I haven’t been so great about getting my book ‘blips’ on here this summer. I am presently reading Postcards by Annie E. Proulx, but want to jot a note here about Disobedience by Jane Hamilton. She is the author of both A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth.
To begin with, I thought that the devices used, particular to voice, were a bit cheesy. In some respect it reminded me of those middle year short stories I would read by the bucket load. I thought it was ‘too easy’ to have Henry Shaw land upon his mother’s indiscretions via e mails. Henry’s telling of the story through these disclosures felt as predictable as the young student who would write a horrific war story and then tell the teacher, in the end, that “the protagonist then woke from a bad dream”.
I stuck with the novel, however, and DID enjoy the warm and engaging humour around Henry’s Shaw’s sister, Elvira and her obsession with Civil War reenactment dramas and period history. I found that the novel became stronger as the story relied less on the electronic mail and more on the dynamics of the family and relationship. I’m not certain how I felt about Beth’s (the mother) struggle and her choices. It’s unclear what motivates her actions. Kevin (the father) is so neutral and forgiving that I felt frustrated at the writing of his name…his reactions or lack thereof left me breathless.
Two of Hamilton’s previous novels, Oprah Winfrey picks “A Map of the World” and “The Book of Ruth,” follow women through hell (wrongful child molestation charges, for instance). In “Disobedience” Beth Shaw’s hell is mostly of her own making, and Hamilton doesn’t seem all that interested in its torments. Instead she trains her attention on how the noncombatant members of the family fare while Beth does battle with her wayward heart. Puberty threatens Elvira’s budding career as a hardcore Civil War reenactor, a pastime described in distracting detail. Desperation creeps into Kevin’s relentless good cheer; he knows something’s up, he just won’t admit it. Gloomy Henry more or less keeps Beth’s secret; you can almost see the clouds gathering over his head.
By the time the inevitable storm breaks, the air has gotten pretty thick. Claustrophobia, brought on by Henry’s obsessive need to keep Mommy under the microscope, sets in way too soon. Hamilton does know how to pace a story, but it isn’t enough to make you happy about sitting through this drama. Henry, despite the similarities, can’t claim to be Hamlet. The melancholy Dane would fall on his sword if asked to deliver this bit of dime-store philosophy: “I was sure that I was permitted, as their son, to exercise moral judgment over the Shaws, even if I did so with no one else, including myself. They had chosen, after all, to play a certain game and it seemed to me that if you entered into it willingly, then you had to observe the regulations. If you stepped out of bounds it followed that you could lose everything. You might very well end up with nothing.” You might indeed.