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Disobedience: A Novel Hardcover – October 17, 2000
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To picture my mother a lover, I had at first to break her in my mind's eye, hold her over my knee, like a stick, bust her in two. When that was done, when I had changed her like that, I could see her in a different way. I could put her through the motions like a jointed puppet, all dancy in the limbs, loose, nothing to hold her up but me.While his mother (whom he refers to variously as Mrs. Shaw, Beth, and her e-mail sobriquet, Liza38), dallies with her pen pal, whom she calls "the companion of my body, the guest of my heart," Henry experiences his own sexual awakening; his 13-year-old sister, Elvira, retreats into gender-bending historical fantasy; and their father remains determinedly absorbed in pedagogical responsibilities.
Ironically (and not completely convincingly) narrated by an adult Henry, Disobedience has a rollicking tone somewhat at odds with the somber prospects that loom for this family. A very worldly teenager in some ways, despite the hippie wholesomeness of his family, Henry tells his tale in abundant, almost flowery prose, imagining his mother's private life with elegiac fervor. As in her earlier A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton writes with affection and insight about the darker side of apparently ordinary Midwestern folks. --Victoria Jenkins
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The sister, pretending to be a soldier she's not, is obsessed with the Civil war, a war that threatened to divide our country into two.
The men in the family observe from the sidelines and wait, paralized, for the women they love to be exposed, for their own fates to be decided, for the delicate balance and unity of the family to return to it's norm. In the midst of looming consequences, both women must discover their true identities the hard way.
We see all this through the eyes of the adolescent son. On the verge of adulthood, he begins to see his parents' flaws in a new, truthful light. We listen to his thoughtful narrative, we observe his actions, and we are there to see how he functions (or doesn't) in his own flawed relationships with his own best friend and his girlfriend. We see his trust in women falter accordingly. We see him forced into a position of power that he doesn't seem to want.
This is not a book that is heavy on plot. It is about the ever-changing relationships and dynamics in a family full of bright, eccentric, intellectual/acedemic people. The novel has a surreal, voyeristic quality that allows the reader a prolonged look behind closed doors (and secret passwords) at a difficult year in the life of this remarkable family. It manages to beautifully weave in so much: war/political issues, gender/sexuality issues, Oedipal issues, identity issues, philosophy and reincarnation and... so much more as this story unfolds. It is about the fragility of the bonds that hold us together, and a son's harrowing realization of that fragility.
The characters are flawed only in the ways that real people are.Read more ›
The book is written in the first person, narrated by the son Henry who at the time was 17. From the start I felt that the voice didn't sound quite right. A few pages into the book the reader learns that the story is being told "less than a decade later", which would make Henry in his mid-twenties. This made the voice a little more believable, but I still had trouble with it, I had the constant nagging sense that his writing style and observations just did not ring true. Then I wondered if in the end there would be a reason for the story being told ten years later, would we learn how these events affected Henry as an adult, or would it turn out that his printing of the emails would trigger some event years later?
There is so much that could have happened in this book, so much that I kept expecting to happen, but there just isn't enough here in the way of plot, and very little dialogue. Yes, there is some dialogue, but more often conversations are described. Much in the book is described, observed, thought about. It has a slow pace. In spite of all this, I started out enjoying this book and for the first 100 pages or so I had a hard time putting it down.Read more ›
Overall, "Disobedience" is a rich and thought-provoking work. First, there is the title. The easy leap to make is that the title refers to Beth's extramarital affair. But each character, in their own way, is "disobedient." Despite his mother's transgression, Henry's invasion of her e-mails would certainly not meet the "honor thy mother and father" criteria. Likewise, the sub-plot of Henry's sister's (Elvira) obsession with Civil War re-enactment only sets the stage for the many internal wars going on in the novel: a "typical" American family struggling to stay together, the battle of the sexes, and Henry's own struggle in becoming an adult. Certainly enough fodder for a book club, which Hamilton nicely skewers even after her own post-Oprah successes.
While Hamilton appears to be losing some of her rabid fan-base with her last two novels, in my humble opinion, "Disobedience" is only further evidence that Hamilton has only continued to make her mark as one of the top contemporary American authors.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
What a wonderful, quirky, funny, heartfelt and truly realistic this book turned out to be. Having read Moo, I thought this book would be more along those lines, but it turned out... Read morePublished on July 20, 2013 by Katelyn Meyers
I wasn't sure about this book at first, but it got better the further along I got. By the end, I couldn't put it down. Read morePublished on March 25, 2013 by QueenMab
Not as good as some of her other books, Different, but almost a little weird. Probably won't read it again.Published on March 18, 2013 by AliceRuth
I have read other novels by Jane Hamilton which I liked; so I was excited to see this one. But I was very disappointed. Actually, I didn't finish the novel. Read morePublished on December 27, 2012 by Gloria K Meyer
A very young man, Henry, going through his own growing pains and being a member of a very unusual family anyway, has to deal with his suspicions that his... Read more
This book was boring, I couldn't become interested in it, the characters, the story and everything else about it. Read morePublished on September 20, 2009 by Josephine Briggs
Jane Hamilton has created a powerful story that explores the dynamics of a family that is in crisis from the view point of the family's 17 year old son. Read morePublished on June 3, 2009 by Terry Azamber
Jane Hamilton has a way with words, with etching characters who seem as real as your friends and neighbors, and for moving a minimalist plot along at a pleasing pace courtesy of... Read morePublished on January 12, 2009 by Roy Pickering
This is a book about marriage, its strengths and shortcomings; passion, its hunger and excesses; infidelity, its exhilaration and complications; and about achieving some... Read morePublished on November 26, 2008 by J. Grattan