It’s that time again. The Fellowship of the Worms is now in session! This month’s selection was The House Girl by Tara Conklin. WARNING: We will be discussing the WHOLE book. This will no doubt include SPOILERS. If you did not read the book and would like to participate, pick up a copy of The House Girl and give it a read. This post will be here waiting for you when you finish. Now that the particulars are out of the way, I’ll remind you of the premise here. I’ll pose questions in bold and answer them in regular type. If you don’t want your opinions influenced by my rantings, stick to the bold first. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or if you’re so inclined, on your own blog. A linky list will be provided at the end of this post for anybody who has reviewed The House Girl on their own blog, even if it has nothing to do with the following discussion questions. Don’t be shy, please link up!
1. The House Girl is told in a dual narrative, switching back and forth between Lina in modern day NYC and Josephine in 1852 Virginia. In addition to the two major narrators, there are a number of additional characters advancing the story through letters. Did you enjoy the multiple perspectives? Did you find it added or detracted from the story Conklin was trying to tell?
Personally, I dig the dual (or more) narrative. I like being able to get inside the heads of multiple characters. I thought Conklin did a great job in fleshing out Josephine and Lina’s personalities. Though, if I could lodge one small complaint, it’s that I couldn’t get inside the head of Lu Anne Bell. What a crazy contradiction SHE was. I’m always interested in how people rationalize cruelties to themselves. Given what Lu Anne clearly knew about her husband’s non-consensual relationships with his female slaves, it’s no wonder she seemed to yo-yo between compassion and jealousy when dealing with Josephine.
2. Do you think that Lu Anne intentionally passed off Josephine’s art work as her own? Do you think she would have done things differently had she known the notoriety the art would eventually garner?
Lu Anne was a complicated character, I’m a little obsessed with her, since I was thwarted in my desire to get inside her head. The Pollyanna in me doesn’t think that Lu Anne had any idea that the artwork she and Josephine (okay, mostly Josephine) created was going to become famous. Of course, as much as I’d LIKE to think that Lu Anne would have taken steps to ensure proper credit was given had she known what was going to become of the art, I doubt she would have changed her actions. The product of her shameful environment, that one.
3. Lina is the daughter of the artsiest artists in all the land, and yet she chose to pursue a career in law. What in her upbringing to you think helped spur her decision to choose a career so based in reason?
Lina’s upbringing was never quite stable. When it was just Lina and Oscar, their existence always seemed precarious. I think Lina’s choice of career was based in part on the desire to have some financial security (I can’t blame her for that!) I also think there was an element of rebellion there… She sort of goes Alex P. Keaton and rebels against her artsy upbringing by going corporate. (If you’re too young to get my Family Ties joke, get thee to the CBS.com. Full episodes!)
4. As a house slave, Josephine walks a lonely road. How does her unique status contribute to her desire to run?
Poor Josephine! Because she was tasked with domestic duties, she was separated from the field workers. However, being in the house didn’t mean that she was a part of the family- she was still a slave, for heaven’s sake. She was stuck in this crappy middle ground trying to muddle through. Yes, she had relationships with Lottie and a few others, but Josephine was still separate. Oh, yeah. And being in the house only made it easier for her master to make his nocturnal visits- that sure as heck wasn’t a perk. Loneliness, prolonged sexual abuse, and, uh, being property? Yep. Seems like enough motivation to get out of Dodge to me!
5. How did you feel when Oscar dropped the bombshell about what really happened to Lina’s mother Grace?
What I want to know is how this was even possible. I know Grace told Oscar to tell everyone she’d died, but COME ON. It can’t be that easy to disappear! Wouldn’t people be suspicious that there was no funeral or memorial service? Maybe artsy people don’t do funerals? The whole thing seemed really weird to me. I’m glad Oscar came clean and gave Lina her mom’s contact information, but sheesh! What would you even SAY to your fake dead mother?! I can’t even.
Tell me your thoughts, Bookworms! How did you feel about The House Girl? Please link up if you’re so inclined!