Literary Sewing Circle: Book Chat

8:57 PM



Well, first of all, my apologies for getting this posted so late in the day! I was home sick this week, only for a day, but it has jumbled up my sense of the week entirely -- until I got home today I was certain it was Thursday. In any case, we will still have lots of time to discuss our book this week. Whether you have begun reading, or if you've only read blurbs & our interview so far and still have something to say, join in!




Here are a few questions to get you thinking. I'll add my thoughts on each of them and please chime in -- also feel free to add questions or comments that you are thinking of yourself which haven't been touched on in my questions or commentary.


Dance, Gladys, Dance won a humour award in Canada, and as the author has said, a light touch goes a long way. Did you appreciate the way the serious themes were interwoven with the humour?

I found the mix of sarcasm, situational humour and flippancy really charming. It seems like it's a style of storytelling which reflects Stocks' prairie background -- and my own. Since I grew up in Saskatchewan, I feel like I recognize this particular way of talking and relating to the world around you. It's nice when something dark can be lightened with wit, even while the seriousness of it isn't being negated. I admit I was a little surprised when it won the Leacock Humour Award, as it isn't a book that made me laugh uproariously with slapstick shenanigans. I'm glad this drier sense of humour was recognized.

Do you have a favourite character yet, or one who particularly appeals? Why?

I do like Frieda, though I also find her aimlessness a bit trying at times. Honestly I really love Gladys - the way she just expects Frieda to listen whenever she shows up, her unsentimental recitation of her past, her complex history. And Mr. Hausselman is a lovely creation; a funny, gentle, caring old soul with patience for Frieda's struggles. Although I also really enjoyed Miss Kesstle -- the neighbour with unexpected care for strays, both human and feline. And great crocheting prowess. Okay, so I really enjoyed most everyone here.

The book focuses on art and creativity as a life force, no matter what kind of art one practices. Do you feel the necessity for creativity in this way? How do you most often express this feeling?

Obviously since this is a sewing blog, I find sewing one of my major creative outlets. I love the process of shopping for fabric, selecting the right fabric for a pattern, sorting through my patterns to match them up -- even if I never make those ideal things! And that's before even getting to the actual sewing, which I find relaxing and fulfilling as a physical activity. I also love hand embroidery, which feels less planned and more free form to me, like drawing with thread. I don't worry as much about final products when it comes to embroidery -- I experiment more with unfinished pieces.

I also love getting to know other creative people who practice different forms of artistic creation. From knitters to quilters to those who paint or photograph or build,  there is a certain outlook that we all seem to share when we get talking about our habit of making things.




Stocks really investigates the role of relationships, whether romantic, familial or friendships. What do you think is the role of family or friendship ties in building a life?

I felt that this depiction of tenuous relationships was very believable -- that family is where you make it. So many of these characters are coming from fractured families, where the sentimental ideas of unconditional love are clearly untrue (especially in Girl's case). Even the warm and relatable characters like Mr. Hausselman still have family problems. Gladys, of course, had a very troubled family life, but unlike our modern characters who can band together in a "family of choice" she was alone, without support. I think choosing to live in relation to others, despite the inherent difficulties, is one of the things that illuminates this book and the growth of all the characters.


Did you find that the approach to some of the heavier themes, like women's autonomy and the right to determine one's own route in life, worked within the narrative? 

Considering our political climate today, the focus on women's lives and the struggles we've faced over the century felt powerful and timely. I think that the way Stocks folded these ideas into the story with so many different lives was really successful -- we see the idea of living as one's true self from many perspectives: Gladys, Frieda, Ginny, Girl, even Miss Kesstle's choices are important. I like how it shows that one direction is not the "right" one, but that the freedom to make one's own choices and determine one's path is the important thing.


The writing style is so light and quirky that it carries the storyline forward quickly, even as some of the lines jump out at a reader and make us pause. Do you have a favourite line or quote to share?

I did copy a few quotes out into my commonplace book, things which resonated with me. An example:

You have to find the courage to live as you need to. There will always be those who want you to be ordinary, those who expect you to settle down. Your body can settle, but you have to let your mind soar, you have to hold onto the courage of your artistic convictions.



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3 comments

  1. Responses to your questions -

    I find the term 'humour' a little confusing in regards this story. It was light, it had it's laugh out loud moments and it put a smile on my face. And I couldn't stop reading it!! This style has discreetly allowed the serious themes to be easily acknowledged and thought about by the reader. In fact I think there are so many themes in the book. The following are what jumped out at me, even though they are not all earth shattering or 'deep':
    What is a normal life, (what is sensible?) and why is it that people feel a need to aspire to it to please others?
    The role that clothes play in society, and what they say about you. How people use clothes to give impressions that are jsometimes not real, such as job interviews. I laughed when she described how she felt wearing Ginny's clothes to that interview – 'dressed in drag'. It is hard to be comfortable in your skin when you are not comfortable in your clothes.
    Leftovers – some people really do struggle to use them and leave them in the fridge until they need to be thrown away - I often ask myself why????
    Employment – look at the questions asked in Frieda's first interview for an administrative position - describe yourself in three words...... And Ginny, in her high powered employment, once asked if she was a sandwich what sort would it be? Why do employers do this?
    The art/craft discussion. I LOVED when Frieda was visiting Miss Kesstle's house and saw the red binder with the crochet patterns in it. ... 'there was real artistry in that humble binder. I was flummoxed by the idea of the cleverness of hundreds of thousands of women I'd previously ignored, or denigrated as substandard. Who did I think designed all the items of creativity that decorated houses all over the world? The needlework fairies?....'


    Miss Kesstle was my most favourite character, She is clever, colourful, her crocheting is a thread throughout the whole story, one way or another, and because for 80 years of age she is amazing. She was caring, interesting, and very creative.

    Personally, I sew, spin, knit, crochet and read everything about it! I love working things out, dreaming of the next (and next and next) project. My friendship group all 'make', it is a 'mindful' activity as you can truly block out the rest of the world for that time and forget problems. Plus it keeps you thinking. It is colourful, tactile..what more could a person want?
    I appreciate how art and craft as a life force is represented by nearly all the characters!


    Although the role of family and relationships is investigated in this book, it is a little one sided. For example, I appreciate Frieda's desperate need to 'break free' from her family as a young women and experience independence and 'the world'. But she never goes back to the family in the book, even though she receives a letter from her mother. And yet she gives advice about family, particularly when she wrote to Whitman Hausselman, saying 'You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you as you are to them...'. I believed she used this quote because she believed it but her actions don't reflect this in her own family. Is it easier to give other's advice than to live it.



    Marilyn struck me as living/having the greatest argument in women's autonomy and right to determine one's own route in life. I loved her snatched pieces of insight into the discourse on women in this world. Ginny came a close second.


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  2. Part 2 of my response - (I didn't realise there was a word limit, and I had so much I wanted to say!!

    Stocks really investigates the role of relationships, whether romantic or familial or friendships. What do you think is the role of family or friendship ties in building a life?
    Although the role of family and relationships is investigated in this book, it is a little one sided at times. For example, what stood out for me - I appreciate Frieda's desperate need to 'break free' from her family as a young women and experience independence and 'the world'. But she never goes back to the family in the book, even though she receives a letter from her mother. And yet she gives advice about family, particularly when she wrote to Whitman Hausselman, saying 'You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you as you are to them...'. I believed she used this quote because she believed it but her actions don't reflect this in her own family. Is it easier to give other's advice than to live it.

    The problem I have with such an emphasis on the role of family or friendship ties in building a life, is that I am aware of so many people in society who, for whatever reason, struggle to establish friendship groups, or may not have family or connnectiveness. These people may just be a little different, or have a mental health issue or have not been supported by family in their developing years due to personal circumstances and end up going it alone. And because there is so much emphasis on this happy image in social media and television,whether it be marketing or entertainment shows, that there are many times when these people really feel they are unwanted, lonely and struggle to cope with daily life which exacerbates their empty feeling.
    I guess I am saying that role of family/friends is essential in fulfilling one's life completely, but using this' image' for the wrong reasons is destructive to so many people and we don't acknowledge that. And it is so hard for some to 'build a satisfying life' but they do build a life their life, and it needs to be positively acknowledged.
    When I think about it, there were several characters who had gone through life without much support, but they are part of society, they make up the mix – the rich tapestry of life.

    Quotes that make me pause :
    'Everyone said things that sounded good but were impossible to put into practice..'
    'Most parents want the best for their children; sometimes they just don't know what it is.
    'I lay on my bed one afternoon trying to envision myself as the woman in the conventional life, the woman with no desire to create....'
    'Why offer up what's been sweated over and take the risk of having it disregarded, or rejected? … Frieda in discussion of her 'art',
    ' 'there was real artistry in that humble binder. I was flummoxed by the idea of the cleverness of hundreds of thousands of women I'd previously ignored, or denigrated as substandard. Who did I think designed all the items of creativity that decorated houses all over the world? The needlework fairies?....'
    And of course – the tissue box!! I really laughed at this. I grew up in a generation of tissue boxes in back window ledges of the cars. I have just never, ever thought about the ridiculousness of it before.

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  3. Sara, thank you for your long and considered thoughts on the book. You've brought out elements that I'd kind of overlooked -- like Frieda's comment about feeling dressed in drag at a job interview -- yes, that is such a clear way of showing how our clothing choices represent us in the world. I think about all of the characters and how their wardrobes say something about them, like Whitman dressed like a film mogul when he first arrives back in Winnipeg. Or Marilyn with her sneakers. And so on.

    I also reconsidered Frieda's relationship to her own family; you are absolutely right, she never goes back to make it up with them. I love your comment that it's easier to give advice than to live it!

    So many good quotes in this book, thanks for sharing some of your favourites. I rather like the idea of needlework fairies sprinkling their magic creativity dust on stitchers everywhere...

    And yes, I also laughed at the tissue box thing -- it is SO TRUE.

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Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!

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