a purpose in life, to identify values and principles, to set goals and the means of achieving them. Instead, in adulthood, she continued her childhood behaviours……intense but brief enthusiasms. In re Margaret feeling stifled. Whenever her lack of focus and planning lead to failure, she blamed others for stifling her. In actuality, what I saw was that Ted was trying to get her to focus and she resented and resisted that.

    How do you see these women in the future? What's the message we should get from this book? Where's the "Vanity" in this book? If both become fully aware of themselves and learn from the lessons, they can go forward in their lives. If not, they are destined to repeat their mistakes until they learn and get self-awareness. I feel that’s the lesson they need to learn, a lesson we can all learn. The Vanity? Self-delusion, false values, external vs internal referencing.

    Re my Mum. She learned that in her family of origin. She was adopted, her adoptive father was very wealthy and had family ties to English upper class and royalty. Mum did try to resist that, married ‘beneath herself’ when she married Dad, and her parents didn’t attend the wedding, or speak to her until I was born. Eventually, instead of addressing the issues, Mum succumbed to what she had learned in childhood. Mum had a Uni degree but never used it. Everytime Dad encouraged her to work, to extend herself, use her brains, she got angry at him, so eventually he gave up. He did buy her a nicer house, but then, like Ted, put his foot down and refused to play her external referencing game. He essentially stayed with Mum to try to have a positive influence on my sister and I… instill us with true values and principles. It worked with me, but not with my sister. My sister was so like Letty was. Eventually her bubble burst as well, but she went into alcohol abuse, illness addiction and shopping addiction……a lost soul. I send her Christmas cards but don’t have other contact because further contact is filled with whinges…..about her illnesses, her sad financial state, nobody loves her, a long list of ‘perceived injustices,’ etc. I hope this isn’t Letty’s fate.

    I identified more with Margaret, which is undoubtedly why Margaret’s lack of focus, her chopping and changing, and external referencing bothered me so much, I think. I was in the gifted child program, so guess I was precocious. However, I believe that my major, Psychology, assisted me to understand myself. In fact, my Master’s thesis dealt with family of origin roles and issues. (They say Psych’s go into the field because they suspect they’re crazy <g>) I developed goals, a focus, a purpose (humanitarian) and followed that course throughout my life. I believe I chose the substance abuse field as my field of expertise partially because of my sister, and partially because I felt I could make a difference… others to help themselves….and see the ‘miracles’ they became when they got sober and clean and adopted principled and spiritual lifestyles. I totally rejected Mum’s materialism, which was easy to do here in Australia. The first 20 years here, I lived in a town in the centre of the outback, where people were accepted who they were…..inside, rather than what they had materially, educationally, etc. I do have a PhD which letters I use ONLY when I wrote programs. I refuse to call myself Dr…..I consider a Doctor to be someone with a medical degree. I don’t even tell people here that I’m a Psych, just that I was in counselling, not because I’m ashamed of it, but because it tends to shake people, as they tend to think that I might psych them out. One of the main reasons I migrated here was due to American consumerism, another because of the discrepancy between what the founding fathers envisioned for the US, what it was originally, and what it had become, even in the early 60’s.

    I think I was born in the wrong century…..I’m more of a pioneer and frontier person. I considered Alaska, which I loved, but it was too cold there, so I chose Australia, which I’d also loved, from my first visit here in the 1950’s, and then lived in frontier country for many years, then in country Queensland until we moved to the Brisbane area when my husband became ill and needed to be near the Repat hospital. Even then, we lived in a semi-rural area. I still back up on gazetted bushland and nature and wildlife reserve, but civilisation has reached here. And, unfortunately, consumerism has also reached Australia. We have always had a totally egalitarian society but our current PM is trying to change that. I’m hopeful that the growing national resistance to his policies and our growing disgust with Bush’s demands on our country plus regular news about multinational fraud will change our thinking before it’s too late. I’m hoping the same thing will happen in the US as well, as more and more people appear to be wanting to return to the old values. Hopefully we in both countries can be motivating forces. This book is, IMO, extremely apropos. I feel we need a female PM and you need a female President. NZ has a female PM and she exemplies, with her principles and values and egalitarianism,

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 23, 2003 - 08:45 pm

    I just finished writing my 13th novel, and that's the real truth. Does anyone here have Heather Mendelson Blake's address? I want to send her the manuscript early tomorrow morning.

    I'm giving half my advance to you because you've made my life so interesting these past three weeks. I should have the money in a couple of weeks because I hear Ms Blake is a fast worker who likes grass, of which I made sure there is plenty in my book. The other half I have to use to pay bills.

    When the money comes we'll all go out and celebrate. I hear the museum has a neat Medieval Restaurant. Sounds like fun! The day after that I'm going to start my fourteenth book -- with an outline this time. I understand my publisher will demand it.

    Mally Freeman
    Author !

    June 23, 2003 - 09:10 pm
    Bobbiecee--If I ever get to Australia, I want to meet you. I have long wanted to go there but have never gotten around to actually planning a trip. Finances are in part responsible, but I'm going to do it one of these days.

    I loved your whole post, but you said something that really struck me because I have several alcoholics in my family. You said about your sister, "I send her Christmas cards but don’t have other contact because further contact is filled with whinges…..about her illnesses, her sad financial state, nobody loves her, a long list of ‘perceived injustices,’ etc. I hope this isn’t Letty’s fate."

    That hit hard because I know exactly what you mean. I also maintain that forgiving someone for past wrongs, or presumed wrongs, does NOT mean that you want to have continuing contact/ friendship/ ordinary relationship with that person.

    There is one person in my life who hurt me terribly and whom I forgave a long time ago. However, I don't want to see or have any kind of relationship with this person because he has not acknowledged what happened and I have come to see that we have practically nothing in common. Nothing to talk about except the past; his memory is not that good, and I have no desire to discuss that past with him anyway. It no longer haunts me; I am free of it.

    So, I maintain that forgiveness does not carry with it the burden of extended contact with someone you have forgiven.


    Christina Schwarz
    June 23, 2003 - 09:28 pm
    Wow! I am so overwhelmed by the care with which you've read my book. And I'm really pleased you liked the writing in the last museum scene--although I could visualize the scene, it was more difficult to write than I'd imagined and I was unsure about it for a long time. In fact, at the last minute, I was changing it back and forth between present and past tense. The afterword I added right away. I knew I needed to show the characters at a bit of a distance from all that had happened. In my first version, Margaret was less changed than she eventually became. She thought she might get some national attention for her sleep study, something like that. Sometimes, I think that version was more realistic. Do people really change? But even I, who love Margaret, was disgusted with her for it. I do believe she loves Letty and is capable of recognizing the value of that in her life. So I'm happier with it the way it is. The afterword I wrote right away. I knew I needed to show the characters at some distance from the events of the novel. It was pretty bad, though, for quite awhile. I agonized over it. It wasn't until the night the yellow accordian folder and the keeping of the signed checks somehow rose to my keyboard that I thought it was good. There's something eerie about that folder for me--the earlier scene where it first comes up had almost written itself. I didn't think about it or plan it; it just came easily and naturally. And then it is odd that in this scene you see the novel shaping Letty as much as Letty shapes the novel. I don't mean to suggest anything supernatural with it, but I think it's a neat touch. And that it helped so much with the ending, again without my really thinking about it--it just came to me. Among the best parts of writing are the splinters of moments when something you've set in motion for no particular reason seems to take on a life of its own like that.

    Someone asked if I write with a reader in mind. Not consciously. If I do, it must be me.

    Marvelle asked about the characters being two halves of one person. I didn't intend that, but I did try to make the characters as different as possible, while still in the same social class and with similar concerns, so I suspect that's why they seem to be two halves. I also think since they've known each other for so long, they've sort of pushed each other into occupying different but complementary realms, the way siblings sometimes do. If one, for instance, is good at sports, another might choose to develop a different strength, pushing the first further into sports and away from whatever the second sibling is doing. Letty would probably have been more of a leader, for instance, if it weren't for Margaret.

    The signatures mean everything! Yes, Margaret is ashamed of being Margaret. You may recall that as a child she thought "Peggy" would be nicer, better liked. It's very significant that she chooses to be Peggy now--a more friendly, less ambitious person. Why Letty is Letitia is harder to explain (and to remember), although it still seems right to me. I think I wanted to give her a lot of dignity and to separate her from the person who'd made such a mistake. Also, using that name separates her from her friendship with Margaret. It's not the name Margaret uses for her.

    No, Letty didn't know all along (at least I don't think she did!) I didn't end the book with Letty having made up the whole thing and manipulating Margaret at least in part because my agent nixed that plan from the beginning. "Something real has to happen," she said, "or it will be very disappointing." I think she's entirely right--it's almost like saying "and it was all a dream." I have a bad habit of trying to keep my characters out of real trouble--I guess it's a decent human instinct, but it's no good for a writer. Anyway that "Letty makes it all up" idea was even before I'd thought of the whole plot bit about Letty's money problems (I think maybe at that point she was going to have made up an affair for Margaret's entertainment. Much of the story (other than the betrayal of a friendship) would then have been about Letty being the real writer rather than Margaret--much, much shallower. I can't believe I ever thought it was a reasonable idea now! Luckily, things develop as you go along (that's what I'm telling myself now while I struggle with chapter 4 of book #3).

    To Pedln: beer and brats, yes, that's how my family makes them. Sometimes it's hard to be a vegetarian, as I am now.

    Will try to answer the rest of your questions before the discussion ends.

    June 23, 2003 - 09:51 pm
    MARYAL......I'd love to meet you if you do get here. Actually, now would be a good time to visit. Both our national and state tourist bureau's and Qantas are courting American tourists and have some really wonderful airfares going at present. And, we're currently in our lowest airfare block of time right now, so with the exchange rate difference, airfares should be very inexpensive. Winter in Brisbane means beautiful days 21-25ºC (70-77ºF), nights 10-15ºC (50-59ºF). I'll even tempt you further. Scroll down and click the arrows to get a pictorial tour of Brisbane. Sorry, Ginny, couldn't resist promoting my beloved city and environs.

    Although not pleasant, I'm glad my situation with my sister struck a note with you. Practicing alcoholics are so manipulative and attempt to get other's to take responsibility for them rather than take it for themselves. And as you know, I also believe that forgiving doesn't mean that one continues to have regular contact with the person who wronged us. It's dysfunctional to do that, to remain either a doormat or their 'counsellor.' To forget is foolhardy. I now have the option of choosing to associate only with people who are functional and who are true friends.....aside from clients, but then, I get paid for that and they are in the 'client' category only. Neither Margaret or Letty have that awareness....yet. I think you are wise to not have continuing contact with the person who hurt you. It has allowed you to be free from that energy draining relationship and no longer have him 'live rent-free' in your head.


    kiwi lady
    June 23, 2003 - 10:36 pm
    Bobbie I have had to do the same distancing from someone who meant a great deal to me in my family. Its better for my own mental health!

    June 23, 2003 - 11:05 pm
    Agree with you Carolyn.


    June 24, 2003 - 04:20 am
    What is vanity in the book?

    I think vanity in the book is "ambition." Margaret and Letty were bitten by wanting to improve their status. Margaret chose to do it by vocation, and Letty chose to do it by buying anything that would make her appear better than her ordinary neighbor.

    Hi Christina Schwarz! Thank you again for joining our group, and thank you Ginny for introducing us to this thought provoking book. I have thought a lot about betrayal, friendship and all of the themes in the heading.

    June 24, 2003 - 04:30 am
    In a post awhile back, I think Betty brought up LA and NY. When Letty moves to Nevada, I feel that it would be the perfect place for her and Michael. I think of Nevada as more laid back and a place of simplicity. I don't think Letty and Michael could have survived in LA. I think they would have ended up falling into financial ruin once again. To me, I felt their move to Nevada was a therapeutic move. Maybe even a psychologist would have recommended a move to a place like Nevada. Does that make sense?

    Their change of place made me feel that Michael and Letty's characters were flawed by "ambition." Michael and Letty knew that they had to move from LA. They were to weak to live in that place. Are our characters influenced by where we live, in what part of the country? Margaret's actions brought their "real" personalities to the surface.

    Margaret is flawed too. Margaret is flawed not only with ambition but with disloyalty as well.

    June 24, 2003 - 04:56 am
    HO!! Christina's back and LOOK at that, (I don't know about the rest of you but I love reading her posts), LOOK at all that insight, very exciting, many thanks, Christina on Chapter 4 of Your New Book!! Put us in it! hahahahaa (no don't!...I'd be afraid of what we'd look like!)

    SOOOO the names do mean something and so does the yellow folder which I would NEVER have noticed, ever, had it not been for you all! But I knew, in looking at this book closely how carefully it was constructed! I LOVE the bit about Letty and the part about siblings taking on different strengths, I think Christina's posts are a wonderful counterpoint to the book and I'm just totally grateful for them and this entire experience.

    Malryn congratulations on your new book and your new agent Heather, just don’t accost her in the street? Hahahahaa

    I have no idea of how agents act or how real that might be and am afraid to ask, actually? In the world of publishing? But Margaret’s attitude toward publishing agents reading her work is one I’m afraid I would have, it’s Tuesday, they’ve had 3 days, surely a contract is on the way. I have a feeling it does not work like that.

    B obbicee, I loved this, “the continuing resentment, which that produces. Margaret is still ‘living rent-free’ in Letty’s head, and she is still re-sensing the ‘betrayal.’ Unresolved issues and their accompanying emotions are buried alive and continue to affect the person” that’s really good, thank you, they are still connected in each other’s heads, I think. I also loved that part about Ted trying to get her focused and her resenting that, that’s good stuff!!

    Let’s put up everybody’s idea of what the Vanity is in this book in the heading, just for kicks? Here’s Bobbicee’s:

    Self-delusion, false values, external vs internal referencing.

    What’s yours?

    Bobbicee, what do you mean by “External referencing game?”

    LOVE this quote of Christina’s:

    Among the best parts of writing are the splinters of moments when something you've set in motion for no particular reason seems to take on a life of its own

    Oh and here’s a point we had not considered: “Also, using that name separates her from her friendship with Margaret. It's not the name Margaret uses for her.”

    Oh good point, Christina, thank you for that!

    OH and how interesting that the AGENT acts in the construction of the book! Christina’s AGENT nixed the Letty as making up the whole thing idea! Once again, I’m amazed, I had no idea the AGENT had so much power: how little I knowQ hahhaahah This has been a real learning experience about writing and books and authors, I love it.

    Hats, “ambition” is the “Vanity!” Well said, up it goes, as well. Me too, I have thought a lot about a lot of things, right now I’m up at 4 am worrying over credit cards for some strange reason, there don’t seem to be any BILLS, do you think I’m sleeping on them like Letty did and their poking is why I can’t sleep?


    So if the “Vanity” in All is Vanity is ambition, then what IS the desired thing in life??

    I’m going to ask as well about the Howells quote?

    “People are greedy and foolish and wish to have and to shine (I have this memorized now and had never really read him before) because having and shining are held up to them by civilization as the chief good in life.” (William Dean Howells)

    Is that true? Is it greed or foolishness that causes people to want to “shine”, it may cause them to want to “have,” but to “shine?” I do admit the local newspapers and TV stations do encourage this desire to shine, for whatever reason and the “having,” I think is not really only American, is it? I don’t think so. So IS the underlying motivation greed and foolishness, what did Howells (I know nothing of him, really, ) think was the REAL truth of what we should be doing? What for him is the Anti Vanity?

    What for you is the lesson in this book and what is the “Vanity?”

    A dull penny for your thoughts? Hahaahah

    ginny penny

    June 24, 2003 - 05:55 am
    First of all, Christine, thank you for providing more insights and why you wrote what you did, what you were thinking of writing, etc. I was really impressed with the depth of your characters and really got 'into' them. To me, that is a sign of a really good writer. BTW, the reason it took me so long to get into the discussion is that it took so long to get the book, even though I reserved it as soon as Ginny announced the book. And our library has 6 copies of your book. You can see from that that many in our Shire are reading your book, and the shire I live in is much smaller in population than Brisbane Shire Council. Thanks for writing such a wonderful book.

    I have loaned your book to one of my clients. She is a recovering alcoholic, 5 years sobriety in AA, a truly spiritual person (one of the miracles I talk about) who is now addressing her family of origin issues. She was a combination of both Letty and Margaret. She has one more year before she completes her MSW, and will then follow her humanitarian goals and purpose in life. I get such a thrill being able to help people overcome their childhood and peer pressure dysfunctionalities and find themselves and their purpose in life. I thought of her as I was reading the book, and decided to loan it to her. She's almost finished it. (It's due Friday) It's helped her see how far she has come. And has spurred her on to complete her family of origin work. PS, she has changed her name. Her Mum named her Katherine, called her Kay. She is now Kate.......she feels the 't' exemplifies the new person, with new strengths.

    “External referencing game” is 'other-esteem vs self-esteem. Acquisition, emphasis on the material, on viewing oneself through one's material possessions, one's job, one's education, etc. 'I am my job, my house, my car, my important friends, my bank account, my education, etc.' Whereas one can have internal pride in self when one has reached one's goals and succeeded, those accomplishments should not be the defining factors.

    I feel 'American consumerism' has been destroying what the founding fathers envisaged for America, for the last half century. It is just beginning to destoy my country as well. The traditional values and principles are being lost in the obsessive race for materialism, power, external referencing. My own feeling is that as people focus on external issues, they lose the natural spirituality which incorporates values and principles such as honesty, loyalty, humanitarianism, true friendship, and the sense of personal power that comes from true spirituality. They can then only try to find that 'power' in power and control games, material aquisitions, a 'better than/less than' mentality, a belief that 'I am my job, my house, my degrees, my car' etc, and that leads to cheating, fraud, etc, and a person becomes valueless, principleless, and in reality, worse than animals. As the above client recently said, 'My dog has more principles than humans. She is loyal, forgiving, gives unconditional love, is always there for me.' Sad but true.

    HATS...I agree with you in re Letty's move from LA to Nevada. Whereas one doesn't want to run away from (a geographical...'grass is greener' mentality) if one is moving to for positive reasons, it can be quite beneficial. A number of my friends have moved from Sydney to where I live....a positive move. I moved from from LA to a more positive lifestyle, an area that fit with my principles and values. In the 20 years I lived in Alice, I met some people who worked at Pine Gap, working for TRW. They loved it here but weren't allowed to remain here (migrate)....although they took as many tours as they were allowed, some here over 15 years. Interestingly, every one of the friends I made while they were here moved to Nevada, around the Reno area once they retired. They found they couldn't stand the LA lifestyle and felt the lifestyle around Reno was as close as they could find to the lifestyle they had in Alice. Last time I was back there, when Mum died, I drove up to Reno (on the wrong side of the road, mind you<g>) and spent almost a fortnight visiting. So, perhaps Letty and Michael do have a chance if they can embrace the lifestyle that my friends love.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 24, 2003 - 05:58 am

    Ginny, my new agent just quit. That's okay. She was too darned full of herself anyway. Do you know how hard it is to get a literary agent? Or how hard it is when you find one to get her to read your manuscript? Remember the description of the hallway at the agency Margaret went to which had stacks of manuscripts on the floor in front of bookcases which contained more?

    Writers are a dime a dozen. Ask me, and I'll tell you about the hundreds and thousands of electronic literary magazines out on the web full of stuff someone has written and the number of writers who contact me through email in various obsequious or bullying ways to get me to publish their work in my magazines. They come from all over, and their work varies from a story a child would write to something moderately publishable to outright porn.

    Literary agents know the market and know what will sell. They won't try to peddle a novel that doesn't have sale potential. The power they have and what a writer should expect from an agent is that she will tell you what needs to be changed in your work so it's believable or fantastic enough to sell, not just to a publisher, but to a readers market.

    Since my agent's gone to Fiji for the duration, and nobody will pick up my manuscript and read it, I've decided to publish it myself. I know something about that, too, since I'm proud of the fact that I did all the editing and pre-publishing work for a hard copy collection of writing by the writers of the Writers Exchange WREX in 1998 -- Late Harvest IV. It's a 308 page book. We sold nearly 300 copies, most of which my daughter and I packed and sent out to the buyers. Since i'm maxed out on my credit card, contributions -- for the cost of the printer, the graphics company which will print the cover pictures, and other costs I'll have -- will be gratefully accepted.

    If Vanity is to be considered in the Biblical sense in this book, then I see it as the futility of trying to be something you aren't. All is Vanity, in my opinion, is not a book about consumerism or trying to be a writer, it's about how two women gained self-knowledge the hard way.

    Hats, I see nothing wrong with ambition. It was ambition that pulled me up on my feet when I was a little girl and could not walk. It was ambition that got me through school and college; helped me be a musician, be a wife and mother and do practically everything else I have done, a drop in the bucket compared to what others accomplish, but more than just something for a person who had two strikes against her when she started out.

    Greed and civilization's prodding to shine are not the only reasons people want to stand out from the crowd. There are people like me who are born carrying genes that provide them with gifts. When a person is this way, he or she needs to give those gifts away. You don't sit contentedly singing arias to yourself or playing that concerto without wanting someone to listen to the music you are able to produce, to share the experience with you. Gifted people like my former husband don't sit contentedly in their laboratories looking at a successful experiment and reading the data accrued from it, they want to share it with the world, hoping that it might do someone else some good.

    It's the same with a writer. Even if people like Christina, Nellie Vrolyk and I don't write with a reader audience in mind, we can't help wanting someone to read what we say and perhaps benefit from the experience.

    It's been interesting to me to read what Bobbie, Maryal and Carolyn have said about alcoholism, since I've been on both sides of the coin. In my position as a long-time recovering alcoholic who used alcohol as medicine to cover physical pain more often than not, and as the mother of an alcoholic son, I see things differently from what they do. I have hurt people unintentionally, and I have been hurt. Since I feel it is a duty in my life to say this, I will say here that alcoholism is a disease; that if the person who has hurt you in the past has made the difficult effort to recover from his or her illness and in the process has changed, then to shun that person is not such a very good idea. The reputation of being a drunk is very hard to live down. There are people today, many, many years after that fact of my life, who still treat me as if I were to be avoided. That is wrong.

    Enough preaching. I'm going out on the street with a tin cup and see if I can collect enough nickels and dimes to self-publish my book.


    June 24, 2003 - 06:00 am
    OK I had said earlier that I saw a parallel between the protagonist in the novel The Remains of the Day and All is Vanity and I’d like to try to explain my theory now. If you have not read The Remains of the Day, you have missed one of the greatest books there is, do get it, but you’ll probably want to skip this post since I’m comparing something you have not read. But since it was an earlier Book Club Online selection and some of us did read it, I'd like to try a comparison.

    To me, now that we see the end and who Margaret is at the end, the parallels are striking. You may not agree if you have read the book but here’s my theory? For the sake of comparison I’m going to say Margaret is the protagonist of this book and here’s what I see as similar:

    Both protagonists wish to “shine.” Both Stevens and Margaret wish to be respected. Stevens had that drilled into him by his father, Margaret has it drilled into her by hers. Stevens feels if he attains his goal (which he will do through a life of perfect service) he will have “arrived” and be treated with “respect” from his fellow butlers in the Butler’s Club (can’t recall the name and am going on memory for both books). I saw Stevens as an “Idealist,” ostensibly seeking the ideal as a means through which to shine, himself.

    Margaret feels if she attains her goal she will have “arrived” and be treated with “respect,” from the world, the entire world, when meeting her, will know she is “somebody” worthy of their note. I don’t see Margaret as an Idealist, because and only because she’s more honest with us than Stevens was? She’s more forthcoming about every emotion. He was not. If she had conversed with US as he did, in a journal, and only stated her ambitions my conclusion might have been different. As it is, (and the parallel of having the characters express themselves through writing is also there) Margaret has the goal and the ambition and the same need to shine and she also has the “at all costs” attitude Stevens does.

    Stevens, in his pursuit, ignored certain warning signs, and deliberately passed over personal relationships in order to meet his goal.

    Margaret, in her pursuit, ignored certain warning signs, and deliberately passed over personal relationships in order to meet her goal.

    Stevens, asked later, did you not SEE? Did you not HEAR? Did you not realize what Lord Darlington did wrong, said no. I am not sure whether or not Stevens deliberately did wrong or that he had no choice or that he made the choice (I believe this is the case) deliberately because of his own goal.

    Margaret’s actions were more overt, she deliberately, with many excuses and then none, did wrong. Does admitting wrong make it more wrong than doing wrong and not admitting it? Jury is out on that one, both of them did wrong, deliberately, for the same reason. Stevens left his dying father, ignored a relationship and participated in the firing and justified it, of Jewish maids simply because they were Jewish. That caused them to be sent to Nazi Germany. He knew that was wrong, and while he did not cause it he condoned it: that’s as bad. Margaret knew what she was doing was wrong too, and justified it a million ways and condoned it.

    At the end they are both sorry. Both of them try to make amends, Stevens in his trip to see Miss Kenton, Margaret in her checks and Christmas card with the snow to Letty. Neither is able to attain closure.

    I gave it all I had,” Stevens exclaims in anguish, at the end, “and I have nothing left to give.” Stevens ignored the facts about the Butler’s Club and his lifelong goals till he could no longer: it was stupid and Vanity. When he discovered that and that he had spent his entire life in pursuit of Vanity to the detriment of others he was sorry, and he tried to make what amends he could. It was too late.

    “I would be happy to be dull, and I wouldn’t mid having failed, if I could be a true friend to Letty. But it’s far too late for that,” says Margaret at the end. When Margaret discovered that she was spending her entire existence in pursuit of Vanity to the detriment of others she was sorry, and she tried to make what amends she could. It was too late.

    Now here’s where they begin to part, but I never saw Margaret for who she was till I did this: here’s where I have to work harder:

    At the very end of the book Stevens continues “in service.” I believe in so doing he justifies his former efforts, in effect his efforts BECOME the justification he sought.

    I don’t, in my heart, believe Peggy has changed that much. She says she has? But I am not really sure she has, like Christina said and many of you said, we’re skeptical.

    Stevens went back and did what he knew to do, people sneered at that, but it fit.

    Peggy is doing electrodes, and watching people sleep: this is new. Ted and Peggy have moved, Ted tries to get Margaret to think about running the lab, but Peggy says she’s thru with ambition.

    She DOES continues her “relationship” with Letty by finding comfort in the sending of checks, the writing of Letty’s name on the envelope, (tho Letty never cashes them or answers the letters), and on the check, and the knowledge that the letter will enter Letty’s house.

    Stevens is an old man with limited options, Peggy is a young woman and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her changes.. Has she learned a lesson? Why is she not teaching school if she has? She was a school teacher not an electrode planter. Electrodes are new, watching people sleep is new, ostensibly humble. Why do I think that she is not quite being true here? To herself or to us? Why do I not see her here at the last, changed? I sense an ambivalence here, I sense a temporary chopping.

    I sense, if nothing else, an unwillingness to accept her lot like Stevens did, because she still insists on sending those letters to assuage her own conscience? If she had truly moved on, she’d have left the letters, also, and grieved as Stevens did, and come to an acceptance.

    She hasn’t, really, and I did not realize it until I made this comparison. Margaret has not changed, she’s in incubation for the next iteration. I sure would like to see what it is.

    A pair of absolutely super books that make you think that hard hahaahah


    June 24, 2003 - 06:01 am
    Malryn we were posting together, more on your post anon!!


    June 24, 2003 - 07:06 am
    Mal, you are right. There is nothing wrong with ambition unless it is misused. In All is Vanity, Both women misused their ambition. Letty ended up hurting herself, employees, friends and family. Margaret destroyed a friendship.

    I think ambition is a wonderful gift. However, our gifts can become pandora boxes. Our gifts must be used with care. Like money, there is nothing wrong with money or wanting to buy new furniture, but without the right character, money becomes our enemy too.

    When ambition become the primary force in our lives, then it becomes vanity. If our ambition does not give us what we want, can we accept our present place in life? Margaret's ambition or dream did not succeed. She had to fall back and regroup. Can we fall back and regroup, or do we fall back and never get up again?

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 24, 2003 - 07:20 am

    Hats, Ambition does not always contain the element of self-aggrandizement. I think it was self-aggrandizement more than ambition that motivated Letty and Margaret.


    June 24, 2003 - 07:23 am
    Mal, Bobbie writes what I am trying to write. Bobbie writes, "External referencing game" is 'other'esteem vs self-esteem. Acquisition, emphasis on the material, on viewing oneself through one's material possessions, one's job, one's education, etc. 'I am my job, my house, my car, my important friends, my bank account, my education, etc.' Whereas one can have internal pride in self when one has reached one's goals and succeeded, those accomplishments should not be the defining factors."

    I just love that quote. What I accomplish through ambition or drive "should not be the defining factors." of me.

    June 24, 2003 - 07:47 am
    Got cut off! Ooo I see many new posts good good more anon, just want to copy this over about Margaret and why I don't think she has changed from the Remains post for those who won't see it because I do think I've discovered something I'd like your collective takes on (at least the wheel, haahahah) What do you think?

    ON Margaret and has she changed at the end of the book??

    "Peggy" is doing electrodes, and watching people sleep: this is new. Ted and Peggy have moved, Ted tries to get Margaret to think about running the lab, but Peggy says she’s thru with ambition.

    She DOES continues her “relationship” with Letty by finding comfort in the sending of checks, the writing of Letty’s name on the envelope, (tho Letty never cashes them or answers the letters), and on the check, and the knowledge that the letter will enter Letty’s house.

    Peggy is a young woman and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her changes.. Has she learned a lesson? Why is she not teaching school if she has? She was a school teacher not an electrode planter. Electrodes are new, watching people sleep is new, ostensibly humble. Why do I think that she is not quite being true here? To herself or to us? Why do I not see her here at the last, changed? I sense an ambivalence here, I sense a temporary chopping.

    I sense, if nothing else, an unwillingness to accept her lot like Stevens did, because she still insists on sending those letters to assuage her own conscience? If she had truly moved on, she’d have left the letters, also, and grieved as Stevens did, and come to an acceptance.

    She hasn’t, really, and I did not realize it until I made this comparison. Margaret has not changed, she’s in incubation for the next iteration. I sure would like to see what it is.

    June 24, 2003 - 08:17 am
    Ginny.....Margaret has not changed, she’s in incubation for the next iteration. That's what I feel too. At the end, she seems to be wearing a hair shirt and wallowing in the pity pot.



    June 24, 2003 - 08:43 am
    I had to take a break for a few days and returned to find 70 new messages! I'm going to post now and catch up on the messages later today when I have time to ponder them.

    I think the TURNING POINT is the section ending at page 314. Michael and Letty now REALIZE that they're in over their heads financially, the promised land of job and grand house = grand life is an illusion and they can't/won't get out. They're committed to continuing on to the bitter end.

    Meanwhile Ted and Margaret are in silent collusion over the novel's betrayal and their personal betrayal; neither will warn Michael and Letty. Margaret REALIZES that she's Letty's enemy and we know she isn't going to stop her betrayals.

    Four turning points in this section of Vanity for the four main characters.


    Using bits of real people in novel writing are the norm yet authors do tend to squirm a bit over this practice. What is different between such authorial borrowings and Margaret's use of Letty's character and life is that she uses Letty 'whole-cloth' rather than just some bits or merging different people with additional inventions. Margaret is unable to imagine new traits that would create an entirely original character. This isn't acceptable writing; it isn't ethical; it isn't fiction. Margaret even uses Letty's mention of 'Lexie' for the name of her main character.

    Margaret's greatest betrayal is her suggesting further disastrous actions for Letty in order to get a better story for her novel. Margaret, once again, cannot imagine situations and has to copy from reality so she encourages Letty to take steps that Margaret knows are unwise and potentially quite harmful.

    Hi Christina! Thanks for answering my question about the two-halves of Margaret and Letty. I look forward to reviewing the last 70 posts and picking up on people's insights into this incredible book!


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 24, 2003 - 08:59 am

    Ginny and Bobbie, I fear I must disagree with you. To me, Margaret is making amends for what she did by sending what money she can to Letty, not assuaging her conscience. Anyone who has been in a 12 Step program like AA or NA knows that a major part of recovery is making amends to people he or she has hurt. It doesn't matter whether the people to whom the amends are made accept them or not. It is the act of making the amends that is important.

    It is Ted who is saying she could "audit classes and learn to read the data", not Peggy, who does not want to "run the lab . . . in a couple of years." Peggy has never been a teacher.

    Margaret is trying to recover what she really is. Being Peggy is part of that recovery. What she's doing seems normal and true to me, and I admire her for it.


    June 24, 2003 - 09:15 am
    I also agree that Margaret has not essentially changed. In her letter to the judge after Letty's trial, Margaret makes a point of apologizing for her very lengthy testimony. From her own mouth we learn that her testimony dwelt lovingly on HER emotions, HER guilts, HER intentions and HER actions. Goodness, did she ever get to mention what a nice girl Letty was? Did she ever tell the judge that Letty had always been a person of integrity in the past?

    Her testimony must have been a doozey, because Letty claims that "AFTER hearing Margaret's testimony" that's when she can't forgive her.

    When she writes her checks to Letty, she always writes "for redemption" on each one. Why? Isn't that an overt attempt to gain Letty's sympathy and make Letty feel guilty for breaking off contact?

    Off to doctor appointment, supermarket, postoffice and a few other goodies too.

    Later then.


    June 24, 2003 - 10:42 am
    I think Margaret and Letty have accepted their reduced status, although Letty/Leticia is resigned to hers and Margaret/Peggy is not. I would like to have heard the conversations with Ted and Michael during the break between the last chapter and the Afterword!

    As has been noted, Margaret's letter is all about herself, including the reason for Ted's new job. I can imagine Judge Brandt reacting to her letter much in the same way he must have reacted to cause her comment "I do see now that bringing every quiver of my conscience to the attention of the court may have been more tedious than enlightening"!! She just has to justify herself for everything she says or does!!!

    At the end of Peggy's letter, she writes "When we were young...we used to wonder what such coldness would feel like. She (Letty) has not yet written me back". She need wonder no longer.

    Letitica's letter lacks the breathless, flowing descriptions of Letty's correspondence. She does not mention her husband, her children, or any aspect of their new life except a drab description of their house "on a country road outside of town". I think she has sadly resigned herself to being an outsider in all areas of her life. She no longer has anyone to inspire her to greater heights.

    In addition to the yellow folder parallel, I noticed one with the erasable pen. If Letty's son hadn't used an erasable pen to change the answers on the test questions, it would not have been lying on the counter for Letty to use to change the checks. Christina - did this idea also "pop into your head" like the yellow folder did?

    Thank you all for including me in this discussion. I have enjoyed the brain exercise! Now - like the "burlyque" girl in the song about Kansas City from the musical Oklahoma, I've "gone about as fer as I kin go". If, in another book discussion, you hear someone murmuring "Yes. Hmm. I don't know about that. Oh, definitely", you will know who is lurking in the corner.
    I'll see you all around the bookshelves.

    kiwi lady
    June 24, 2003 - 11:27 am
    Such meaty posts here today. I am chuckling at a coincidence - Nicky has just done research on sleep disorders for her last assignment and here is Margaret (Peggy) involved with sleep disorders.

    I don't have much to say at this point.

    One hopes that these two characters will learn from their experiences and go on to have a good life. Somehow I don't know if either of them have truly overcome their problems.

    Mal - the persons I shun have not sought help for their problems. I cannot help them or handle the treatment they mete out because of their refusal to accept they have a problem. I am keeping myself sane by keeping away from them. I would be so happy if one day they came to me and said "I have a problem and I am now getting help" but sadly I cannot see it will ever happen.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 24, 2003 - 02:25 pm

    Since when did we decide to hate Margaret for what she did? Is betrayal the only sin in this book? What about Letty's embezzling and using money that did not belong to her? Does that not also constitute a sin? In the eyes of the law it does.

    True, Margaret writes "Redemption" on the checks she sends to Letty. This is what gave me the clue that she is making amends. Making amends is a kind of redemption; redeeming yourself by making amends, in the attempt to regain self-respect.

    How long a time do you suppose it was after the end of the trial that Margaret and Letty wrote these letters to the judge? Six months? A year? It couldn't have been too long because each of them expected the judge to remember her.

    After living one way for thirty-four or thirty-five years, it takes more than six months or a year to change in the way you seem to think Margaret should have. Give her a break, why don't you? At least as much break as you're giving Letty for what she did.


    June 24, 2003 - 02:30 pm
    P.S. I like seeing my name in print as much as the next person - but Carolyn (Kiwi Lady) should get credit for asking question #17, not Callie. (BTW, Ginny - yes, it is!!)

    MAL: I don't hate either Margaret or Letty - feel rather sorry for both of them.
    You are right - Letty's "sin" was absolutely illegal and led to her arrest. I haven't gone back to see what you posted re: plagarism; please remind me if you think Margaret was guilty of this illegal action.
    Ticklish question - whether an immoral action is worse than/not as bad as/equal to an action that breaks a written law.

    June 24, 2003 - 02:34 pm
    Ms Schwarz, it has been mentioned, in another discussion, that there is an interest in knowing "what it was like" to be an Oprah pick (Drowning Ruth) and to appear on her show. Would you please tell us what that experience meant to you?


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 24, 2003 - 03:36 pm

    Callie, I don't like what Margaret did when she used Letty's letters for a book she wrote which was never published. I'd never do it.

    Was it plagiarism? Well, Wallace Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize for Angle of Repose in which he used, almost verbatim, unpublished letters by Mary Hallock Foote, calling them the letters of a fictional character, Susan Burling Ward. It is said that Foote's family requested that he not put a disclaimer using the Foote name in his book. He did, however, put a cryptic kind of disclaimer in the form of a credit in the book. Stegner was accused of plagiarism by Mary Ellen Williams-Walsh, a respected scholar. To my knowledge, Stegner was never found guilty of plagiarism, and there are people who are still very upset about this today, more then twenty-five years after the book's publication.

    I had links to web sites about this bookmarked, but lost them when my computer died last month. Marvelle knows more about this than I do, actually. Perhaps she'll come in and post about it, and how she feels about what Margaret did.

    Margaret certainly broke copyright laws covering emails and content on the web.


    June 24, 2003 - 04:29 pm
    Finally caught up on the posts although I didn't spend the time I'd like to have in mulling over them.

    I like the comparison, GINNY, of Margaret to Stevens of Remains of the Day although she does accept responsibility. I also agree that she's in incubation. I don't think Letty/Letitia has changed; just my perception of her changed when first looking through Margaret's eyes and then my perception through the final letters.

    Letitia's mad, she's furious, she's looking to others to blame for her destructive behavior. She never exhibited that much caring for Margaret in the first place, why would she with Peggy?

    I felt sick to my stomach with Letitia storing Margaret's 'redemption' checks in her yellow accordian file. To me it signaled a triumph for Letitia who still sees money as power. It isn't that she values Margaret but that she can wield power over Margaret by not forgiving. To redeem the 'redemption' checks would be an act of forgiveness and Letitia hasn't enough kindness or big-heartedness for that. Some otherwise good people are like that.

    I think the ultimate betrayal here is self-betrayal.

    Margaret's self-betrayal was in not trusting herself enough to go through with writing her book and instead she fell to the easy temptation of stealing Letty's life and suggesting dangerous courses of action to Letty to further along the plot. Letitia thought to buy respect and power with money she didn't have and her self-betrayal is that she uses money still as respect/power (the redemption checks in the yellow file are an ominous sign of her future). She thus is able to blame Margaret for Letty's own failure -- no growth there and certainly a serious betrayal of self.

    I think Letitia can't forgive Margaret, not for stealing her life, but for the failure to make money out of it and sending the promised money on to her. Money to Letitia is still the ultimate gauge of success, not if someone writes about you and exposes your overspending. Actually, I kinda think being portrayed nationally, even if fictionally, as a free-spender would appeal to Letitia.

    Betty said in an earlier post that "unless our heart is in what we're doing, unless we're engaged in the journey/process, our dreams for achievement are...."

    I'd say "our dreams are hollow." I can see Margaret/Peggy accepting responsibility and in incubation (to what next?) but Letitia is basically unchanged.

    Love the kind of novel where the characters have a life of their own which continues, in the readers' minds, beyond the pages of the book!


    betty gregory
    June 24, 2003 - 05:06 pm
    The comparison of Margaret to Stevens in Remains of the Day is beautifully done, Ginny, and goes far beyond what I thought you meant when you mentioned it. A stunning, detailed work, very convincing (even to me, a reader with a slightly different perspective of Stevens. Remember?). I don't think it's that important to nail down a similarity as we leave them at the end of the books, though. For one thing, as several posts here attest, it may be left to the individual reader to imagine Margaret's future.

    It's fascinating how differently several of us feel about Margaret. It's to be expected, of course, these personal perspectives, but it's still fascinating. These are deeply personal issues....betrayal, forgiveness, friendship.

    From Christina in her last post....

    "The afterword I added right away. I knew I needed to show the characters at a bit of a distance from all that had happened. In my first version, Margaret was less changed than she eventually became. She thought she might get some national attention for her sleep study, something like that. Sometimes, I think that version was more realistic. Do people really change? But even I, who love Margaret, was disgusted with her for it. I do believe she loves Letty and is capable of recognizing the value of that in her life. So I'm happier with it the way it is."

    (The bold emphasis is mine.) See, even the author who wrote the book, who through her words made me question Margaret's ability to BE a friend, says that Margaret "loves Letty," when it is so clear to me, a reader, that Margaret doesn't know how to love a friend.

    Now, that feels so strange. Christina's words convinced me that Margaret, who deliberately caused harm to her "friend" again and again, doesn't have the first notion of friends "being there" for each other. A friend is in trouble. What do you do? You kick her in the head when she's on the ground?? And you do it again??

    Then, Christina writes that Margaret "loves Letty."

    From Marvelle, a description of the betrayal and harm....

    "Margaret's greatest betrayal is her suggesting further disastrous actions for Letty in order to get a better story for her novel. Margaret, once again, cannot imagine situations and has to copy from reality so she encourages Letty to take steps that Margaret knows are unwise and potentially quite harmful."

    I love these discussions. I love how human we are in our different perspectives. I love the atmosphere of learning.

    I believe change is possible and happens all the time. I don't know about Margaret because I don't think we know enough about her to venture a guess. Hey, and even if we did, it would still be a guess.

    We already see the first hints of change in Letty. This helped me immensely, Christina, when you wrote (in your post)....

    "Why Letty is Letitia is harder to explain (and to remember), although it still seems right to me. I think I wanted to give her a lot of dignity and to separate her from the person who'd made such a mistake. Also, using that name separates her from her friendship with Margaret. It's not the name Margaret uses for her."

    Yes!! I can almost see Letty straightening her posture, setting her jaw. I wondered many posts back if Letty had ever uttered the word "NO." I saw her with loose boundaries, not quite sure where Letty ended and others began. That is changing and a more defined self is emerging.

    Who is to say if Letty and Margaret, at their young ages, will allow what has happened to change them in positive ways, will let experiences of hurt and selfishness and unhealthy dependency and youthful greed and maybe 25 other things, between them, be instructional. I would guess yes, in general. Maybe more for one than the other. Maybe added to other experiences before any "lessons" surface. Life does change us, is meant to change us. Reading books changes us. I've always thought that people who love reading are more open to change than those who don't.


    kiwi lady
    June 24, 2003 - 05:36 pm
    Betty I think you are 100% right -even well researched fiction can be very educational. However I wish I had known myself at 30 as well as I know myself today. Knowing myself has changed my life.


    June 24, 2003 - 07:45 pm
    MALRYN………And, I fear we must agree to disagree about Margaret according to what Christine offered us. While I accept and agree with your interpretation of amends as per the 12 steps, and that amends in the program are often the precursor of cognitive, behavioural and spiritual changes as per the Maintenance or Growth steps, there was no indication in the book that Margaret was an alcoholic/addict, that she joined AA/NA, or that sending the cheques was related to the 8th or 9th Steps. In fact, you’d be aware that those steps stress that one is to make amends with humility, not humiliation, without the defence mechanisms of justification, rationalisation, projection, etc, without self-pity, and that AA/NA sponsors stress that after making those sincere amends, focusing totally on the other person, rather than self, the member must then work to forgive herself…..take off the hair shirt, throw away the pity pot, in order to continue on growing as per the last three steps. I didn’t see those signs in Margaret. IMO, Margaret is still operating off her own will, is still in self-pity, is still punishing herself, all signs that she is still focusing on self.

    I do not and feel that others do not hate Margaret. I feel sorry for her. In one way, it’s a shame that she isn’t a recovering alcoholic because if she was, she would then have a program to enable her to first understand herself, deal with her issues and make all necessary changes, make sincere amends, forgive herself, and practice her new principles, which include being the person her God wants her to be……which would not include wearing a hair shirt, etc. BTW, congratulations on your years of sobriety! You have obviously followed the program of recovery and are now one of the ‘miracles.’

    HARRIET…….I agree with you…..Margaret’s testimony dwelt on Margaret, her emotions, guilts, intentions, actions….not on Letty. I also agree with your comment about her writing the cheques ‘for redemption’ rather than for sincere amends as per the 12 Step programs. I suspect there’s a bit of an attempt to gain sympathy, and perhaps to continue to make Letty feel guilty for dropping her.

    CALLIE…….I agree with your interpretation of Margaret’s letter…..I too felt she was busy justifying herself. Like you, I feel sorry for both Margaret and Letty.

    CAROLYN………I know you were talking about a person who has not sought help, who was still drinking/using. In fact, all of us were. Al-Anon stresses that one should not prop and enable the alcoholic/addict, for their own health, well-being and sanity, and AA/NA adheres to that philosophy as well. The person has to want to help themselves and until such time as they have hit a rock bottom and seek sobriety/cleanness, propping, enabling and caretaking is unhealthy behaviour for family, friends and the alcoholic addict. I would love to have my sister get help, but like you, I can’t see her doing that at this late date. She’s 61, has refused all interventions. There reaches a point when one goes from toxic personality to toxic brain syndrome. (I can’t remember, can’t decide, can’t abstain) Sadly, I feel my sister has reached that point. I’d love to be wrong, but don’t think so.

    MARVELLE ……I agree with your opinions. I too feel that Letty is angry, blaming, projecting, punishing and living in the hurt/anger cycle, re-sensing the perceived injustice.

    BETTY……I too believe that change is possible, not only possible but happens often when people are sincerely motivated to change. I see it regularly in my part-time work. However the key words are motivation and the ability to be self-honest. Perhaps both Letty and Margaret will eventually have the motivation and the self-honesty. At the end of the novel, I don’t feel that either had reached that point.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 24, 2003 - 08:18 pm

    Bobbie, I knew someone would come in and say, "Margaret isn't an alcoholic and isn't in AA."

    To me, the 12 Steps of AA are based on plain old common sense, thought up by two guys who observed their own behavior and that of others. Anybody can find out what those steps are and follow them if they want to, in or out of a group. Making amends is done by "normal people" as well as by people in 12 Step groups, and I still think that's what Margaret is doing. But, hey, I can't fight city hall and don't have the equipment to stand up to people who are professionals, smarter than I am, and know a whole lot more than I do. In the long run of things, in this big wide, wide world I'm a tiny speck just like most everyone else, and my opinion isn't worth the air it floats on in Cyberspace, a fact that doesn't bother me a bit.

    Thanks for the congrats. I'd much rather be known by the work I do -- for and in the arts -- than by the length of time I've been myself, crutchless except for two wooden ones that sometimes get me walking.

    My last word:- Honesty is the best policy. I guess Margaret and Letty forgot.


    kiwi lady
    June 24, 2003 - 09:33 pm
    I did 12 steps and it was not because I was a substance abuser but because I was addicted to certain behaviour patterns which came from being the child of a substance abuser. The program I attended was modified to include, children of alcoholics, abused children, abused wives, abandoned children (adult children who had been abandoned by both or one parent). I found it was an incredible program and as I said in a previous post I got to meet Carolyn the real me. I am eternally grateful to the church who ran this program.


    betty gregory
    June 24, 2003 - 10:30 pm
    Ah, bless you, Bobbiecee, for opening this door. You wrote that you don't present yourself as "psychologist" here and, among other things, you are only a psychologist to your paying clients. So, when I say how uncomfortable it makes me when I'm asked to play psychologist here, I know at least one person, you, will understand.

    Because my personal interests in gender, women, (social) culture, science, emotional health, and relationships often show up in my posts, and many of you know how strong my opinions can be, I want to explain why being a psychologist and being Betty with varied interests are separate.

    The first reason is that being a psychologist is work and I don't want that responsibility here. It also would be unprofessional. Mixed in is my pet peeve (and variations), when people perceive that one is always "at work," busy trying to analyze and dissect others. 24 hours around the clock, I suppose, as the myth goes. How maddening that is, at times in my life, when someone gets that knowing little grin and asks, "Are you doing it right now?" Once, instead of giving my standard, reassuring response on how a person might have a few other things to think about, I was so exasperated, that I just said, to a guy who was a real jerk, "Yes."

    hahahaha that was such fun!!!! The look of horror on that guy's face.....hahahaha.

    On top of everything else, I'm a feminist psychologist. Too bad about that label, but it means almost nothing that one might think. It is not a feminist who happens to be a psychologist. It is not a psychologist who is politically liberal. It has nothing to do with politics. A feminist psychologist could be a male Republican. It is a theoretical style of doing therapy.

    The therapy I did when I was practicing was egalitarian. The relationship between therapist and client was equal, in that the power was shared. In other words, my assessment was nothing on its own. Imagine group therapy, but a very small group of 2. That is another reason why I won't do an assessment of a character or her the traditional way. Offer ideas?...yes, but collaboration is always where my mind goes. And what I believe in.

    There are numerous theoretical styles of doing therapy and I respect most of the newer styles and none of the older (a la Freud). I always, always learn something from other styles....especially varied styles of "eclectic" and "cognitive-behavioral."

    I still have tons of opinions that come from the research side, not the therapy side of psychology. So, think social psychology or "psychology of women," neither of which is about doing therapy or assessing the emotional status or background of someone. There are about 40 divisions in the American Psychological Association, only 15 or so are about therapy and assessment. The rest include industrial psychology, sports psychology, school psychology, consultation psychology, biological psychology, program psychology, environmental psychology, child psychology , social psychology, psychology of women.....

    Finally, here's what I tell close friends and family when asked, I tell them I'm more than happy to say what I think, as long as they will remember how wrong I could, the deal is, they have to pick and choose what fits, what makes sense to them, and throw the rest out. I don't like the assumed elevation that comes from the word "psychologist." Being human is tricky enough without being responsible for boxing it up in a final answer. It makes more sense, to me, to help each other with the questions and answers and to never finish wondering about this human condition.


    kiwi lady
    June 24, 2003 - 11:03 pm
    If one can look at oneself and see your person warts and all it is a powerful feeling of freedom. It also helps you to understand others and sometimes even to help them.

    Betty I always enjoy your posts they are very informative. As for therapy I was scared stiff to go for years but after doing 18mths I can't now understand why I felt this way and wish so much others that I know would avail themselves. I feel it set me free and made me a better parent, and friend. I take great joy in the relationship I have now with my kids. OK they or I are not perfect but certainly I enjoy a great friendship with 3 of my kids and a peaceful relationship with the fourth. Thats something! Even when I have concerns I have learnt to keep my mouth shut. The great improvement since I went to therapy is that the kids trust me to confide in me and we can discuss any subject without becoming angry or resentful. The greatest compliment I had recently was that one of my DILs told my daughter she really enjoys visiting me. Once we did not get on at all.

    I hope that I will continue to grow as a person until the day I depart this earth. I don't think the work is ever done!

    I would like to thank everyone for the great input into this discussion. The discussion leaders for their work and great posts and Christina for taking time out from being a writer and new mother to join us. You are all pretty smart cookies!

    June 24, 2003 - 11:24 pm
    BETTY.....what a wonderful refreshing post. I agree with you. We are NOT our profession or our degrees, and we are not busy psyching people out 24 hours per day. I rarely tell people that I'm a psych. People always ask 'What do (or did) you do?' I say 'I worked for the state government. If they ask farther, I tell them I was a counsellor in Community Development, Health and Corrections. That satisfies them and doesn't make them feel that I am wearing my 'psych hat' which I'm not. As you'd know, we have to figuratively put on our 'psych hat' in order to get into assessment mode. Also, I never tell people I have my PhD either, because I'm not my degree...that was only for credibility when writing programs and participating in seminars. One of the reasons I like, and am good friends with, my federal MP is that he does the same thing. His return address is Mr Craig Emerson. He only uses the Dr bit when essential for professional credibility.

    Your personal interests are the same as mine: gender, women, social culture, science, emotional health, and relationships. My therapy was and is still egalitarian, in both 1x1 and group. I am also a feminist psychologist. When I did my knee and was obviously going to be off work for quite a while, an HR bloke came to see me. Eventually we started talking about what I'd do when I retired. He asked me what I really wanted to do. I said 'Help women find themselves and their spirituality.' He said 'What are you doing working in a men's prison then?' I thought for a minute then said 'For the extra Q-Super. Not good enough, eh?' Anyway, I found I could retire on a medical retirement, get all my Q-Super and had enough other investments that I could live comfortably as a self-funded retiree, so I retired, and am now doing what I really want to do....helpin my female clients find themselves and their spirituality. Aside from that, I'm just me when with friends and family. Like you, I don't like the assumed elevation. Thanks for writing what you wrote.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 25, 2003 - 03:39 am

    I think one of the most wonderful parts about these book discussions is that we are all of different backgrounds and experience with different perspectives and points of view. These all show through when we try to interpret a book and share what we see with others here. Because of this we learn from each other, move our thresholds a little to the left or a little to the right, away from our personal centers, so to speak, and re-examine what we read and how we think about a book. When several people have the same opinion about something and I see it differently I think hard about what they say, just as I did last night after I went to bed.

    My interpretation of what Christina said was that at first she drew Margaret harder at the end of this book, but she didn't like her that way, so ended up with a softer view. It's entirely possible that Margaret is unable to change, that I was making her "my" Margaret rather than what Christina had intended. I know how this can be. People read what I write and sometimes see a very different side to characters I create from what I intended. I am lucky to have a writers group here in SeniorNet where this can be voiced. At first I was extremely surprised to see what people posted in critiques of things I write and characters in my writing, and resisted what they said. Now I welcome the chance to examine what I do with their points of view in mind.

    It is like this here in these discussions. I want Margaret and Letty to be honest with themselves, so I put that on them. After thinking about it this past relatively sleepless night I wonder if they can be honest; if they truly can change. Perhaps it is true that unlike Stevens' coming to terms with himself Margaret is clinging to her old self by sending Letty the money. Perhaps, as Ginny and others have suggested, the gesture is self-motivated rather than selfless as I had thought before.

    I do think that honesty is a big part of this. Margaret and Letty have shown that they cannot be honest with themselves or anyone else. It is honesty when I say I see myself as a tiny speck in this big world. My importance, or the importance of anyone else, cannot be denied, but when put in the perspective of the world, each of us, no matter what our status or accomplishments, still remains only one of billions of others. A troubled drunk thinks his or her needs are more important than anyone else's. Margaret thought her need for recognition was more important than her husband, her best friend and anything else. Both she and Letty seemed to me to be addicted to what they were doing and unable to stop until it was too late, thus my bringing in alcoholism and AA.

    I haven't fully formulated this in my mind, but know I'm headed somewhere, thanks to Bobbie and Betty and Ginny and all of you. To me this is growth, and I guess what I'm experiencing right now because of this book and this discussion is growing pains. That's "a good thing", as our friend Martha Stewart would say.


    June 25, 2003 - 09:22 am
    Just a few general thoughts first and then on to your points raised but I do think that it’s rare that any book can cause so much introspection about our own lives and that a discussion of the same can likewise lead to a new knowledge or perspective, I myself have gained one as a result of the discussion of the issues in the book here with you, from something one of you said.

    I truly think that there’s almost no finer pleasure, it’s almost a guilty pleasure, than to be able to discuss a good book with an intelligent, perceptive reader, and sometimes it…well yes, yes there is: the unbelievable serendipity of being able to discuss a good (super) book with a host of intelligent perceptive readers AND the author? That’s something I can’t get used to and have just loved. And I’ve loved all your comments here today, too, thank you for all of them.

    I actually had been waking up at 2 am over the trip I’m taking, I guess Letty and the credit cards got to me, finally the Am Ex bill came yesterday and HECK I can do that, and all the stress evaporated, I really got caught up in Letty, I guess, and her total for $145,000 because things DO add up, we all know that, we’ve been there, not at that level, but we do know, don’t we, somewhat how it feels, and it was horrifying there for a minute, relieved to find I am not in her shoes, but really felt it there for a while.

    Betty what a beautiful post, thank you for that one, and I want to say also that Betty is so right, we all felt differently about Stevens, we all feel differently about Margaret and Letty and we’re all right, and we’re so lucky to have the author and we KNOW what was intended, it’s just a marvelous experience. On the subject of Margaret (surely one of the most memorable characters in literature and very debatable, as you can see) yesterday I heard yet ANOTHER take on her, Malryn I think this will interest you, as you disagreed on my thing about her changing, check this one out!

    I was talking with our Jane DeNeve here in the Books on the phone about (who else) Margaret and Letty. And she actually said she and I were LIKE Margaret and Letty ahhahaha, that’s how it came up. EVERYBODY is discussing this book! Anyway, I was advancing my “Stevens” theory as she was in Remains and she was disagreeing (there is no pleasure like discussing a good book) and I said BUT the thing that bothers me on Margaret is she keeps sending those checks, that SHOWS she has not changed, etc. and Jane said (I was going to claim this for myself but it’s too far from my theory hahahaah Margaret that I am) hahahAHHAHA She said, but it’s easy enough to send a check that nobody ever cashes. That’s easy. You can assuage (I hope I’m putting this right) your guilt without paying the price. So there (not said well) is yet ANOTHER take on Margaret and her possible motivation, Margaret with the Million Faces, and we all think we know who she is.

    Now on Letty, again, even tho I do NOT have her “down,” I’m going to disagree (imagine that) with some of you and say yes those checks DO mean something to her. That part about

    I keep the checks, along with her Christmas card, in a small canary yellow accordion file. They are a tie to her, however tenuous, and so I cannot bear to cash them.

    I contend this DOES mean affection because I did the same thing (not in an accordion file) with a check once that somebody had signed, because I wanted to keep that record I guess of that tie even tho the person now and I were apart, and would stay apart forever; I wanted a record, I don’t know why that I could see physically, that I could hold, of that former relationship. I don’t know why. And Margaret is doing the same thing as she addresses the envelope and writes Letty’s name on the check.

    I don’t know what you call that? But it’s a substitute for a real relationship, and I think it does connote feeling.

    Callie I have corrected #17 to read “Carolyn From New Zealand,” thanks for the head’s up.

    Howzat!! Welcome to the discussion, sorry I called you Horselover, too much of a hurry!! I have added your Oprah Experience question to Christina’s questions Page in the heading, and I'll upload the correct change to your name later on today!

    Many thanks to Jane DeNeve who has worked on all the HTML pages of the Questions and Topics, and has put them into the heading, the record of our questions, our Totally Scientific Voice Poll, etc., did we really do all that? This has been like a dream, a roller coaster ride, I’m still shaking my head as I walk down the ramp back into the world of the Disney World crowds, no wonder people get back on and ride again, no wonder, back with some final comments, let’s make our concluding comments on the BOOK today and some parting words in the next few days, if you like.

    What have we NOT covered in the book that you really wanted to talk about??


    June 25, 2003 - 09:42 am
    Malryn, no I don’t know anything about writing, my level of knowledge is the same as Margaret’s, eerily so.

    Now you said this, If Vanity is to be considered in the Biblical sense in this book, then I see it as the futility of trying to be something you aren't.

    That’s a good point, I've put that in the heading for our definitions of "Vanity." “Vanity” to me, in the Bibical sense is when you think YOU have done something and you have not given the credit to God. “I made me good works; I builded me houses…And, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit undetr the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:4, 11)

    In that regard the builded houses and trophies, the great works, when done for and credited to man are vanity, my understanding of the Bibical sense. Margaret’s motivation was wrong: it was Vanity. So was Letty’s and so, probably is all of ours. In this context then, the Howells quote is correct: People are greedy and foolish…. I didn’t think so when we started the book, I was back on “you can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine?” but your light needs to shine for the right reason, Margaret’s and Letty’s were not. A tour de force, by anybody’s standards.

    Do you all agree with this interpretation of "Vanity" or not? If not, what's YOURS?

    June 25, 2003 - 10:29 am
    Promote away, Bobbicee, here we are talking to people in New Zealand, Australia, and all over the US, it’s astounding!

    Hats, I have too, thought about betrayal and friendship, a LOT, I agree with being so pleased Christina is here, did you all catch this one, “I have a bad habit of trying to keep my characters out of real trouble--I guess it's a decent human instinct, but it's no good for a writer”…I KNEW IT!! I knew that was why (or so I think) Margaret’s worst things were only revealed by Letty’s emails, we have Margaret self flagellating over it but we almost NEVER see it, Pedln found one place I another, but nothing compared to what she did do, I love that, thank you for that, Christina!

    hats would you say any of these characters are not flawed? How about Ted?

    Bobbicee, thank you for mentioning your Library in Australia has 6 copies of Christina's book and it took you all this time to get it, wow! Christina is hot all over the world, imagine!

    Holy COW Bobbicee, you loaned All is Vanity to one of your clients? WOW. Congratulations to you on your successful therapy with that person, wonderful wonderful. And golly moses in real life she changed her name, too, to Kate!!!!

    Thank you for that definition of External Referencing, I think we need to put that in the heading, I have never heard of it before, and like Hats, I love it!br>
    Marvelle, another turning point, many thanks!! For all four characters, too. But why do you say Ted is in silent collusion, do you say he KNEW it was about Letty?

    I so agree it’s an incredible book, marvelle!

    Hawk Eye Harriet, from now on I’m calling you Hawk Eye, again you see something I missed:

    Margaret makes a point of apologizing for her very lengthy testimony. From her own mouth we learn that her testimony dwelt lovingly on HER emotions, HER guilts, HER intentions and HER actions. Goodness

    Wow wow, yes. Missed that and Letty claims after the testimony as you say she can’t forgive her and the judge says he feels sorry for her with Margaret as a friend. Wouldn’t this make SOME movie?

    You know what, Harriet, that is an EXCELLENT question of WHY Margaret writes “Redemption” on every check? I’m putting that in the heading, that fits in with Bobbicee’s Hair Shirt! Why do you all think she did that!!??!!

    Good point Callie, on the potential Ted/Michael conversations at the time of the last chapter and afterword, we have so enjoyed you in this discussion, my first with you, don’t go away yet, we’re not quite thru!

    WHOOPS! Callie strikes again:

    Letitica's letter lacks the breathless, flowing descriptions of Letty's correspondence.

    Bingo! Another voice. OH and the erasable pen parallel, well done II!! Have put your question to Christina in the heading as well! That was one place Letty's understatement or irony or whatever you call it was funny to me, that search (sounded like she tore the house apart) for the pen lying right in sight, good point on the parallel! See nothing is in this book except for a reason, good tight writing.

    Malryn, who says we hate Margaret? I don’t. I still feel I AM Margaret?

    Marvelle, vis a vis Stevens, do you think they parallel at the end or not?

    Oh I really like your point on the ultimate betrayal here being self betrayal. And this, “Love the kind of novel where the characters have a life of their own which continues, in the readers' minds, beyond the pages of the book!”

    Betty what a beautiful post! I enjoyed every word in it, many thanks. Thank you for your kind words on the Stevens/ Margaret thing.

    Carolyn, I agree with you and Betty about how reading books can change and affect us and how educational fiction can be. It’s almost impossible to convince those who only read non fiction tho!

    I really enjoyed all of your wonderful posts talking about your own personal experiences, and perspectives and applications to real life. I find I’m just repeating what you’ve said. I agree with Carolyn that the whole, thanks in no small part to Christina, has been wonderful. And I need to add “honesty” as a continuing theme to the heading, I see it’s still not up there!

    Before the colors fade, I wonder what part denial played in this if any? I notice even up to the end Letty saying even tho she knew it was dishonest, she regarded her embezzlement as a loan. I am just idly wondereing here as I walk out of the roller coaster ride if any or all of the other characters denied things and if, in fact, that’s not always bad?

    What’s the answer to Harriet’s question? WHY write Redemption on the check? WHY?

    Penny for any of your thoughts?


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 25, 2003 - 10:36 am
    The answer to do I have any further questions is:- Why did this book have to end? I wanted it to go on forever. Christina, you're one super writer. I'm publicizing you all over Chapel Hill.

    Ginny, the answer to your question about what what is vanity? is this:- Vanity is thinking I'm a writer. Today I went in my word processor and started something about a 69 year old woman writer who just found an agent after all this time, for Pete's sake! In the process of trying to get her book published, she is going to run into all kinds of impossible snags like a two bit drug dealer whose day job is in the A and P. This start came about because of this discussion and things Christina and all of you have said. The name of the lead character is Parry Zveldt, Paranoia for short, a name I dreamed up some time ago. If written in my usual vein, it will be light satire, if there is such a thing. This, my dears, is vanity to me!

    Ginny, you're Letty and Jane is Margaret? Vice versa? Balderdash! I hate to tell you, but Margaret and Letty only exist in Christina's book.

    When do you leave for Oxford, Ginny? Lucky, lucky you.


    June 25, 2003 - 11:16 am
    Ginny, I think all of the characters are flawed, including Ted. After thinking about it, I believe Ted should have been more in touch with the "real" Margaret. I am not sure whether he realized the underlying reasons Margaret had for quitting her job at the school and for desperately trying to write a novel.

    In a way, I count Ted and Michael as husbands who are not fully aware of the motivations of their wives. Ted and Michael see and know the external characters of their wives, but I don't think they know the inner characters of them. Do they really know what makes their wives tick?

    So, All is Vanity is also about marriage. Do we just live and sleep, coexist beside the person we have married? Do we really know them fully, every part of them? I have been married for thirty years. I have never asked myself these questions. All is Vanity is causing me to look at all that we have discussed, including my marriage.

    June 25, 2003 - 11:51 am
    HATS, we posted at the same time. What a beautiful, thoughtful post on marriage!

    GINNY, no, I don't agree that the Biblical quotation regarding vanity means 'the futility of trying to be somebody you are not.' I think that would be one of the possible RESPONSES to the Biblical Vanity which is that material life is temporal and, therefore, you should consider and pay attention to what is truly worthwhile. (This interpretation is rather primitive and I hope someone offers a better and/or different one.)

    The idea that life is temporary can be unsettling. What's the use if nothing is permanent. Why bother? Good grief, much of Buddhist and Indian philosophy is wrapped around that concept of temporal life. But it didn't stop Gandhi from trying to improve himself so my RESPONSE to the Biblical Vanity is to take what time I have and try to be at my best, to learn and to grow and do my best and in the doing to enjoy. It's through this temporal life that we prepare ourselves for Heaven/Nirvana and in this preparation we make the temporal world a better place in the meantime.

    I have an alcoholic acquaintance (we seem to have delved into this a lot here) but she believes 'this happened to me, this person did that to me, and I'm a poor weak woman and that's why I drink.' She claims she's a recovering alcoholic but she goes on periodic binges. I used to try to help (doormat/counsellor) but learned that I can't accept her responsibility. She believes it is futile to try to be somebody she's not, that's her alibi for giving in to drink and avoiding responsibility for herself. That 'why bother?' is her RESPONSE, I believe, to Biblical Vanity.



    Ginny asks if I'm saying that he knew the novel was about Letty. Yes, and I pointed all that out in post 328.

    Briefly, Ted knew at the time of Margaret's concern about Letty/Michael's too-expensive housebuying (page 225); Ted knew of Letty's email-cry-for-help over debts (page 301); Ted read all about these specific situations in the novel in progress yet he keeps up the myth of the fictional 'these people' (313) and he doesn't warn the real Letty/Michael.

    Please see post 328 Ginny for a better thought out and more detailed post on this subject.


    That said, I have a question for Christina:

    Is Ted afraid of Letty? Is he afraid of Letty's influence on Margaret and that's why the importance of the Ledger? Is that why directly after the trip when Letty has just done an expensive kitchen remodel, Ted whips out the Ledger and goes over the kitchen tiles that Margaret spent $50 on? How close is Ted actually to Letty or Michael?


    June 25, 2003 - 12:08 pm
    Seeing Bobbie's explanation of external referencing, having it isolated in the heading, suddenly I realize that it's the perfect explanation for the Biblical Vanity. Wonderfully clear and succinct. Much better than my laboring over meaning in my previous post.


    kiwi lady
    June 25, 2003 - 12:13 pm
    For some people they just cannot give up drinking and when once I felt they were so weak and useless I think I understand a bit more. The saddest thing that I ever saw was in emergency where a man was having hallucinations seeing rats and spiders after drinking meths. I guess I still feel angry with my father because he is my father and because he had multiple addictions and I guess I felt if he loved me he would have given up the drink. Its time for me to give up my anger toward him and this is one thing I have decided during this discussion. I will write to him and be honest with him and tell him how angry I had been about his broken promises and what I considered his betrayal as a parent. Its time for me to forgive and let go and maybe make an old man understand me a bit better.


    June 25, 2003 - 01:13 pm
    Thanks, marvelle, I had completely MISSED your post and it's super, thank you for calling my attention to it, well done!! I do see now what you mean.

    Your question about Ted's being afraid of Letty was already in the Questions page, #20, but worded differently so I have added that further explanation, that's a good 'un!

    No I actually did not ask about that Bibical definition of Vanity but rather the definition I gave in my post 432 What do you think about that one? Goes nicely along with Pride, etc. I always like to get Marvelle's takes on things.

    However, I do agree with you that Bobbicee's "External Referencing" in the heading pertains to the book perfectly, I think so too!

    Malryn hahahaah Why did it have to end? Love it.

    hahahaha, It's hard for me to believe that Margaret only exists in Christina's imagination, she's become a big part of my life. hahahaha

    I leave July 10, thanks, it was 84 in Oxford Sunday and we'll have no air conditioning in those old historic climb up a million stairs buildings. Maybe Harry Potter will fly by with a fan. hahaha

    Why Carolyn, bless your heart. It seems several of us are making some decisions sparked in part by what happened in the book and based in part on what we've said here, no matter what happens as a result, we're pulling for you.


    betty gregory
    June 25, 2003 - 01:21 pm
    Why does Margaret write "Redemption" on the checks? I don't know, but it is one more instance of not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Just after the sadness sets in at the pitiful repetition/reminder, hoping that Letty or God or someone will be paying attention, the chuckle bursts through, because this is truly hilarious. It would be like writing "heavenly savings" or "heavenly mortgage" on a check put into the Sunday collection plate.


    We've talked about such serious and personal things beginning the 2nd week of discussion, but I wanted to point out one of the funniest moments (for me) here at the end.

    In the middle of a few days of several posts of really personal or two may have been about personal recovery....Ginny began a post telling that things (and she) had really fallen apart the day before and said that things were just now getting back to normal.....that the European reservations HAD FINALLY come through!! Whew!! Well, I started laughing and thought I'd never get stopped. See, her first sentence had sounded so alarming that I held my breath and put my hand to my face, preparing to hear the worst and thinking, oh, no, what?, what?

    Of course it was doubly funny because of the book we're discussing. Because the book has all these over-the-top episodes, some of which make us laugh and/or cry, but not sure which to do first. I've laughed as hard every time I think of it. The bottom line is that Margaret appeared among us for one post, or was it Letty and her writing, or was it Margaret? She was here, that's for sure, European reservations safely in hand. (And, for those few moments, I really liked Margaret, or was it Letty.)


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 25, 2003 - 01:34 pm

    Carolyn, you say you thought your father would have stopped drinking if he loved you. Your father couldn't stop drinking because he loved you. It is not weakness that made him this way. He couldn't stop his addiction without proper help. It is this you must keep in mind. If he refused to do what was necessary to get that help, there was no chance for recovery and change.

    Do you remember in your program how people said, "Let go, let God"? It sounds as if that's what you're ready to do. Write that letter to your father only if you have accepted the fact that if he hasn't stopped doing what hurt you before, he'll probably let you down. You must be ready for that. If you're not, don't write.

    Ted was an enabler. He allowed Margaret to do what she did to Letty. Some of us complained because he said, "You're too old" when she talked about going to medical school or law school. At that moment he stopped being an enabler. But he enabled her to steal Letty's life for her book.

    There's a thin line between fairly allowing a person to live her life and enabling her to do something destructive. Since Ted obviously knew what Margaret was doing after he read her manuscript, he should have said,"No, you can't continue with this. You have to stop." Love between two married people or two close friends is not only encouraging them in what they want to do, it's stepping in when they go off the track. I believe we've already discussed this about Margaret in relation to Letty. Margaret accepted what Ted said when he threw cold water on her law study plans. She would have accepted it if he had told her not to capitalize on Letty's mistakes.

    The old Yankee who advised and helped me at a terrible time of my life gave me love and encouragement, and he also let me know when I was stepping out of line. I have enormous respect for him, even today twenty years after his death. What he gave to me was what used to be called "tough love". He gave me what he knew I must give to myself, and he taught me how to do it through his example. A picture I painted of him hangs on my wall where I can see it every minute I'm awake. It's there to remind me of what he said and what I learned from him.

    It's not wrong or bad for a husband or wife or a really close friend to show this kind of love to someone they care about. It is what Ted should have provided for Margaret and what Margaret should have given to her best friend.


    June 25, 2003 - 01:59 pm
    Carolyn--Good luck with whatever you decide to write to your father. Please read Mal's advice above and add to it this sentence from Al-Anon, "If you want bread, don't go to a hardware store."

    Ginny--What a super discussion this has been and how privileged we are to have Christina join us (I wonder if she is called "Chris" or some other nickname by friends?) and post so many thoughtful posts. I look forward to seeing what her next book is about. How anyone can care for an infant AND write a book staggers the imagination--er, maybe an infant, but just wait until Nick is TWO and THREE. Yikes!

    June 25, 2003 - 04:33 pm
    GINNY and MARVELLE……….Agree with so many of the marvellous opinions in your posts. Isn’t it wonderful how one book can encourage so much deep thinking…..about the characters, about ourselves, about society, encourage new insights, and perhaps, even help to change our own thinking and behaviours, as we all seek a higher level of self-honesty. In re my client…..all I did was offer assistance to help her learn about her issues, and strategies to deal with them. She did the hard part….the hard work that has brought about the changes. BTW, she finished the book and returned it to the library, after writing copious notes in re awarenesses, etc. Your trip to Oxford sounds wonderful. Enjoy! I’ve always been a world traveller as well.

    CAROLYN and MARLYN…..Carolyn, I agree with Marlyn’s post. Your father’s drinking has nothing to do with his love for you. Al-Anon: You’re not the cause of, or the reason he drinks. Marlyn……I agree with your stress on self-honesty….. essential… clarified in How It Works….self-honesty being stressed 3 times in the first paragraph. Carolyn, sections from the first paragraph may help you to understand your father a bit more, and also give other readers an understanding of what Margaret and Letty will also need. Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves……They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Further on it mentions trying to find and easier softer way, then stresses Some of us have tried to hang on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. IMO, this is what both Letty and Carolyn need to do, but had not yet done by the end of the book.


    June 25, 2003 - 09:08 pm
    Bobbie, it's a pleasure being in a discussion with you and everyone else -- Hats, Betty, Carolyn, Maryal, Callie, Frugal, Joan, Harriet, Malryn, Ella, Jane, Ginger (who is hiding there behind that pole!) -- to all the wonderful posters to name you all would be an entire post in itself.

    This discussion's fun and interesting and rewarding. GINNY's boundless enthusiasm and her prodding got us to think deeper and deeper into the text. (Where do you find those questions, GINNY?) And wouldn't you know that SHE would find a way to mention Stevens of Remains of the Day? Kidding, kidding Ginny, it's one of my favorite books; a real stunner like Vanity.

    It's been a joy participating from the start. How rare an experience it's been: a fine book like Vanity in hand AND CHRISTINA's generous participation.

    CHRISTINA, it was a pure gift to learn from you about the epistolary research and process, the writerly hints, and the revelations about characters and incidents having their own life. I don't know how you managed to find the time to join in this discussion with a new baby (as opposed to old baby?) but I'm happy you agreed to join. Thank you.

    Hopefully, we'll have some time yet to 'wrap things up' -- whatever that wrapping might entail. I just wanted to thank Ginny, Christina, and the awesome SN fellow-posters now, before time slips away.


    June 25, 2003 - 10:00 pm
    Christina, thank you for giving us two very memorable characters. I doubt many of us will forget Letty and Margaret. How could we? We continue meet them. All is Vanity is a very relating book, one that makes us say, "right," "of course," "that's just like Mary or Joe." One can only assume that you are a most astute observer of "the human condition."

    A few weeks ago I began reading a mystery about a creative writing teacher in an inner-city school. He hands out books to his 9th-graders and says the words below. I think they are appro pos to my feelings about All is Vanity, even though most of us did not claim to identify with either M or L. (Perhaps deep down, we do, a little bit.)

    " . . .what we really get out of the good books we read is self-recognition. We read and discover stuff about life that we already knew, except that we didn't KNOW we knew it until we read it in a particular book. And this self-recognition, this discovering ourselves in the writing of others can be very exciting, can make us feel a little less isolated inside our own thing and a little more connected to the larger world."

    This afternoon I watched Oprah, something I rarely do, but I couldn't find Jeparody, and I had to ice my knee. There were two women there who fit the W.D. Howells quote about having and shining, and also Bobbie's words about External Referencing. One was the mother of two pre-schoolers who was doing and doing for her children, so that she didn't have time to really enjoy them. She spent much time ironing their clothes because their attire would reflect well on her. The other, a single mom in a management position, couldn't say no, couldn't turn any one down, first in the office, last out. Even helped her secretary with her work. This made people notice her -- her friends even gave her a party for helping so much. Her way to shine. My first thoughts were, "ah, Letty," but now I think they were Margaret.

    A few thoughts on forgiveness. I think Margaret is beginning to forgive herself, owning up to her betrayals, espousing content to be a dull penny. Letty won't show forgiveness until she cashes the checks. She says they're a tie to Margaret, but actually they are keeping Margaret tied. In not forgiving Margaret, Letty is carrying the greater burden. Hopefully she will change.

    MalrynRe your posts 413 and #? comparing Margaret's attempt at amends to the AA 12-step program. I wanted to comment the other night, but did not want to stop reading posts. Even though you have changed your mind, I thought it was a good analogy. After all, doesn't Bloom put application at the peak of the learning pyramid?

    And so, Christina, the next time I run into Letty or Margaret, you can be sure I will be thinking of Christina Schwarz' All is Vanity.

    Joan Pearson
    June 25, 2003 - 10:30 pm
    Oh dear, it really is the 11th hour, isn't it? I had every intention of rushing in here last Friday as soon as we got in from CA, but Mother Nature had other plans, delivering a precious little grandson rather than wait for his due date on July 4. We are all thrilled...well, maybe big almost-two-year-old sister Lindsay isn't quite as ecstatic as we are. Baby is doing fine, so are his mama and papa.

    By Sunday, we had settled down and I thought I'd come in and post in the Inferno and then here. But you had been SO busy the week I was gone! 156 posts to read! And the number kept growing as I the point that you were saying all of the things I had been thinking as I finished the book alone on the beach in San Diego. I must confess to being not a little envious of the time you have spent together...bonding and understanding one another as you related your personal reactions...

    Christina's timely appearances always seemed to verify when your posts were on the right track. What a treasure! I missed that while reading alone too. I must confess, I flew through your posts, taking notes, (and not always attaching a name to the note)...

    Right now, I want to be sure to thank Christina for providing such valuable insight into her characters and the whole writing process. Reading what almost happened to the characters and the reasons for the changes was really an eyeopener and contributed even more to understanding them, Christina!
    I would like to take a few minutes with a few observations if I may...I feel like a lurker, an outsider, having been gone so long...

    From the very first, it became clear that Margaret was going to do something terrible that would strain the "friendship"... and I worried from the very beginning whether or not Letty would be able to forgive. For some reason, survival of the friendship was my main concern from the onset...everything else was secondary. I read with interest what you all thought of this friendship. A good number of you feel it was not a friendship at all. I felt it was more than that, perhaps because it was a relationship formed before these two even knew the concept of friendship. To me, it was more like sisterhood. They had always been together, as long as they could remember. Maybe you think they weren't friends because they didn't act like any friends you ever had. Do you have a sister? Haven't you taken her for granted? On some level, haven't you competed with her? SOmetimes even used her...knowing she'd back you up and forgive you, once she knew what you had done? Did she have a choice? She would always be your sister, no matter what...
    *One of you noted..."More and more I think that Margaret and Letty are habits more than they are friends." Yeah, habits... or sisters.

  • Betty said..."My experience of being a "best friend" and having a "best friend" has always included saying things difficult to say and hearing things difficult to hear" Yes, that's what I think a friend should do/be too, Betty, but this relationship seems different to me. These two did not choose one another to be "best friends" and confidantes; they were thrown sisters. Sometimes they pay attention to one another, sometimes they want their privacy... * One of you said..." these two adult women are not really friends any more. They use each other as self-seeking sounding boards and stimuli." Sisters do that kind of thing...

  • Ginny asked, "Would it surprise you to learn I feel nobody’s particularly at fault here?" To a point, I don't either, Ginny. I think that they were both blinded by their own ambitions, desires, agendas to notice where their Vanity was leading them. I guess that's my plain and simple definition of "Vanity" ... a form of selfish conceit that it is all about oneself. To me, the turning point centered again on the yellow accordion folder...funny how many times that object has turned up in your posts!

    Letty makes the phone call...NOT an email message to print out and read. This is serious. Letty is desparate now. No pretenses. No vanity this time. She appeals directly to Margaret for help. If Margaret had been all-absorbed in her novel to the point that she had forgotten the flesh and blood character of her life-long friend, the sound of her voice on the phone should wake her up to reality. Everything was riding on Margaret's response, as far as I was concerned:
    "I kept dropping them,(the bills) in there (the file). It's like they're self-generating. I'm afraid to keep opening boxes. There might be more."
    "Where are they in the address book?", I asked.
    "What do you mean?"
    "Which letter are they under?"
    They aren't under any letter. They were inside the front cover. What difference does it make?"
    "I was wondering if you'd put them under "B" for bills." Was I fishing for details, trying t find out how to write the scene in which Lexie discoverd her misplaced and forgotten bills so that it would read as if it were truly happening?" p. 267
    This is where I lost all hope for Margaret...What would it take for her to trash this novel and see what her "Vanity" would not let her see?

    Christina, you have written an extremely powerful story with a believable ending. I can't remember why the two would be writing letters to the Judge, but things do "work"- Margaret is clueless as to how to make things up to Letty. I believe she thinks she is doing something to atone. (Can any of you suggest another way she might have done so?) She watches people sleep now, as she did not really look at Letty when she needed her. She sends it every week? Month? - Just to let Letty know she is thinking of her all the time. Letty says she's not cashing the checks because she needs that connection with, Betty. I think I believe her. I think using the name "Betty" is another form of atonement...and agree with those of you who characterize it as yet another "hairshirt"...a constant reminder.

    Have either of them really changed? Hmmm...does anyone ever get over the need to "shine"? Is shining, even one little flickering candle evidence that one is living and breathing and in need of some sort of recognition or pat on the back? I agree, they are young, they are still in the aftermath of the explosion that rocked their lives. They are trying to pick up the pieces and continue life. Margaret is trying to atone...and in her own way, to change. At least for the time being, the need to shine seems muffled. How long can she go on like this?

    Letty seems to have the simple life she's always wanted and Michael has stuck by her. I don't think she ever needed to shine except to to do her own thing without Margaret's guidance/interference. She seems to be doing that now, though she keeps those checks as a reminder of Margaret. I wish she wouldn't do that. To me, the checks are assurance that Margaret is still there, and all she has to do is call one day. That might happen again at some point.

    Thank you all for providing so many different interpretations and points to consider. I only wish I had been here to talk them out with you more! Next time! Christina, we will be watching for your next novel...and Ginny, you are the best!


    ps. The french doors will be added later - will lead out to the patio once the patio is built...
  • Bobbiecee
    June 26, 2003 - 01:37 am
    First of all, GINNY, I want to thank you for leading such a wonderful discussion, for asking so many in-depth questions which encouraged us to think deeply….relate to the ‘bits and pieces’ of the book which would lead us to informed opinions, after deeply thinking about the characters, their values and principles, and how they relate to society and ourselves. I will be very sad to have this discussion end because, like JOAN mentioned, there does indeed appear to be a bonding.

    CHRISTINE…..Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful book with such deep and apropos messages, a book that encouraged us to think deeply about society’s principles and values, and even our own. Also, thank you so much for your participation in this discussion. It was wonderful reading your ideas, a special treat. I’ve often wanted to know what the author of a good book was actually thinking when writing special books like All is Vanity. The only other author I’ve been able to talk to about this was an Australian author, Bryce Courteney. I really appreciate your participation in this discussion. I’m looking forward to reading your next book. Also, a special thanks from my client. She said that your book has helped to confirm the pathway she has chosen, her new way of life. She said it has helped her to put her past self, a combination of Letty and Margaret, to rest, and forge ahead with her new principles and values.

    I went to a funeral (actually a Celebration of Charlie’s life.” today, a great friend, for years. Although I knew bits and pieces about his past life, I didn’t know the whole story, just the Charlie we (husband and I) met and became friends with in 1982. What I learned, from testimonies and tributes, was that he used to have many of the characteristics of both Letty and Margaret, and in fact, in many ways, he’s behaviour and what he did to family and ‘friends’ was worse. However, in the last 43 years, he has not only made amends, but became one of the most wonderful persons I have ever known, a man who not only was totally humanitarian but who’s values and principles turned around 180º. You see, and MARLYN, you’ll understand, Charlie was a sober alcoholic, with 42 years of sobriety in AA at the time of his death, from cancer. After he got sober, Charlie changed professions and became a nurse (a male nurse here is called a Mister Sister). After retirement from nursing, he ran a half-way house for alcoholic men. After retirement, he organised the AA meetings in the 5 prisons and went into every one once a week for a meeting. He got Legionella 10 years ago. The Drs expected him to die, but not Charlie. He lived, weaned himself off oxygen and continued his work in the prisons. 5 years ago, he got a bad flu and had to go back on 24 hour oxygen, but that didn’t stop him. He asked the other rostered member for the meeting to pick him up and continued with his prison work, with his oxygen bottle and walker. He continued this work until 3 months ago when he found he had terminal cancer. Today at the funeral, there were 27 ex-prisoners who spoke, several at the formal ‘celebration,’ and all at the get-together afterward. They credit Charlie with saving their lives and encouraging them to embrace the AA program and AA’s values and principles. So, perhaps we can hope that Margaret and Letty join ACOA or CoDA, or one of the other 12 Step programs.

    MARVELLE…….agree with all you said…….again!

    JOAN………..I like your idea there…..Letty and Margaret were more like sisters, with the same dynamics and ‘rivalry’ that often occurs between sisters. I also agree with you that they were ‘ both blinded by their own ambitions, desires, agendas.’


    June 26, 2003 - 03:04 am
    Good Morning,

    I hate to see that the discussion is ending. Christina Schwarz your book, ALL IS VANITY, will never be forgotten. It is an eye opening book and leaves me thinking and thinking and thinking....

    Thank you for being so kind and giving us your time. You are a wonderful person and a generous person too.

    I would also like to thank all of the posters for opening my eyes everyday to some new thought or reacquaint me with something forgotten. I can not remember the name of every poster. I am afraid, like movie stars at the Oscars, If I try to name every helpful poster, I will leave one name out. So, thank you to everyone here.

    Ginny, thanks for proving yourself one more time. Your enthusiasm, humor and encouragement are just some of your wonderful gifts.

    Have a wonderful trip! Come back safely and quickly. When you return, be sure and tell us almost every tiny detail.

    June 26, 2003 - 05:17 am
    Invited here as our guest, you have made our site "shine." Your appearance has added credibility, and candidness to each of our posts. We have truly "let it all hang out." I have always believed that an author lends a more formal aura to our discussions but you have proven me wrong in this belief. Due to your good humor and artful openess to the thought provoking questions posed by Ginny, conventional liturgy was avoided. We had female to female conversations. Due to a recent fallout with a longtime friend, I found myself recoiling and sidestepping many of your thoughts while reading "Vanity", but everyone here kept pushing with the "loyalty" and allegiance issues until I had to face the same sad fact as Letty; Some injustices and violations of friendships can never be repaired. Thank you again for the time that you sacrificed away from your family and your skill to enhance our discussion.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 26, 2003 - 06:19 am
    Dear Christina:-

    It goes without saying that meeting you in this discussion has been a great pleasure to me. Since I'm old enough to be your mother I want to tell you how proud I am of you. You're doing what this mother always wanted to do, writing and publishing while you have a good part of your life ahead of you -- doing what you want and need to do. I'm glad.

    And I'm proud of your husband, who knows you must do this and encourages and helps you while he keeps you on track. That's what friends are for, and he appears to be a very good friend.

    I'll never forget this encounter with Margaret and Letty, who have become very real to me. I'll never forget being at that museum party, watching all those Brueghel figures in their ordinariness and grotesqueness, and beauty sometimes, move in loud, brilliant, dirty slow motion around one of the saddest, most desperate characters I have ever seen. And see it I did. You painted this book along with writing it with insight, humor, kindness and grace, and I truly appreciate that.

    I think all of us here want Margaret and Letty to grow up and away from what they have been into a suit of life that is easier and more comfortable for them. This is what your writing has done to us. You should be proud, too.

    Please don't ever write a sequel to this book. Whatever more there is to say will be imagined by your readers, and that's as it should be.

    I wish you good health, joy and happiness in your life. Most of all, keep writing, keep shining. This is what you are meant to do.


    Marilyn Freeman, your more than a fan in North Carolina

    kiwi lady
    June 26, 2003 - 07:56 am
    Christina - Thanks for joining us here in Books. I hope that you got something out of this discussion too. I am looking forward to reading your next publication.


    kiwi lady
    June 26, 2003 - 08:01 am
    P.S. Forgot to add - It is so much fun to read a book and discuss it with others. SN Books is the best discussion group I have ever participated in. I think we really give the young'uns a run for their money. Nicky my daughter who belongs to a "Live" book discussion group has been very impressed with the depth of our discussions. She often pops in and reads our posts.


    Nellie Vrolyk
    June 26, 2003 - 08:07 am
    I have come to thank everyone for making such enjoyable to read posts, which often made me think more deeply about things in the book, and things in life itself.

    I'm a bit at a loss for words, as I often am when I'm not writing...

    Thank you Christina for your wonderful participation in our discussion, and for the insights you have given me into the writing process. Thank you for your book which made me smile, tear up, and sometimes get peeved with both Margaret and Lettie. I enjoyed reading Vanity very much. I'm an inveterate reader of science fiction and fantasy, and don't often read the more 'mainstream' novels. It was what everyone was saying about the characters, and your posts that prompted me to get the book and read it.

    Thank you!

    June 26, 2003 - 09:11 am
    Thank you, Christina. Your book made me rethink some of the people and events in my life, and I'm so grateful.

    Talk about writing a book that has impact on the lives of've certainly accomplished that. I find myself looking at people with a kinder eye and trying to evaluate the concept of forgiveness more gently through identifying with Margaret and Letty. It seems like I'm not the only one of us feel this way.

    My definition of a really good book is that I get so caught up in the flow of it that only afterwards do I notice how skillful and perceptive the author is. VANITY is like that. You certainly wrote a page-turner and it was wonderful of you to share your time and thoughts about your book with all of us.

    Thanks again!


    June 26, 2003 - 09:25 am
    CHRISTINA: I read ALL IS VANITY because I was looking for another book by the author of DROWNING RUTH. I loved the story and was so excited when I found this discussion beginning on SeniorNet. Thank you for responding to our posts and adding insight to our discussion of the lives of Margaret, Letty, Ted and Michael.
    I am eagerly looking forward to your next book.
    A fan in Oklahoma,

    June 26, 2003 - 09:39 am
    Ginny--You have outdone yourself (not an easy task) in this discussion.

    Participants--Thank you for making me see so many ways of looking at character and motivation.

    Christina--Thank you for the novel as well as your generosity. I look forward to whatever comes next.


    Ella Gibbons
    June 26, 2003 - 09:46 am
    Dear Christina:

    Although I have not been posting regularly as I'm in another of our discussions, and rarely do I discuss fiction on Seniornet Books, I have read all the posts here and enjoyed this discussion so very much. Our Ginny is an excellent leader in this type of fiction, she entices the reader, she excites the reader and is one of our very best.

    Of course, she needs the book in order to do this and you have given her one of exceptional value to a group of very intellectually stimulated participants.

    Thank you for the book, for your great posts, for answering all the questions posed to you by the group and, personally, I do want to thank you for your first novel DROWNING RUTH which I hope we can discuss sometime in the future. Our local library book group discussed it - even librarians are recommending it which should make your day - I read it and loved it.

    Thank you so very much for participating; when you have time, if ever (with a baby and your writing schedule I doubt you have much at all) do drop in our Community Center and say Hello and look over our book selections. Perhaps you can even recommend a few to us. I wish you continued success in your writing career.

    June 26, 2003 - 10:36 am
    More on Christina's wonderful book.

    I'm trying to understand this business of forgiveness. It's such a tricky trapeze act.

    I believe that Letty still loves Margaret in the sense that she cares intensely about her being alive in this world. Letty NEEDS the memory of the love she once felt because it is so much a part of WHO Letty is and of all of their childhood together. She hugs the pain of Margaret's betrayal because it is so astonishing and hurtful to her.

    Joan P., I loved what you wrote about sisters. (#446) I think that concept explains a lot about Margaret and Letty's relationship. Maybe Letty is like a younger sister who loves her big sister unconditionally, and accepts being bossed around as part of their relationship. When she finally understands that Margaret's betrayal was not just a lack of judgement... that it stemmed from Margaret's more selfish concept of personal love and caring toward makes her pain much more intense.

    The more she loved, the greater her pain would be? And if Letty had always assumed that Margaret's love was unshakeable, the knowledge that she had deliberately urged Letty towards destruction would be infinitely more hurtful and shocking.

    Of course when Margaret testified in Letty's trial, she would have described her manipulations in great detail and Letty would have heard an earful about her friend's motivations. I believe Margaret testified partly out of love for Letty and partly to expiate her own guilt...for REDEMPTION?...but instead Letty must have heard the selfishness, the lack of love, much more loudly than the "mea culpa" aspect of her sad story. Afterwards Letty felt that she could have forgiven Margaret's literary usage of her life, but she COULDN'T understand Margaret's disregard for her welfare.

    Wasn't that testimony something like that of a husband who confesses his infidelity to an unsuspecting wife to absolve his guilt and finds that his wife reaction is NOT to praise him for his honesty?

    Sometimes we say words that are very complex and hold MORE than one truth in them. Yet no one can predict WHICH aspect of those truths another person will choose to focus on. Margaret told, dramatically I'm sure, SEVERAL truths during Letty's trial...her own desperation to shine, her own selfish deviousness, and her sincere regret and repentance. In all of that probable morass of words, the truth that Letty grasped most painfully of all was how Margaret's love was limited by her selfishness.

    Letty has lost the loving friend she was once sure she had and finds a tainted stranger in her place.

    What would forgiveness consist of? Can a more cautious relationship resume in which Letty understands her friend's true personality better? Could Margaret try to achieve a less self-centered relationship? Can they ever see each other without a painful recall of the perfect trust they both once had in each other?


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 26, 2003 - 11:18 am

    After thinking about deep wounds I've received in the past from people I really trusted, I know that acceptance is more important than forgiveness. I can forgive what you did to me, but the fact that you did it still will hurt. If I accept what you did without questioning why, and accept your honest and sincere apology, amends you've made, your telling me nothing like that will ever happen again, and know in my heart you're telling the truth, the pain will go away.

    Will we ever be friends again? Perhaps. Time has a lot to do with that. If you show me over a period of time that you care about me almost as much as you care about yourself, I'll be able to trust you, and we will be friends. Our friendship will be different, more mature and less childlike. We'll stand on a new level, a level where we'll both be at the same height and see each other eye to eye.

    This conclusion is based on something that happened in real life to me.


    June 26, 2003 - 02:29 pm
    Wow, you really have said it all, not only can I not ADD to your wonderful posts, but I hate to say anything and break the spell.

    BUT…. Hahaahaha

    Thank you all so much for your kind and really beautiful words, I agree with you about Christina, her presence has been incredible! I have just LOVED this, it will never be better.

    It’s been an extraordinary discussion, the book and the discussion have caused people to rethink some of their own relationships and to make major decisions, I don’t recall that ever happening before..


    We read a lot of books in the Books & Lit. Over the last 7 years we’ve read literally hundreds of them, some of them are in the Archives, but for every one there some of us read more, I’ve read 4 myself in addition to Vanity this month. When you read that many books, you DO begin to develop a strange kind of taste, you can see the different voices of authors and the different levels of skill and style and the different levels of effectiveness. In order for a book to make it unscathed thru one of our discussions, a month long analysis, it HAS to be special and a lot more than good.

    Vanity stood the test and still shines, we’re still discussing the end, the characters, the issues, and we probably WILL be, and thinking about the characters, for a long time. As you can see it has influenced some of our readers’s lives. I think Margaret has to be one of the most original characters in modern literature. Vanity shines.

    I don’t think Christina is another Richard Yates or Penelope Fitzgerald, both of whom she reminds me of, nor another Kazuo Ishiguro tho her writing is as deliberate and well crafted, but instead I think that we truly have been privileged to talk to (I hope this does not embarrass her) a unique major light in the world of literature. I predict (here comes Margaret again!!) That 20 years from now, I’m not sure we’ll be around to see it, but there will be literary prizes all over the Schwarz house, I do sincerely see this coming. I hope we can make it to enjoy it vicariously with her. And feeling like this, I’ve really not known what to do: I promised not to gush but as Margaret says about Zelda’s book, what else can you DO?

    As the others said so much better, Christina, we feel so honored that you came. I still can’t believe you did! (Is this a good time to tell you all she was not aware it was a month long discussion? Most book discussions last a few hours. And yet she stayed anyway. Bless her heart. I mean… there is no way we can thank her except from our hearts). And in person she has been simply extraordinary and charming and very generous of her time and thoughts.

    But we hope to hear more yet! I hope you enjoyed the experience, Christina, we certainly have, it’s been fantastic, and our great pleasure and has added so much to our knowledge of the book! We will never forget you or this experience.

    And to those of you in the discussion, those of you who are new to our discussions, your incredible perspectives just lit up the boards, please don’t make this your last discussion with us, what’s happened here was extraordinary. To those of you who have been in our discussions before, you’re outdone yourselves this time, with your characteristic level of perceptions, I’m proud of each one of you. To those of you who have been off for a while and have returned for this discussion, we are delighted to welcome you back “home” where you belong, seeing your points now make us realize how much we have missed you, please don’t go away again: even tho you do seem to think I’m Letty hahahaahah, I wanted to say that, it’s not, believe it or not, as gushy as I feel, but I don’t know how else to say it, but I better leave it before it really gets worse, ahahaha, and turn instead to sisters, redemption, forgiveness and the other super odds and ends here at the last. (You know you really get to the point where words fail you, or they do, me, and you have to hope that the intent is somehow conveyed)!

    Let’s look at what you thought a little bit here at the last before the colors fade (I know a lot of you have said you hate for this to end)


    June 26, 2003 - 03:15 pm
    What super concepts you introduce here. Joan P: sisters, they’re like sisters. I wish I had a sister, can friends be as close as sisters or is that a bond that no matter how close friends are they can’t cross? I don’t have any sisters (or brothers) so I don’t know!

    Satire, we have some hard questions outstanding, is this satire? I still am not sure. I don’t know. Is it a parable? I was struck by the definition of parable and the coincidence of the parallel plots, IS it a parable?

    Redemption. Forgiveness. Why did the Ancient Mariner keep having to tell his tale to everybody he met?What does it take TO forgive? Does Letty have it? Does Margaret?

    Hollow dreams Marvelle said, loved this Marvelle, “love the kind of novel where the characters have a life of their own which continues, in the readers’ minds, beyond the pages of the book!” I think Margaret and Letty will be called up a LONG time hence by all of us!

    Malryn why did this book have to end? I agree but NO sequel? Oh yes there has to be a sequel, Margaret has to win. The Margarets of the world NEVER win, I want to see her WIN!!


    Marvelle, where did we find those questions? WE thought them all up! Hahaahah on Remains, yes Remains and Vanity will probably be on the tip of my tongue forever!hahahaha

    Pedln, loved that about self recognition the discovering of ourselves in the writing of others, love it!! I agree Letty will not show forgiveness till she cashes the checks but she CAN’T!! She CAN’T. Pride stops here, it’s pitiful really and so exquisitely written.

    Congratulations, Joan P on the new grandbaby!!!

    Thank you for that new and different definition of Vanity, I’ll put it up and you, TOO on the yellow accordian folder, I’ll tell you all I skipped right over that!

    oh VERY nice touch on the “no vanity now” in Letty’s phone call!!

    Wonderful 11th hour question about HOW Margaret might attone otherwise, that’s a good one! AGG LOOKIT Pearson!!
    She watches people sleep now, as she did not really look at Letty when she needed her!
    Contrapasso, Joan? And another great question: does anyone ever get over the need to “shine?”

    hahaha Pearson on the French doors, love it!!

    next time!!

    Bobbicee, I am so glad your client was able to benefit from Christina’s book, this is truly incredible!

    H ats, I agree, they’re all like stars in the sky here in this discussion, it’s really been a trip!

    Andrea, you, too, with a different perspective on friendship!! I agree also that Christina has changed the way we view authors in the discussions.

    Carolyn, what a lovely thing to say about our book discussions, we have enjoyed having you here, too.

    Malryn I agree I agree!!

    Harriet, I agree, the book changed me (but I feel the old Margaret coming back haahahah) for a while anyway!

    Nellie, Maryal, Ella, how beautifully you write, thank you.

    Harriet, who do you thik Letty loves more, Margaret or herself? Do you think her pride will ever allow her to cash those checks? I hope so. I hope they can reconcile. Oh here, now is a super point:

    I believe Margaret testified partly out of love for Letty and partly to expiate her own guilt...for REDEMPTION?...but instead Letty must have heard the selfishness, the

    I love that. One said XXX but the other heard YYYY how many times have we seen that. This would make SOME screenplay I wonder if it will be a movie? And another very fine 11th hour question, could they ever see each other without the painful recall of the perfect trust they once had in each other? Wow!

    Redemption is something only Letty can give, or is it? Forgiveness is in Letty’s hands and power. It’s all up to Letty now which seems unfair, in a way. She didn’t cause this, but she has to pay for it. The money/ house/ job thing is not what matters. She has the burden of forgiveness or Margaret like the Ancient Mariner will continue to ask for Redemption on every check, that’s not a burden I could bear? What about you??

    I don't think it's fair for her to have to, and I don't think she thinks so, either, that's why she does not cash the checks, but can't stand to get rid of them. Poor Letty. I would KILL to see these two 20 years hence.


    kiwi lady
    June 26, 2003 - 04:29 pm
    Ha! I would like to see the daughters of Letty and Margaret 20 0dd years hence. (Margaret has to have a daughter first!) I would like to see them meet find out about the destroyed friendship and begin to mend the bridges. Oh one can but wish! Another thought Letty and Margarets mothers could be brought into the sequel as full blown characters.


    June 26, 2003 - 04:45 pm
    hahaah Carolyn, the mothers, now THAT would be interesting!@!

    Check this out, look what I just noticed? Book ends:

    The book begins with Margaret, she's talking to us, she was precocious, city of Ur, she's going to write a book, she and Letty her friend had given her the beads to finish the bodice of the Lakota dress, she has a plan. She has the power.

    The book ends with Margaret, talking to us, Heather Mendelsohn Blake has rejected the manuscript. Nothing about promise, Letty or plan. She's powerless to see her goal through.

    But the book doesn't stop there. The Afterword ends with Letty's voice, in a letter, talking to the judge about the checks and the Memo line for Redemption, she will not forgive, Letty has the power.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 26, 2003 - 06:05 pm

    Redemption also means "the payment of an obligation." I think that's what Margaret was doing, paying what she thought was an obligation, a debt. Margaret owed Letty for what she did to her, so she had to make amends -- "recompense for grievance or injury." In the process, she was redeeming herself. Letty couldn't redeem Margaret; only Margaret could. Until she did that, she could never live with her self and her conscience.

    There's much talk here about "sin, forgiveness and redemption", all very much in the Biblical sense. I see people and the world in shades of gray. ( I've said this before. ) There are very few, if any, who are all black or all white in this world.

    Even black and white are constructed of many different shades and colors. The other day I wore black -- a black rayon shirt and black velours pants. They didn't match. The black shirt was full of yellow. The black pants were full of red. Someday, put all the white clothes you have in your closet together and look at them. Are they really white, or are they many different shades and colors?

    Unlike Dante and others, I don't see things as absolutes. Who was guilty? Was Margaret guilty? Was Letty? Did either one of them do what they did with "malice and forethought", or were their crimes things they fell into innocently? Who am I to judge? Who am I to decide punishment? Who am I to mete out forgiveness? Who's to be forgiven? Don't I have as many flaws as Margaret and Letty did? Don't you?


    June 26, 2003 - 11:11 pm
    I don't know GINNY about Letty and her keeping the checks. I do think it's a sign of power. Letty had thought of herself as being a star, as shining, and to find out that Margaret valued others' opinions over her own took away some of Letty's star-shine. She couldn't forgive Margaret for that and for failure to make LETTY's story, her story, desirable enough to sell. To Letty the failure of the manuscript meant society judged her life unworthy of interest.

    By maintaining her anger at Margaret, Letty is able to avoid accepting full responsibility for herself; she can sidestep that issue through anger. She keeps the checks/money as a sign of power, this ability to give or withhold forgiveness. Until Letty learns to accept responsibility for herself she'll be only too ready to blame others. And Margaret made herself the star of the show in court! Took away the spotlight from Letty. Unforgivable to Letty?

    Of course Margaret hurt Letty; she wronged her. Good grief, she stole her life so there is something serious to forgive. I don't know if Letty will eventually forgive but her anger damages herself most of all. Margaret is only too ready to blame herself, mea culpa, mea culpa pounding her chest. I think, however, that Margaret is sorry and Letty knows that but Margaret is making a fuss over herself and the redemption checks.

    I would think each woman needs to face their failings; redemption comes from God and if you don't believe in God then perhaps it comes from within the person. Letty AND Margaret both believe, incorrectly IMO, that redemption is in Letty's hands. Perhaps Margaret has changed a little bit for the better? Letty, holding onto that anger, I'm not so sure.

    I can and have forgiven my alcoholic acquaintance for her using behavior toward me; I'm not angry since that's such a wasteful, demeaning emotion; but I'm cautious now and cannot trust her so wholeheartedly as I once had done. Something was lost in our relationship; as I think something will always be lost with Letty and Margaret even if the friendship is ever repaired at some level.

    Oh yes! I'd love to see a movie Vanity! Calista Flockhart as Letty? Who would be our Margaret? Actresses who can play 30-something. . . .


    June 27, 2003 - 12:04 am
    Marvelle.....I agree with you about Letty...keeping the cheques out of anger and a sense of power. Calista Flockhart would be perfect as Letty. How about Nicole Kidman as Margaret. She plays a variety of roles well. We might as well make them both Aussies, eh?<g>


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 27, 2003 - 06:03 am

    What you're suggesting seems to me, Marvelle and Bobbie, that there is competition between Margaret and Letty. Have they been competing all their lives to see which one is better?

    It seems to me that they've been playing Follow the Leader with Margaret as self-proclaimed leader (Robinson Crusoe) and Letty as the follower (Friday). As I see it, all Letty wanted to do was keep up with Margaret, not lead and not lag behind. "Keep up with the Joneses."

    Christina says that Letty is trying to impress Margaret with her letters. To me this is only another example of the keep up with the Joneses syndrome Letty has had most of her life, not a power play.

    I suppose some people are conditioned to think redemption can only come from God, as Marvelle says. I don't see either of these women as particularly religious. Do you really think that's how Margaret feels? If Margaret is to live with herself, she must redeem herself to herself. I don't think God or religion plays any part in this.

    I see Letty's holding on to Margaret's checks as a means to keep a bond between them, not as a power play. When my close relative betrayed me, as I described earlier, getting back at her by playing for power didn't enter my mind. What was in my mind -- and what I felt -- was deep sadness, almost like grief, because the friendship we'd had all our lives had gone and the break seemed irreparable. I held on to mementoes of that friendship, including letters she sent to me after she did what she did, just as Letty holds Margaret's checks. They were all that was left between this person and me, all that was left of the friendship, and I couldn't bear to part with reminders of her or our friendship, since I had lost her.


    June 27, 2003 - 06:51 am
    MALRYN.......Assuming that their relationship was more like that of two siblings, I feel there could well have been a power game being played as part of the sibling rivalry. Power doesn't only relate to who is the 'leader.' Dependent people play a very manipulative power game as well. By drawing the other person in, they are essentially playing a control game. Power is IMO, just one of the dynamics operating in their enmeshed and dysfunctional relationship. I feel that the relationship between the two of them was rife with a series of power and control games, from childhood onward. When Letty was 'keeping up with the Joneses,' she was letting Margaret know how much 'better' and richer she was than Margaret, who was scrimping by on one salary, in a flat, not a fancy house, etc. Margaret was showing she was more intelligent by encouraging Letty to keep getting in financial trouble, so that Margaret ended up in a better financial position. Letty ended up furious, at Margaret, at her downfall. I feel not cashing the cheques was a pay-back....perhaps a sadness as well, but definitely a punishment.

    I agree with you in re their religious orientations. They didn't appear to be thinking in terms of redemption in the religious sense. You talk about your own situation....just a sadness, not a desire for revenge, and I'll bet you didn't have a feeling that you wanted to punish yourself either....but I feel both Letty and Margaret were wallowing in their own Pity Pots and expressing it in different ways. And neither was able to totally let the relationship go. Margaret sent the cheque each month which could have been designed to be a weekly guilt trip. Letty didn't cash them.....a message that she was still angry and wanted to punish.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 27, 2003 - 06:58 am

    Bobbie, I've talked all around it, but the person who betrayed me was my sister. What you say about sibling rivalry may be absolutely right. However, since we've decided Margaret and Letty were more like sisters than not, I'm stating how this sister felt in the same type of situation as the one between Letty and Margaret. I see very similar motives and strong similarities between my holding on to mementoes of my sister's and my life-long friendship, and letters from her, and Letty's keeping Margaret's checks. In a way, when she allowed herself to have the affair with my husband which led to our divorce, my sister stole my life, too.


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 27, 2003 - 07:41 am
    No, Bobbie, I wasn't on the pity pot, I got drunk to cover the pain I felt. Two years after all this happened, I was in AA and on the real road to recovery.


    June 27, 2003 - 08:07 am
    Bobbi, I think since Christina explained she intended the Vanity quote to be in the Biblical sense that's why we've been working around that particular meaning.

    What you say in post 468 is eerily reflective of what I went through with my friend. I felt betrayed by her lies and manipulative behavior and the trust I'd given her as a close friend is now not the same. She still binge drinks.

    This betrayal could be stealing a life as Margaret did in her writing due to M's lack of creative imagination, borrowing money without intending to pay back, badmouthing you at work to destroy your chances at promotion etc etc. So many ways to betray and each as bad as the other as far as the hurt goes.

    It hurts, this betrayal by someone you've felt close to, to whom you've opened up and trusted. If your trust is betrayed, you may forgive, depending on your nature, but most people are cautious about whole-heartedly trusting again. Letty hasn't forgiven and is using her anger as an alibi for 'power payback' and her own bad behavior. That's what I see with the unredeemed checks.

    Letty is far away from forgiving (that anger!), which isn't good for her personally, so trusting and moving forward with her life isn't yet an issue.


    I could see Nicole Kidman as Margaret if she'd be willing to be vulnerable and likable but also at times unlikable. Is she good at humor?


    June 27, 2003 - 08:19 am
    Is anyone ready to tackle question 16 of the parable in Vanity? I'm going to consider that before I return here. Would love to see ideas on the parable.

    From 16: "Parable: a simple story that teaches a lesson or illustrates a moral principle. Like an allegory, details of a parable parallel the details of the situation calling for illustration." Is Vanity a parable? If so, what is the lesson learned here? What is being illustrated?


    Malryn (Mal)
    June 27, 2003 - 08:48 am

    In her letter to Judge Brandt Letty says:
    "That in her mind she will always be Robinson Crusoe and I will always be Friday, I can forgive. . . . But that she cared for the world's regard more than she cared for me, how can I forgive that?"
    Is this what you consider her anger? If so, why does she say at the end of this letter:
    "I keep the checks, along with her Christmas card, in a small canary yellow accordian file. They are a tie to her, however tenuous, and so I cannot bear to cash them."
    This doesn't sound like anger and a power play to me. It sounds like deep hurt and loss.

    I know I have transferred to Letty what I felt in the past, but I never would have if she had not written that last sentence in her letter.


    June 27, 2003 - 09:12 am
    Since there are many other words Margaret could have printed on the check, I find it interesting that she chose "redemption." Because the word, outside of its religious context, means buying back, --and even in its religious sense means that as in God redeeming one from sin or Jesus redeeming the sins of people--I decided to look it up in the OED. I went to the verb, checked the etymology; it comes from the French and Latin meaning "to buy back." Here is just a part of what the OED has on the verb, redeem.

    redeem, v.--1.a.To buy back (a thing formerly possessed); to make payment for (a thing held or claimed by another).

    b. To regain, recover (an immaterial thing).

    c. To regain or recover by force.

    2. a. To free (mortgaged property), to recover (a person or thing put in pledge), by payment of the amount due, or by fulfilling some obligation.

    b. To buy off, compound for (a charge or obligation) by payment or some other way.

    c. To fulfil, perform (a pledge, promise, etc.)

    Margaret is off on the wrong track if she is seeking forgiveness. She needs to risk saying how very sorry she is, understand that money cannot pay back the betrayal and leave the next step up to Letty.

    You can't buy back friendship or trust. Trust, once lost, may be one of the hardest things to get back since the only way to do it is to show, time after time after time, that you are indeed now trustworthy, that you have changed, that you are a new person.

    It is so easy to use money to try to make up for something. If you feel sorry that you don't have enough time for your kids, the easiest thing you can do is buy them a treat or a small toy. But does that treat make up for the perceived neglect, the investment of time and caring?

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 27, 2003 - 09:39 am

    Has anyone thought to ask Christina why she put "Redemption" on Margaret's checks?
    How come, Christina?


    June 27, 2003 - 10:10 am
    A special thank you for participating in our online book discussion of "All Is Vanity". It was indeed a pleasure to welcome an author.

    I liked your writing style/technique of introducing each major character in the chapters of both "Drowning Ruth" and " All Is Vanity. This made me feel as I read the content that the character was speaking directly to me as a friend rather than the author telling the story. This was a lesson in listening and a silent assessment.

    June 27, 2003 - 10:44 am
    70 messages here to read!!!! We celebrated my bday with a few days in the presence of water, birds and sea creatures!! And come home to another abundance of riches!! I can hardly wait to spend time taking in all the wonderful points you have each raised!! I've learned so much from this discussion... 1. When Ginny says, "I've found a great book we have to read!" believe it's a great book! 2. When you do a book discussion with Ginny, just go buy the book... you'll never be content if you don't!! :>) 3. When Christina Schwarz writes a book, clear the schedule, find a corner and read as fast as you can, then go back and savor!!! Thanks so much Christina for all the wonderful insights you've given us, both into this book, yourself and your writing process. What an immeasurable treat you have given each of us. Thanks so much.


    June 27, 2003 - 10:48 am
    For " Redemption" cited on checks to Letty: Margaret is attempting to ease her conscience/ quiet her internal feelings of guilt, make ammends financially. Letty still retains an emotional tie to Margaret by keeping her checks and Christmas cards in a file. " They are a tie to her , however tenuous- so I cannot bear to cash them".

    I felt that there would be a turning point in time, the hurt would heal and the friendship return,perhaps on a more cautious level, a more mature level. Letty less dependent on Margaret's influence.

    It is very difficult to let go of a long term friendship without experiencing sadness and examing what went wrong. Is it the friend's fault for our decision (s) or our own? Letting go of a friendship for so many years can feel like losing a family member who we love.

    Forgiveness: If we don't learn to forgive, we cannot free ourselves from anger that the situation promotes. Then anger will be our constant companion.

    I assessed the novel as a parable in American Consumerism, the vanity of social status, what price one pays for unrequited ambition, the meaning of true friendship. At the end of the story I shouted aloud Well done Christina!!

    June 27, 2003 - 01:32 pm
    Frugal, I think sadness is an emotion I do not see in Letty at this moment. Rage, yes. Sadness is what I see in Margaret and regret. She's offering to pay for forgiveness because .... because she knows material things are what Letty values? Not sure why Margaret cannot say sorry. Did she try? I don't remember.

    I bet we can find lots of parables that fit Vanity. The Parable of American Consumerism, as Frugal mentioned, is certainly an important one. Oh my, I haven't much money and what I have goes to second-hand books and now, anytime I think of buying a book, Letty pops up before my eyes! Scary. Shivers and second-thoughts.

    Here's another parable I think may fit (which also includes Bobbie's external referencing & the need for material goods):

    From the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas, saying 9

    Jesus said: "Behold, the sower went out, took a handful of seeds, and scattered them. Some fell on the road, and the birds came and ate them. Others fell on rock, and they did not take root in the soil or produce any heads of grain. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns choked the seeds and worms consumed them. Still others fell on good soil, and brough forth a good crop; it yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure."

    Parables are moral lessons; a guide to how to live your life as we see in Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe etc., as well as in Jesus' sayings.

    The Sower's parable suggests that human nature has different asect and different levels of consciousness, rather like Maslow's interpretation of the different stages of consciousness. (One can substitute various theories on the levels of human consciousness for this parable.) The seed represents the Word as knowledge/enlightenment.

    I think the lesson of the parable as applied to Vanity would be to find what we value and to understand where we are in our stage of development/consciousness, and to reach upward from there.

    Christina, can you help with the message of Vanity? It doesn't matter if I made an 'incorrect' interpretation or made it bigger than it actually is; I enjoy the search and the learning while I do so. But I would love to hear the intended message and/or lesson of Vanity.


    June 27, 2003 - 01:57 pm
    To Christina, Ginny, and All the Wonderful Posters --

    Thanks Ginny for bringing this book to us and for being our leader
    Thanks again Christina for being with us and sharing with us the insights that only you could bring us
    Thanks to all of you who bit the bullet and shared your thoughts and opened yourselves up to the rest of us. You made this discussion.
    Thanks Cliff and Emily for giving me "Vanity" for my birthday.

    We hate to see a good discussion come to an end, but there is still much pleasure to come as we share our experiences here and what we have learned with others who were not with us. Pass it on!

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 27, 2003 - 02:15 pm

    I don't know about All is Vanity as a parable, but the moral to the story is:

    Don't touch that hot stove, honey, or you'll get burned!

    Joan Pearson
    June 27, 2003 - 03:32 pm
    Maybe it's because I've been spending my days deep in the pit that is Hell, contemplating Dante's contrapasso principle under which the sinner is punished in direct response to his/her sin, that I find myself looking at what has become of Letty and Margaret through this same prism.

    Margaret's crime...hmmm, I'm not going to go so far as to call her an "evil counsellor"...Dante has special punishment for these people. She didn't counsel this time. Her sin was more one of omission, rather than commission, I think. She never advised Letty to buy that house, stock the bar, put her kids in private schools, overspend her budget (what budget?) ...more importantly, she NEVER once suggested she spend the money that belonged to the museum to pay down her bills. That was all Letty...and Michael's doing. Margaret never acted the "Svengali"...she never directed Letty to return the patio furniture, not buy the house, etc. Margaret usually didn't know of Letty's spending until AFTER the fact. She was shocked to learn that Letty had 12+ active credit cards.

    Her "sin" was using Letty's mistakes as fodder for her novel - chronicaling the mistakes that Letty and Michael were making. The day Letty telephoned her in panic... that she had counted all the bills and didn't know what to do...Margaret was still writing the novel, but she DID foolishly buy the pharmaceutical stock, thinking this would help Letty. Margaret didn't wake up and realize that SHE herself was Letty's enemy by not stepping in with direction - instead of recording her mistakes until that day Ted read the manuscript and said it made him want to step in and "help these poor people"...(Ted does not recognize Letty in Lexie's portrayl?) ... Margaret realized her wrong...and threw the pages down the air shaft! Remember? It hit her hard. It wasn't until she came up with the idea that the advance on the book could help Letty that she fished it out and tried to get it published - (It doesn't elicit "passion" hahaha, - I'll bet if the publishers knew the whole story, knew the story Christina has written, they'd have felt the passion!)

    I think that Margaret did all she could from the moment she realized that she had let Letty down to make things right. She had every intention to give all of the profits from the book to Letty. Her contrapasso - her punishment? She lives her life in obscurity, all of her creative talents unfulfilled, watching the sleeping patients, reflecting on how she did no more for Letty than she is doing for these people. At least they are getting her full attention, something Letty did not have.

    But it is Letty that we seem concerned with. What is her contrapasso? Her punishment? She has the simple quiet life with her children...Michael didn't leave her when he learned what she had done (he was guilty of avoidance that let to the overspending ...and to the crime)- no jail, just little payments. What is she suffering then? Is she sentenced to spend her life believing that Margaret did her wrong by not stepping in and acting the Svengali, directing her before she got in trouble? Does she accept any responsibility for her real "crimie"? Does she believe her troubles were Margaret's fault? What do you think? Does she believe it was Margaret's fault she never went to the prom? I think that as long as she is bitter about Margaret not saving her, she will go on suffering. As long as she will not forgive Margaret, she will not be forgiven. There is to be no redemption for Letty until she accepts her own guilt and sees Margaret's attempts to reach out to her as the "I'm sorry" which she cannot hear...

    Somehow I feel I can't express the irony here...Letty is bitter that Margaret did not act the director and save her from herself, the very thing that she refers to with such sarcasm and disdain in her letter to the judge. I think Christina did such a masterful job protraying this...that it is unnecessary to try to explain. I just want Christina to know how very much I appreciate the irony. A perfect ending. Thank you again, Christina.

    Malryn (Mal)
    June 27, 2003 - 04:05 pm
    Got the report today from all the millions of tests that were done on me June 16th when I embarked on this latest adventure of survival. Guess what? There's not a doggoned thing wrong with me! No, not anything, except a problem with walking, which, with more strenuous, cotton-pickin' effort than has been made by me and a bunch of wonderful therapists in the past two weeks, will be conquered. (You just don't know what's been going on behind the scenes here.) Someday I'll write you an email and tell you about it à la Letty.

    Margaret and Letty, are you listening? Take it from one old lady who has been burned by that red hot stove more than one time in her life because she made mistakes like what you did, you can turn it all around and be creative and productive and content at the age of almost 75 if you want to. What the heck? You two could even be friends again! I sure hope you make it, kids.

    Ginny, you're very, very special. This has probably been the best book discussion I ever participated in anywhere, any time. Thank you, dear scholar, investigator and senior citizens book readers stimulator. I appreciate you and what you do, more than you know.

    All of you who have been in here along with me, I want to thank you for one terrific roller coaster ride. You're great, every one of you. You've stretched my mind too much sometimes, and made me think about and evaluate my ideas, beliefs, opinions -- and myself and people like me and you. Who could want anything more in this life?

    And you, Christina, I think you know what I think about you and the books you've written and are going to write because you have to. Send me an autograph, would you?

    Since I've been determined by Dr. Kenneth Schmader at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina to be alert and oriented with "completely normal memory and cognition". plus having the ability to do what I want and need to do, I hope to join all of you on another Books and Lit roller coaster ride soon. Gee whiz, I think this doctor pronounced me geriatrically sane and fairly physically fit! How can I possibly follow that act?

    My goal is to see all of you at a Books and Lit Bash on my own two feet, for heaven's sake, whenever there is one!

    And wouldn't that be nice?


    June 27, 2003 - 05:00 pm
    I think that Margaret and Letty will also have to forgive themselves. Each have acted shamefully. Margaret betrayed her friend, and Letty betrayed herself and her family. Letty's crime of embezzlement is very, very serious. One that could cause imprisonment for some people.

    I think, in time, Letty will forgive Margaret. I do think that forgiveness happens slowly and not immediately. I think there is a time for anger. First, we feel anger and then, forgiveness.

    Letty, to me, seems like a person who will forgive. Before all of this happened, she was lighthearted, a great mother, a good friend. She does not seem like a person who would remain bitter. I have hope for both women.

    June 27, 2003 - 05:02 pm
    Mal, I am glad you received a good report from the doctors.

    June 27, 2003 - 06:41 pm
    Joan, I too don't think Margaret is an "evil counsellor" in the Dantean sense but she did advise Letty do spend money such as 'yes, get yourself to a nice salon and have your hair done so you'll match your kids new, expensive hair' and 'what? you can't cancel your patio party NOW. Give the party, how much coulld drinks be anyway (or some such) and return the new patio furniture AFTERWARDS.' The fact is though that Letty and Michael were already overspending and needed little encouragement to get into financial trouble.

    I think Letty blames Margaret, who did wrong, and it's easy therefore to blame her. That way Letty avoids responsibility for her own actions. Thinking about this, Letty may have boxed herself into remaining the same person without development. Maybe it just isn't time yet for Letty to pass through the stage of 'goods as success.' Joan, I guess Letty would be in the Den of Thieves in Hell. Hats just reminded us that she DID steal money.

    Hats, it is nice to think that sometime in the future, wounds will heal and M&L can be friends again. Hopefully, when Letty is ready to forgive Margaret, Margaret will forgive Letty for her indifferent-to-Margaret behavior throughout the episodes of Vanity right to the very end.

    Like Ginny said, wouldn't it be something to see these two 20 years from now? As if these two were REAL. They certainly seem real.


    June 27, 2003 - 07:08 pm
    Marvelle, Letty and Margaret do seem like "real" people. I think it will be difficult to forget them. We will remember them for a long time. I wish Christina Schwarz would write a sequel.

    Christina Schwarz
    June 27, 2003 - 11:22 pm
    It worries me a little to think I've written a book with a "lesson," since that would seem inevitably to lead to a bad novel, but I can't deny that this book certainly has a point of view. After all, if I were just observing the way the world works, Letty and Margaret would have had a very good chance of ending up like Sally Sternforth, equally concerned with the "wrong" things, but smug and successful (according to society's terms) just the same--and probably not overly upset by the loss of an old friend. I always return to the Howells quotation, when I'm trying to pinpoint what this book is really about: "People are greedy and foolish and wish to have and to shine" because that's what civilization hold up to them as the chief good of life (I have to paraphrase--at least I think I've paraphrased--because I don't have the book with me). "Having and shining" are nothing--they're vanities--but we pursue them as if they were valuable. Maybe I'm just writing in a circle here. Exploring this idea took me more than 300 pages the last time I tried, maybe it isn't a good idea to try to tackle it in a paragraph at 1 am. Or maybe it's just as simple as Howells makes it.

    I'm interested in your discussion of what might happen in the future and I have to say that your guess is as good as mine--actually, those of you who have some years on me probably have a better guess than I do--as to whether Letty will forgive Margaret. I want to think she will, and yet, how can she ever feel the same way about her? (I'd like to stress here that Letty doesn't blame Margaret for her financial demise and is, in fact, annoyed with Margaret for taking "credit" for that.) The idea of forgiveness--what can be forgiven and how--would make a good book (I'm sure it's already made many, although I can't think of one off-hand).

    My Oprah experience was wonderful in every way--and one of the best parts about it was what has just been replicated by you all. Nothing can make an author so happy as people discussing her book. I'm immensely flattered to have my work taken seriously and appreciated, but even more than that--let's see if I can explain this right--I'm incredibly interested in the world of this book, its issues, its characters, its turns of phrase; to have others enter that world with me is remarkable and wonderful. (OK--I can't explain it. I'm relying on vague adjectives. But I hope you get my gist.) I'm sorry I've not gotten to all your questions, but I hope I've addressed some of the big ones. Thank you so much for all of your time, your reading and your thoughts. And thank you for inviting me to share in this discussion.

    Here's a question for you: What's your next book?

    Yours truly, Christina

    June 28, 2003 - 01:27 am
    MALRYN………..What a horrible thing to happen. That was a huge betrayal. I can certainly see why you see Letty’s situation the way you see it. What a horrible betrayal your experienced, but from knowing the AA program, you would have dealt with the betrayal in the 4th and 5th steps and perhaps said the 14 day prayer…..perhaps longer than the 14 days. I have returned the book to the Library….only 2 weeks on a book with a reserve still on it, so I can’t pinpoint a specific sentence, but my general feeling was that she was still angry and playing a power game. What you wrote does indeed sound like sadness.

    Congratulations on your excellent med report. You’ll have many more years of giving people pleasure from your writing. Even though I joined the discussion late, I too feel a bonding…..Thank you for guiding us, Ginny. BTW, I’d enjoy getting an email from you. Do you still have my email addy?

    MARVELLE………Unfortunately, your friend will continue with the same behaviour until or unless she joins AA and works the program. The only real betrayal I can identify with my sister was a small one….she kept the things that Mum had given to me in the will. They were nostalgia value only, but included Mum’s rings and things they had bought on overseas trips. Her decision brought out her vitriol…the blame game. Essentially it came down to my being successful in my career and marriage, and abandoning her by migrating here. All I did was say that she was manufacturing her own Karma, which would undoubtedly include continued self-punishment, and said I didn’t want to discuss it further.

    If Christina meant redemption in the biblical sense, then you were right and I was wrong. Yes, it could be Margaret stealing Letty’s life experiences for her book. Yes, betrayal does hurt. I had a situation like that at work, with a man though, not a woman. Like you, I also feel that Letty is far away from forgiving and that she was still exhibiting passive anger…..self-pity is a form of anger as well. Nicole Kidman can play a variety of roles well. She’s good at drama and hs a good sense of humour as well.

    As per Q16…..Yes Vanity could very well seen as a parable…..a story that illustrates a moral principle and offers a lesson to be learned. The many faces of vanity, how vanity leads to negative behaviours, using and betraying relationships, and consequences of those behaviours. I feel both Letty and Margaret still have lessons to learn….they’re still seeing the consequences subjectively and IMO, still reacting. I like your parable…..apropos. And, yes, like Maslow’s interpretation of levels of consciousness. Combining Maslow and Erickson, the end result is either Self-Actualisation (Maslow) and in senior years, Integrity and a sense of fulfilment……or Despair.

    MARYAL……..I like your idea that ‘Redemption’ on the cheque relates to ‘buying back.’ Because ‘redemption’ was written on the cheque, it does appear to fit that portion of the definition. How many people who are focused on money and material possessions try to ‘buy’ others love rather than spend the time with those persons and give of themselves

    FRUGAL…….I agree with your opinions…..the vanity of consumerism, social status, unrequited ambition vs true friendship. . I just read an excellent sentence at the end of the book I just finished. ‘There is a fine line between the ambition that leads us to excel and ambition that blinds us to reality, and human fraility.’ (Chadwick, Whitney, Framed. p.326)

    JOAN………Good opinions. I agree with your feelings about Margaret and did try to correct her wrongs toward the end of the book, but it was too late by then, and choosing the failing stock was yet another mistake. I also agree that essentially Letty got a light ‘sentence’……community service and a quiet life out of the greed rat-race. It’s her choice how long she wants to suffer through blaming Margaret rather than accepting her part in her ‘downfall.’

    HATS……like you, I hope that Christina will write a sequel.

    CHRISTINA…….. You wrote: "People are greedy and foolish and wish to have and to shine" because that's what civilization hold up to them as the chief good of life.” And ’ "Having and shining" are nothing--they're vanities--but we pursue them as if they were valuable.’ So true and so sad. After 30 years here where the majority of Aussies didn’t adhere to the ‘Having and Shining’ philosophy, it makes me sick to see it’s arrival and growth here. Until 6 months ago, all shopping malls were closed on Sundays, so people could be with their families and friends enjoying nature. Now they’re open on Sundays. At least we only have late night shopping one night per week, til 9pm. In the last 3 years, the national credit card debt has risen.

    As to the future, we can put a happy ending to it. Many seniors do return to the real and important values. Some do not. The result is either Self-Actualisation (Maslow) , Integrity and a sense of fulfilment……or Despair. (Erickson) Thanks for your clarification of what Letty is feeling. And thank you so much for writing such a wonderful book, a book that made us all think deeply, about the characters, and about our own lives, and where we’re at at present.


    June 28, 2003 - 04:51 am
    ahaha HAHAHAH Well done Christina! If that's not the perfect concluding post from an author I don't know one when I see one, love it love it love it. Just the right note, asking US a question, do you love it hahahaha, what's your next book she asks? hahahaha

    Glad you brought that up, I had forgotten to say: the Book Club Online will do The Piano Tuner in July, I hate I'm going to be gone, that's the next Book Club Online, and we hope everybody will turn out for that one!

    I don't personally know WHAT book I'm going to lead next as I don't think I can top this experience, I keep telling myself the old adage "if a beautiful woman enters the room, it doesn't make the other pretty women ugly, it makes them all more beautiful by reflection" but at the moment Margaret thinks Vanity has dazzled the others into a shadow, can't even SEE the other contenders in the room.

    And I also absolutely LOVED the not answering all the questions, *** GOOD HEAVENS do you realize how many she DID answer!?! Have just compiled a page of them: 26!!!!!!!! Golly moses, that's 25 more than I expected!!)Bless her kind and generous heart!!! but the ones unanswered are the true puzzles of the book and I think it's really good they should remain so, (and good heavens, thank you for saying we here have replicated the best of the Oprah experience for you, WOW, we'll savor that one for a long time, thank you!!!) so that we can continue to conjecture and argue all of our days over the concepts in the book, "Letty" and I argued on the phone yesterday, "Letty" doesn't agree (!!??!!) with my interpretation of Letty!?! hahaah AND is very firm! ahhahaha I think to be told "it's XXX or it's YYYY" when we've said from Day One here in our Book Clubs 1996 that "all opinions are worthwhile and there IS no right or wrong," would be an anticlimax: it truly is what each reader thinks it is, like she said earlier, it comes to life on its own in the mind of each reader.

    And it's different for each reader. THAT was pretty perfect.

    Do those of you in Remains remember when we argued almost to the death over the climax in Remains and finally wrote Dr. Parkes who had written THE Study Guide for Remains and asked him point blank (we were going to find out who was right and who wrong!!) what it was? Do you remember he, Sphinx like, would not answer? He answered a lot of other things, but on that one he remained the Sibyl. I loved that. It was as if he were saying you need to think that one out for yourself.

    Reading a book is a personal journey of the mind and maybe the soul, this has been such a book, and such a discussion, and to have the author here has been totally marvelous, I have absolutely LOVED this experience, from first to last. I am so proud of each of you for the work you put into this in trying to analyze and understand it, and for the perspectives from your own experience and knowledge you added to our general understanding. I am so honored that Christina took her valuable time at 1 am (not my brightest time period of the day) to stick with us till the end, she did NOT have to do that, I feel unbelievable gratitude. I am interested in why a "message" would make it a bad novel, something was said there which is important but I don't know what: another tantalizing thing for us to think on, wow.

    The very mention of Redemption and all its definitions (thank you, Maryal and Malryn [what super news on your health!! mazel tov!!] and all) reminds me for some strange reason of S&H Green Stamps, remember them? And how you pasted them in the book like the credulous children I guess we were and took them to the store and got!! And GOT!!! trash in return? All that pasting. We thought we were doing something: we were going to "have!"

    And of course there's the expression "She saves Green Stamps" which means that the person saves up your faults and brings them out in conversation, like Letty's mother did the prom dress, and you know the drill: how can you say I was wrong? YOU slammed the window in 1997 and it broke! And I never will forget in 1999 when you...."

    hahaha There are all kinds of stamp saving and redemption, delicious things to argue over on a hot summer night.

    I was interested earlier when Christina said that, did you notice how she'd say she did not remember this or that about the character? That amazed me, too. This is the person who CREATED that character, and once created I guess the character took on a different life of its own, so, in this way we have also learned a bit about how a writer is different, and how they feel about their own characters! This has been quite a learning experience, for me: a touch with greatness, no joke. I don't have any grandiose way to stop , either, no fancy codas except to thank all of you for your incredible insights and your kind words and for everything you added to the discussion which remains as it began: a journey of exploration and possibility: just LOVE it.


    June 28, 2003 - 04:12 pm
    Christina, thanks for the thoughtful words. I feel guilty. We surprised you with a month-long discussion? Hahahaha. When I first joined SN I thought 'we'll run out of things to say after a week!' but if the book is good, if it strikes true to the human condition, I found we can discuss forever and ever. That's the way I feel about Vanity.

    My next book? I'm still in Dante's Hell hoping our guides Joan P. and Maryal won't leave me behind. It gets hot here, you know? Not my kind of weather but a very enlightening, intriguing discussion of a beautiful work. Maybe your new book will be off the press by the time, if ever, I emerge from Hell. If not, I may have to resort to cleaning my house! Oh, the horror.

    Vanity is like Remains in that there are so many different ways to look at it because of our varying experiences and background. I think a good work, like a poem, can't be tied to one SPECIFIC meaning which alone is TRUE or that all else is dross. So I understand that 'meaning' should be left to the individual reader.

    I hate to see this discussion end as it's been superlative with our guides Christina and Ginny leading us along. SN companions, it's been a joy.


    betty gregory
    June 28, 2003 - 04:44 pm
    On forgiveness, redemption and other issues in these last 60 or so posts, I found several voices I agree with.....

    I'm with Mal, in that I find Letty...not angry, but stuck somehow in a grief-like ambivalence, holding on to what Margaret has sent...Christmas card, checks.

    It is left to the reader's imagination what Letty will do next and ultimately.

    I agree completely with Maryal on Margaret's odd behavior of sending checks and how difficult it is to regain trust, once lost. Maryal wrote....

    "Margaret is off on the wrong track if she is seeking forgiveness. She needs to risk saying how very sorry she is, understand that money cannot pay back the betrayal and leave the next step up to Letty.

    "You can't buy back friendship or trust. Trust, once lost, may be one of the hardest things to get back since the only way to do it is to show, time after time after time, that you are indeed now trustworthy, that you have changed, that you are a new person."


    Further on forgiveness, I cannot improve on Hat's eloquence.....

    "I think that Margaret and Letty will also have to forgive themselves. Each have acted shamefully. Margaret betrayed her friend, and Letty betrayed herself and her family. Letty's crime of embezzlement is very, very serious. One that could cause imprisonment for some people.

    "I think, in time, Letty will forgive Margaret. I do think that forgiveness happens slowly and not immediately. I think there is a time for anger. First, we feel anger and then, forgiveness.

    "Letty, to me, seems like a person who will forgive. Before all of this happened, she was lighthearted, a great mother, a good friend. She does not seem like a person who would remain bitter. I have hope for both women."


    It may be, as Hats says, that Letty will forgive Margaret, but I'm not entirely certain that after the forgiveness that I would hope she could recapture the friendship. Forgiveness, yes, for Letty's own sake, but I wonder if she could value herself enough to see herself deserving better friends. Selfishly, Margaret betrayed her for financial gain and potential fame. I'm not sure what foundation for friendship is possible, especially in the absence of trust. As Letty is written, however, she may stay in limbo or go back to the follower role.


    Christina, it's been such a treat having you join our discussion and answer as many questions as time (and baby?) permitted. We've loved having you with us!

    Ginny, your enthusiasm, attention and care remain the warmth and heart of our successful discussions. How is it possible, with no room at the end of the scale, to keep improving your leadership, but you keep trying new things and finding different ways to keep us interested, involved and heard. Thank you for your hard work and for being you.


    kiwi lady
    June 28, 2003 - 06:51 pm
    Wish we could do a modern NZ writer in the near future.


    June 28, 2003 - 08:54 pm
    Carolyn, just click on the "Book Suggestion" near the bottom of the heading and from there you can suggest a book. I'm not positive but I think each SN book discussion heading has that option.

    It's funny how, just as there was with Stevens in Remains, there are different responses to Letty and Margaret. 'Letty is holding on to the checks for friendship' versus '..out of anger'; 'Letty will forgive' versus 'Letty isn't near to forgiving'; 'Margaret may forgive Letty for her neglect' versus 'Margaret has nothing to forgive' etc. I wonder if it's the Lettys amongst us (myself) who're hardest on her and the Margarets who're hardest on her?


    betty gregory
    June 29, 2003 - 11:21 pm
    I cannot overstate how much I've agonized over adding this post. It's 11:30 Sunday night and I'm watching a panel of book reviewers sponsored by Yale Review of Books on C-Span Book TV. 6 on the panel, including 2 from New York Times Book Review. Opinions are soooo interesting. One says he avoids doing a negative review of a writer's first book. He simply refuses to review it. Another reviewer and another talk about "staying true to the book," that it is not about tiptoeing around the writer's feelings. Another says yes to that and adds, "and being truthful to the READERS, that the readers must be the priority when one is reviewing a book."

    In this discussion, we talked about being "real," but I really haven't done that. I held back, not knowing if I wanted to start the tricky business of saying something "negative.".

    And, to be honest, I'm too beaten down right now from external circumstances to withstand the weight of......everybody charging back in here to defend the author and disagree with me. Because we know how to be gracious hosts and we have not ventured into the murky water of taking an author to task.

    I might not even be exactly, perfectly on point with my unsaid thoughts, BUT we've MISSED something if even one of us has held back. The established culture (when an author visits) is to avoid saying anything negative. Please, don't anyone insult me by saying, oh, no, we can say anything we want to. No, we have slowly but certainly gravitated to the point of saying only positive things. I've been part of that culture, feeling the same ambivalence, choosing my words the several experiences of an author visiting a discussion.

    But, now I'm left feeling guilty and feeling like I need to apologize to my fellow readers because I haven't told YOU the truth. The author has been important to us for a temporary 30 days (and, yes, longer, in a political sense), but YOU are in my life, some of you for years. It is to YOU that I owe my real thoughts, that I owe the truth of how I viewed the book.

    I'm going to copy and paste a very rough, unfinished piece of criticism from my computer "notepad" file. It's not finished because I've been too anxious about posting it and reworking it could go on forever. It doesn't have a conclusion, but it's much of what I left out of my posts along the way. I keep trying to add a request at the end, asking Christina Schwarz to guard her writer's gift well, because I believe her gift is powerful.....but that tone is so different from the tone we've established.

    Anyway, here is what I FEEL........


    At the end of this discussion, I find myself thinking again of Dr. Carolyn Heilbrun's book, Writing A Woman's Life, in which she tracks the history of and shift in writing women's biographies. Until that shift in the 1970s, much of what we knew about women had been written by men. In my published dissertation and a related article in a psychology journal, I reported a long list of negative characterizations of women up through the centuries and made the case that remnants of those perceptions of women linger today.

    A few of the characterizations/words are......devious, manipulative, cunning, seductive. These words appear in essays and articles written by powerful men over several centuries to justify forbidding women to own property, serve in public office, have custody of their own children, have control over medical decisions for their bodies. Think Salem witch trials. Think of the involuntary incarcerations of thousands of women in the 1940s and 1950s in mental institutions with only a husband's or male doctor's signature.

    Even as women's freedoms and rights have expanded, some of those old characterizations....and they are OLD and EMBEDDED in our thinking about women.....linger and crop up in a wide range of writings.

    There are so many ironies about those old words. Some words more accurately describe contemporary behavior of male criminals. Is there such thing as a devious woman? Of course, but statistically, the criminal courts count far more men than women in devious, cunning behavior.

    to be continued

    betty gregory
    June 29, 2003 - 11:24 pm

    The word "seductive" takes many books to explain how that word became attached to "woman" and how it may never die, though in recent studies including men and women, behavior deemed "seductive" is about equal between them.

    My dissertation is about the stereotyping of female clients by male and female psychologists, using the word "seductive." It's a common word used today by therapists about women, primarily, but used differently by male and female therapists. One finding....the word is used by male therapists to sexualize female clients. Duh. The word "seductive" can still be found in diagnostic manuals published by APA, but is used differently by male and female therapists (my studies found). Those therapists who often use the word to describe female clients also use other words more frequently....devious, cunning, manipulative.

    Another discovery in my research about these old, embedded perceptions is linked to the historical lower class perception of women. In the mid 1800s, the lone male voice of John Stuart Mill declared that women had been "subjugated" in a "slave class." Interestingly, words like devious, cunning, and manipulative have been used to describe behavior of slaves.

    So. All that, above, is to explain why the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I read about a woman, real or fictional, who is described as or whose behavior is devious, manipulative, cunning or, both perceptions and true behavior.

    I can't say...."hold everything, that never happens." I can continue to wonder, though, as I have for so many years, about the majority of nameless women of integrity and quiet strength, of women who sacrifice for their families, who are selfless at the core and give and give of their time and energy for their children, friends, community and employers (and who are learning to value and take care of themselves). Think of Ginny Anderson and her generosity.

    In every way that we haven't before, we have begun to value women....those who choose to continue traditional roles and those who choose to broaden those roles. In both cases, we are finally beginning to see the enormous importance of half of the world's population.

    So, I argue with myself, since the valuation has begun for women (in developed countries, at least) what's the harm in a story, a parable, that includes a woman who betrays a friend for financial gain or fame and whose behavior could be described as devious and manipulative? Or, let's put aside the absolute test of those two words and just ask, what's wrong with a story of a selfish woman who is a rotten friend?

    The answer is, I don't know if there is anything wrong with it. So what?? Some stories are about good people and some are about people with faults. What I'm trying honestly to do is to describe the red flags in my head of those old ways of perceiving women, the warning bells. Those old, dangerous, characterizations are still with us and still cause harm in direct and indirect ways. In one example, as explained above, therapists still stereotype female clients.....often, a genuinely friendly female client will be written up as "manipulative." If she continues to smile too much (a nervous habit, for example), she might be labeled as devious or seductive. So, every female character in every book counts, just as in every television show and movie.

    Now, I've lost all organization of this post, but am plowing on. What is one difference between Stevens of Remains of the Day and Margaret? Stevens lived to serve his employer; in that, his integrity was solid. The price paid for this dedication was predominantly harm to himself. Margaret, on the other hand, did not have integrity. She was selfish. Her behavior toward Letty was cruel and (shudder) devious. She is an old myth of woman right there on the page in black and white. Red flags screaming!!


    That's it. I'm sorry I wasn't able to find a way to say more of this earlier. The panel on C-Span gave me courage.

    June 30, 2003 - 10:01 am
    Part of being a good host is being gracious and you are definitely that Betty. The author has been a guest in our SN Home and I appreciate that you felt the need to hold back any negative comments during the discussion; but your comments are really about how women are perceived and portrayed and I think that's an important issue to consider. It would have made a fine topic of discussion for Vanity. Guaranteed to get our blood pumping. (grin)

    If I read a book and I think it's poorly written or badly plotted I wouldn't join in a discussion were the author is a guest participant. I wouldn't want to say to their cyber face, you're a bad writer. But if a fine author has a slant or viewpoint that I question, I think that's a suitable issue to discuss. Of course, I'm a poet first and foremost, and poets are anarchists who love to get people to REACT rather than have people intellectually, passively, nod their heads. Good novelists are the same, I think, and they love seeing issues discussed and debated.

    Words live, they aren't just flat marks on paper. Words only die when people don't interact with them.


    About the portrayal of women in Vanity: People are not one way or the other -- either 'good' or 'with faults' -- regular people aren't either/or like that. We're both. Particularly in a novel, if you have a character without faults you don't have much of a character, instead you have a caricature that's flat and one-dimensional. S/he isn't real.

    So here is where I disagree with you. In fiction/novels, and I'm not talking about the disposable dime-a-dozen stuff, men and women will have faults and they'll be tested. That's the story. Period. How people face the test and whether they change or not is the pivotal point in a novel. In Vanity, of the two women, I think one person changed [at least a little] and another did not.

    If a literate author does her job, readers will see some part of themselves in the story and will experience the test along with the characters; or readers will relate to the test itself, having experienced it or seen it in others. It isn't about "let's dump on women" but "let's see what we encounter in the world."

    Thomas Wolfe wrote on the same subject of "to have and to shine," other male authors too about male characters; but life isn't exclusively male. (thank goodness!) If you don't see that Vanity was an exploration of how society influences us, shapes and mishapes us, and tries us, then I don't know how to show you. I feel Christina, being a woman, knew women best and so that's who she wrote about.

    Author's always always always write faults into their male and female characters unless it's poorly written fiction. King Lear would not be as magnificent as he is if he hadn't those faults that brought him such despair and agony. Huckleberry Finn would not be as radiant and memorable a character if he hadn't the flaw of prejudice which brought him such agonies of conscience until he faced it on that Mississippi river raft. He was tested and he changed and acted on his conscience. The odyessy of Huck is to find himself. We empathize with Lear and Huck as they struggle with the Human Condition and their faults. The test and the response is a catharsis for the reader if done well.

    It'd be a poor world indeed if authors were only allowed to write about men. I don't demand that women be plaster saints. I personally felt that Margaret underwent a lot of emotional agony FOR us and Letty in the end underwent a more physical agony FOR us.

    Betty, I for one, would love to have seen your point of view as we examined Vanity. It would have added another diminsion to the discussion and, as your posts indicate, you always discuss intelligently, and with courtesy and respect. So long as we addressed an author with consideration, we couldn't lose. I think just saying "the portrayal of women here is demeening" alone wouldn't be gracious; but questioning, exploring the portrayal would be suitable. We could have talked about women, the perception of women, literary techniques, the structure and aspects of novels, society and its restraints and influences.... so much comes to mind brought about by thinking about this.

    See Bety, wouldn't this have made a great topic in the discussion?


    kiwi lady
    June 30, 2003 - 12:20 pm
    Have to add my 10 cents worth. When I was one of the few women who took on a full time job here in suburban NZ in the early 70's and who also had a young family I did not like the women I worked with. They were bitchy, determined to claw their way to the top no matter who they trompled or bad mouthed to get them one more rung up the ladder. Now I do understand that this occurred because of society's negative views of women in business but it did not make me approve of the tactics or to like the women who employed these tactics.

    It may sound disloyal to my sex but the job I enjoyed the most was when I was the "older woman" working in an all male environment with much younger men. They were generous in sharing their knowledge we did not have bitchiness in the work place and I made lasting friendships. It was the happiest time of my working life. We made such good team that when one of the guys moved on to another company in the same industry he would phone the rest of us when a vacancy came up so for a decade we ended up moving as a group!

    To be honest I never knew how ruthless the fairer sex could be until I began my working life as a Sales Executive. I worked in several different industries and the type of industry made no difference to attitudes.

    I did work in an all female sales team once in Advertising and because of the scrupulously fair boss we had ( a grandfatherly type male) it was a harmonious environment. He was not the type to allow foul play by being hypnotised by a pretty face and batting of long eyelashes.

    I still think that a truly devious woman can outwit a devious male by a mile!

    Now Betty will say I am pandering to a stereotype but I am just telling how it was from my own experiences.

    June 30, 2003 - 04:23 pm
    I certainly take Betty's points......Margaret and Letty are indeed portrayed in a negative light....labels that are often applied to women. Also, as Carolyn said, women on their way up the corporate ladder, unfortunately, do tend to perpetuate the labelling by engaging in those negative behaviours. While I understand why...the need to break the glass ceiling in the White Male Supremacy world, it is not pleasant to see. In reality, we can use our positive qualities, such as intuition, our ability to see the 'big picture' and our negotiating and verbal skills to succeed, rather than using the negative qualities we are labelled with.

    Interestingly, my daughter, who is a middle manager in what used to be an ultimate 'white male supremacy' area, finds the same thing that Carolyn was talking's easier to supervise the men than the women. Men tend to be more straight-forward, the women more 'devious' and 'bitchy.' If we are going to shed these labels, we need to stop engaging in these behaviours.

    I realise it's more difficult for women, and they need to work twice as hard to succeed in a 'man's world' but there is an appropriate and inappropriate way to go about it. I feel it would be beneficial for women to use their business women's groups to address these issues, rather than use those groups to tear down men. Once women learn to use 'man speak,' they can combine that and women's intuition and ability to see the big picture, to become extremely effective. My daughter does that. Although I don't like Condi Rice's politics, she does that as well.

    Perhaps next novel, Christina will write a book about 2 men, showing their foibles......that would be a nice balance, eh?


    June 30, 2003 - 07:30 pm
    Oh my, I wrote a long post, wanted to scoll up to change something and pressed the back button instead. Lost the whole wannabe post! Here I'll try again but more carefully.

    I don't know how to express the idea clearly that today's literature is not about perfect men and women. Such perfect people would be caricatures, flat and uninteresting. They wouldn't represent the Human Condition.

    Much of the literature of the past has a leading man. If a woman is in the book at all she's either a Saint or a Sinner (either/or) and she lurks in the background. In the past many Male authors argued that women weren't interesting, they had narrow provincial lives (the lack of war experience always being pointed out), and women had nothing to contribute in an exploration of humanity blah blah blah ... so the male writers and their male editors said. There were rare exceptions like Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. Very rare compared to the proliferation of male authors with a male-centered viewpoint. Contemporary literature has changed that viewpoint, thank goodness

    But a major character in contemporary lit has to have flaws; has to explore the Human Condition. That's a fact of literature.

    Is the answer to NOT write about women? To exclude women? Good grief, no!

    And just as M&L have faults as major characters, I also pointed out in some posts the faults of Michael and Ted. No one followed up on my thoughts perhaps because they weren't major characters. But they had critical faults.

    If I want to escape the human condition, if I don't want to read about issues, I turn to other forms of writing. One can find perfect major characters, without critical, pivotal flaws in autobiographies, biographies, science books, romance, mysteries. There will be flaws, often but not always, yet the flaws don't determine the climax (if any) of most of these stories because they aren't about the Human Condition.

    For instance, in mysteries, which I love, the interest is in plot and setting and the puzzle. It keeps my mind occupied but not searching the human condition. Continuing characters in a mystery series will have certain recognizable mannerisms, a history often shady, but rarely (Inspector Morse is a rare example) will they have major faults. And those faults are not the pivotal, deciding point of a mystery; it is the puzzle itself that leads the story. It's more about the joy of setting, plot and puzzle and the comfy feeling I get encountering a character I know from past mysteries. Contemporary lit, without the mystery puzzle and comfy recognition, doesn't have any such substitution for fully-dimensional characters.


    Contemporary lit's major characters have flaws that echo society's flaws. Devious, manipulative, disloyal, stereotypes as representative of society, arrogant?

    Devious and manipulative - see Elmer Gantry and Tom Sawyer among the many many male characters in literature.

    Arrogance, disloyalty to others - see the early King Lear who breaks my heart every time I read Shakespeare's play. Every time.

    Stereotypes as representative of society - see Huck Finn as he starts his journey on the Mississippi; see Charles Dickens' writings with the engrossing, entertaining tales that are a must read.

    Devious, manipulative, disloyal, sterotypes of society, arrogant -- these flaws are not restricted to women but to human beings.


    Carolyn, I disagree about women being (naturally?) devious. If one is raised feeling powerless in a society that extolls power (money, name, pulling political economic social strings), to become a part of that distorted society one may choose the 'power' route and be devious. We see it commonly in politicians and stock traders where deviousness and manipulation is a game. They crave the high of power/esteem, yet it is only a temporary fix. Sad that so many men and women fall for that social trap!

    I don't see Christina as having a gender bias. She's talking about the values we see all around us in society. Oh how I wish we could talk more about these issues but I know the Vanity discussion is ending. It would have been WONDERFUL to have time to explore issues of perceptions of women by/in society, literary techniques and characterizations, the structure of lit novels. Perhaps we'll find another novel that'll raise such issues and then we'll explore them together.

    Time has ended here for this fascinating topic and I wish we had more time.


    June 30, 2003 - 08:28 pm
    Marvelle......I'm in to mysteries as them compulsively.<g> I agree with you that women are not naturally devious. When they are held down by white male supremacy, some tend to be devious in order to get out of the role, rather than being assertive. But deviousness is IMO much more prevalent in males. Look at our male politicians for example. Our PM, for example is devious whereas NZ PM, a female, is not. Our PM is in to power and control games. NZ PM is not and is straight-forward and honest.

    I also think it's a shame that we can't explore issues of perceptions of women by/in society. It would be a very worthwhile topic.


    kiwi lady
    June 30, 2003 - 08:50 pm
    Ah but Bobbie our PM is not into a power trip on the Global scene, but she too, in a mans world, is noted for being a control freak in her cabinet (much as I like her this is documented fact) However she does have sound judgement in Global Policy and she is very open to being approached by her electorate but she does rule her MPs with the iron fist. Not many of her MP's have dared to vote outside the party line even in conscience votes although they may abstain. So after fighting her way up she still feels like she has to stay on top!

    kiwi lady
    June 30, 2003 - 09:19 pm
    I have just heard something absolutely appalling on BBC World. They were talking about scientists in Spain harvesting eggs from aborted foetuses to use in fertility treatment - they say they have nearly perfected the system. They then went on to say that they were using eggs from late term abortions at 33 weeks! That is murder. That is a viable person. I am shocked and disgusted. I saw an article by a nurse in the USA who rescued a live aborted foetus and held it in her arms until it died a few minutes later. She was told to put it to one side and let it die just like some sort of animal. She published a letter on the internet a couple of years ago and said people should be aware of the number of late term abortions that were going on. What is wrong with this world. There are couples dying to adopt a baby. Infertility has never been in more epidemic proportions for a number of reasons. When someone carries a baby to 26 or 30 odd weeks there should be no reason why they could not carry it the next few weeks and give it a chance of life with adoptive parents. I am sorry late term abortion is just abhorrant to me- there is no place for this practice in a decent society.


    June 30, 2003 - 09:20 pm
    Ah, here we can agee wholeheartedly. I tried to softpedal my feelings about politicians, I'm sure there are some who actually intend to serve the people, but most are self-serving, devious and manipulative. I wonder if it has to be the nature of the beast? There! Now I've said what I feel.

    Carolyn, we were posting at the same time. Abortion is another volatile issue isn't it? I shudder to think of future genetics and what practices and controversy that may bring. All important human issues but which directly impact women.


    July 1, 2003 - 12:04 am
    Yes, Marvelle.......Politicians...I think it is the nature of the beast....self-serving, devious and manipulative.

    Carolyn......I agree about LATE-term abortions, in contrast with early term abortions. Interesting about Helen, but I suppose she has to be that way to keep control. In any case, I still believe she is a person who maintains a sense of morality, unlike our PM, who IS a control freak. The ridiculous thing is that he's a big fish in a small pond, the emphasis being on small pond.


    kiwi lady
    July 1, 2003 - 02:20 am
    Yikes we are getting off topic here but they are womens issues I guess! We might get rapped over the knuckles!

    July 1, 2003 - 05:39 am
    Good grief hahahaah I was astounded to see 7 new posts this morning and the discussion long concluded, I guess you can't keep a good discussion down, huh? hahahaa

    The issues the book have raised apparently go a bit beyond a book of fiction and have made us all think, I think, and to have the author present has been the perfect ending (as the old song says, to a perfect day).

    I was surprised, in separating out Christina's remarks, to find she actually answered more than 26 of our questions! Her answers will not only be part of the Reader's Guide for this discussion, but also part of a new section on SeniorNet in which people who come to the Books can see Author Remarks or Thoughts on their books, or Interviews, which WHEEEE!! she has promised SeniorNet our own Exclusive Interview to coincide with the publication of her paperback version of Vanity in the FALL!! You heard it here!!

    And so now it's necessary to conclude this discussion, and you can see why in this next post, the URL for the Archives can't BE there till the discussion IS Archived, The Piano Tuner, the July Book Club Online, is up and ready, and so we need to get it over toward the Archives. Our exhilerating roller coaster ride has come to an end (and STOP climbing back in those cars@!@ hahaha) and is only a memory, but it was truly a great experience!

    Thank you ALL!


    July 1, 2003 - 05:51 am