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Themes from the other novels continue to play out here, with the fractured family unit consisting of a mentally unstable mother, Mary, and her neglected daughter Jane, whom she drags with her on a restless, aimless jaunt through the Pacific Northwest after being rejected and virtually ignored by Jane's father, Tom Owens, an entrepreneurial wunderkind whose basement biotech venture grew into a major company, making him a millionaire and famous. When Jane is ten, Mary decides to take a break from parenting, so she teaches her daughter to drive and forces Jane to take their battered truck and go to Owens. Met first not by him but by his close friend, the wheelchair-bound biologist Noah, who takes her in, Jane is slow to gain her father's acceptance. He then brings Mary into town, sets her and Jane up in a bungalow, but attends to them fitfully, preoccupied with a new company that spun off from the old one after it went public, and with his leggy blond girlfriend Olivia, with whom he shares a decrepit mansion but for whom his feelings wax and wane. Eventually, Jane becomes Owens's confidante, just as his fortunes change: His parent company ousts him, and long-suffering Olivia walks out. Noah, on the other hand, has luck in love and in the lab, entering the limelight while Tom, who's married someone new and become a father again, sinks farther into the shadows.
A few events resonate powerfully—including an abortion Mary has (made to seem like Jane's decision), and the seduction of Noah at a Christmas party—but otherwise this is a tale too diffuse in the telling, which even the knowledge of certain roman à clef aspects can't overcome.
Question: About her approach to structure, Simpson has said, "I work paragraph to paragraph or even line to line.... I have an emotional sense of where things are going to, but I don't do a whole chart or anything like that." (From interview with Susannah Hunnewell, The New York Times Book Review, 9 February 1992, p. Question:) How would you describe and differentiate the structure of these novels? Henry James fondly called the novel form "a loose baggy monster." Do you think that Simpson's novels particularly fit this description?
Question: How does Simpson control and convey the sense of time and of past and present? How important a role does memory play in these works?
Question: Simpson started out as a poet, and her writing is often powerfully lyrical and imagistic. For example, in The Lost Father Mayan says of her mother, "in her private soul she is a child holding an empty glass jar waiting for the sky to fill it..." [p. 3]. What are some of the more striking images and descriptive passages you've noticed? How do such images affect or deepen your experience of the work?