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3.0 18
by Jane Hamilton

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October 2000


"I knew when I was small that our worldly home was composed of the sun and the moon, the planets and the Shaws, the four of us holding together with a force that would not fail, would never cease," says Henry Shaw, narrator of the compelling novel Disobedience, of his admittedly unusual but solid foundation


October 2000


"I knew when I was small that our worldly home was composed of the sun and the moon, the planets and the Shaws, the four of us holding together with a force that would not fail, would never cease," says Henry Shaw, narrator of the compelling novel Disobedience, of his admittedly unusual but solid foundation of a family. The Shaws possess unfailing stability in unfailing (although not always unflinching) support of one another. Henry, his pianist mom Beth, socialist school teaching dad Kevin, and sister Elvira, a 13-year-old Civil War reenactor, might be a bit offbeat, but they are devoted to one another above all else. Right?

Well, Henry discovers this devotion might not be all that it appears. When he accidentally stumbles into his mother's email account and discovers "Liza38" has been sending steamy missives to Richard Polloco, violin makerer, the safe haven of his family explodes. As he probes his mother's affair through her passionate emails to her lover, Henry considers his options: confronting his mother, baring his soul to his father, deleting the messages without a word.

What action does he take? None. Instead, he follows the progress of the affair through email over the next year, filing printouts of the messages in "the archive". As Henry tracks the messages and watches Beth, he experiences a turbulent mixture of emotions -- ranging from anger to disgust to a surprising admiration -- while newly comprehending why his mother would be drawn to her lover. As Henry suffers through months of keeping the secret, he forms a fresh understanding of how his family operates, and his own role within that unit.

You'd think this novel would be a wrenching look at the angst of an affair. Far from it. Looking back over the years, the adult Henry chronicles this watershed moment in his life without pathos. Instead, he invests a wry humor into all he does, including his dealings with a psychic who's told his mother she and her son were wed in a former life; his relationship with best friend Karen, a Goth goddess who realizes Henry's shortcomings in a most dramatic fashion; and the travails of his first love with an ethereal blonde folk dancer.

Jane Hamilton tracks the many disobediences that shape this novel with her trademark elegance and elan, rendering the whirling emotions that can change life in an instant with humor and candor. Disobedience manages to weave such disparate elements as grunge rock, General Lee, and book clubs with a sly comic poignancy that makes this book a must-read.

Editorial Reviews

At seventeen, Henry Shaw, the self-declared "heavyweight champion of depressed teenagehood," thinks he knows everything about his family. At twenty-seven, after uncovering evidence of his mother's ongoing adultery, he realizes he doesn't. Henry's narrative traces his mother's secret life in the Midwest with a Ukrainian violin maker living in Wisconsin, whom she met at a wedding. While Henry spies on his mother's romance, his father, a socialist high school history teacher and his thirteen-year-old sister, Elvira, a "hardcore Civil War re-enactor," endure their own crises. Hamilton deftly weaves Elvira's passion for the Civil War with another tale of duplicity and "ambiguous loyalty." This is a profound examination of a family in the throes of deception, and a devastating study of enduring love and hard-fought loyalty.
—Robert Allen Papinchak
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Credit Hamilton with courage, virtuosity and a remarkable ability to reflect inner lives. Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, was the unsparing story of a girl trapped in woeful circumstances; the protagonist of her second, The Map of the World, was a woman responsible for a child's death; the narrator of The Short History of a Prince was a gay man. Here she again explores family bonds and tensions, the demands of sexuality and the ethics of betrayal (not an oxymoron)--this time from the point of view of a teenager who discovers that his mother is having an affair. Henry Shaw is a high school senior when he intercepts e-mail messages between his mother, Beth, a musician and specialist in ancient music, and violin maker Richard Pollico. As he secretly eavesdrops on the liaison between "Liza38" and "Rpol," Henry's emotions, ranging from horror to fear of abandonment to rage to deep sadness, take on a new dimension when he himself falls in love with a girl he meets in summer camp. Meanwhile, his generally bemused and patient father, Kevin, a high school history teacher, seems unaware of Beth's infidelity, since he spends much of his time coaching Henry's rebellious sister, Elvira, 13, who is obsessed with her desire to join a Civil War reenactment disguised as a boy. A mirror image of A Short History's protagonist, Walter, at the same age, Elvira displays an unhappiness with her gender that causes stress in the Shaw's marriage. As she has amply demonstrated before, Hamilton knows the nuances of domestic relationships and the landscape of teenage uncertainty. Henry's voice is exactly right: he's a thoughtful, intelligent boy whose hormones are sending him confusing messages, and whose tendency is to mock both parents with typical teen sardonic humor. Henry's funny quips are actually quite sad, because they mask his sorrow at the severing of his close bond with his mother, and his discomfort at secretly being aware of her illicit passion. Beth's joyous reaction to physical love and her anguish at how her behavior, if revealed, might affect her family, are likewise rendered with compassion. In a miracle of empathy, Hamilton manages to grant psychological validity to all the members of this ordinary-seeming but emotionally distracted family, and to strike the reader's heart with her tender evocation of both human fallibility and our ability to recover from heartbreaking choices. Author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
To quote KLIATT's May 2001 review of the Bantam Doubleday Dell audiobook of this title: Henry Shaw, nearly 17, discloses the fascinating details about his unusual family—his musical mother, socialist father, and younger sister, Elvira, who is obsessed with the Civil War. All this is in context with his discovery (inadvertently via e-mail) of his mother's affair with a violinmaker, and Henry's own sexual awakening. Although Henry attempts to distance himself from his mother by referring to her as "Mrs. Shaw," his deep and lasting connection to her is undeniable. The dénouement occurs when Elvira, who has been disguising herself as a boy in Civil War reenactments, is discovered, and both parents work in tandem to protect her...this coming-of-age story will truly capture the listener...Highly recommended for mature listeners. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Random House, Anchor, 276p., $13.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Bette D. Ammon; Director, Missoula P.L., Missoula, MT , September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Library Journal
The saga of a child discovering a parent's illicit love affair by accidentally reading his/her e-mail is nothing new, in either life or fiction, but this tale of past (the entire Shaw family is obsessed with history and Civil War passions) meets present still manages refreshing, almost laugh-out-loud comic twists. Hamilton (A Map of the World), whose novels have twice been selected by Oprah's Book Club, has come up with another charmer. Actor/reader Robert Sean Leonard, as the adolescent boy who retrospectively narrates the entire story, sounds so natural and convincing it is hard to remember this was written by a woman (though tapes of Hamilton reading the novel are also available). Very highly recommended, with one caveat: listeners might prefer not to hear the final side of tape four, since the ending is seriously marred by that need for summation that has ruined the conclusion of so many novels.--Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Simeon J. Maslin
...lovely, resonant...there will be much to discuss about the haunting if arbitrary way that Ms. Hamilton makes past and present, love and war, loyalty and treachery all intersect.
New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
The mysteries at the core of an adolescent boy's being are placed in a tender, precious light in Hamilton's latest triumph (The History of a Prince, 1998, etc.), which also poignantly portrays a mother torn between a lover's embrace and the family she's long called her own.

From the Publisher
“Wonderful…. Her finest novel yet.” –Chicago Tribune“Lovely…resonant…keenly wrought.” –The New York Times“Funny and moving…. An entertaining, well-plotted meditation on secrecy in the history of a loving family.” –San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle“Stunning…haunting…exquisite. Another troubling masterpiece in what’s fast become a remarkable body of work.” –The Christian Science Monitor“Suffused with the bittersweet nostalgia we feel for lost loves and failed romances…. Satisfying and moving. Hamilton writes beautifully.” –Francine Prose

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
Thorndike Basic Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.68(h) x 1.01(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Reading someone else's e-mail is a quiet, clean enterprise. There is no pitter-pattering around the room, no opening and closing the desk drawers, no percussive creasing as you draw the paper from the envelope and unfold it. There is no sound but the melody of the dial-up, the purity of the following Gregorian tones, and the sweet nihilistic measure of static. The brief elemental vibration that means contact. And then nothing. No smudge of ink, no greasy thumbprint left behind. In and out of the files, no trace. It could be the work of a ghost, this electronic eavesdropping. I was the boy in the family and therefore, statistically, the person most likely to seize upon the computer culture, the child to wire the household, tune it into our century, keep the two systems, one for me, the other for the rest of the Shaws, up and running. Elvira, my sister, was detail oriented and analytical and could have easily outdistanced me if only she'd had the desire. She had the intelli- gence, certainly, to learn complex languages, to program, to hack. But through most of the time I was living at home she was scornful of technology, stuck, as she was, in 1862 with her Civil War infantry regiment, the 11th Illinois. At a young age, much to my mother's sorrow, Elvira became a hardcore Civil War reenactor. It was I who begged and moped a little and pleaded for some kind of computer, a dud, a two- or three-year-old dinosaur--anything would do. I built myself a cardboard replica of the first Macintosh model, and for a good half hour at a stretch I lay on my bed typing on the paper keys, pretending to write programs that would win me fame and fortune. When I was nine, I appealed to mygrandmother in a simple poor-boy letter: my grandmother, the one money bag we all in our particular ways went to, again and again, a source that seemed inexhaustible and at the ready. When the box arrived on our doorstep, I sat patiently with my parents showing them the fundamental maneuvers--dragging the mouse, clicking the mouse, see Mommy and Daddy double-click the mouse--as if the two of them were babies being prodded through an ordinary developmental stage. Several years later with my own money, I seriously upgraded. I had to lure my mother to her own e-mail account with the promise that she'd have satisfaction and even happiness. It was still early days for the kind of communication we now take for granted. Wizard that I was, I guaranteed her pleasure. I provided the password for her so she could commune with her musician friends, the hip ones, so she could have her circle of intimates right in front of her without having to go down to the end of the town. For her screen name I did away with her flat, no-crackle name, Beth, and from the full Elizabeth plucked the zippy Liza, attached her age to it, Liza38. I told her it sounded like the code name of a blond spy with a sizable bust, someone operating out of what used to be East Germany. When I was fourteen and fifteen, I liked to think that what was surely my sophisticated sense of humor had blossomed into its fullest dark and ironic potential. But big-busted-floozy spy jokes were not my mother's style. She was not herself well endowed, and from my point of view she was no seductress. She smiled at my attempt at wit: Nice try, Henry. Although she would but of course retain her dear perfection no matter what name she used, Richard Polloco, the lover, took to the pizzazz of her screen self and often called her Liza38. When I first stumbled into her e-mail file, I didn't mean to. It was accidental. It was about as easy to type in her password as mine. I wasn't even thinking. I had no plan, nothing premeditated, no scheme in place. I realized my error as the icons slowly formed before me in their beamy pleased way. It was through my fingers that I understood the misstep. "Welcome," our provider said. My hands froze above the keys. And again the voice. "You've got mail." You've got mail. What was the old girl up to? I suppose that thought went through my mind. I can't say for certain what the first message revealed, or even whom she had written. Because it was not only messages from Richard Polloco and messages meant for Richard Polloco that I read during that time, but others too, e-mails that my mother wrote to her friend Jane, hundreds, thousands of words, to explain, to justify, to excuse herself. What I do remember is the letter, a real United States Postal Service letter that I found in the box in the hall, the place we put outgoing mail. I noticed it because it was addressed to him, to Richard Polloco, in Tribbey, Wisconsin. My mother was in the kitchen making up a shopping list, and she must have set it there for just a minute. Richard Polloco. I already knew enough to think, I shouldn't pick this up, and I don't want to pick this up, and How can I keep from picking this up? I held it to the light, and I could see the scrap of paper inside. I could see the scrap, the size of a stamp, so small you couldn't write more than a single word on it. That's what I thought: What did she write that could be more than a single word? I held the envelope up in part because it was seemingly empty. At the angle, with the aid of the lamp, it was impossible not to see that single word on the slip of paper. You. That's all she had written. But that single word had weight. I knew enough by then to understand, to feel, if I'd wanted to, the ache in that short word. It is true that the subject of love, generally, is exhausted, but a person can still go on for a good long time about the specifics of a love scene, including the setting and then who said what and why, and how it made the listener feel. One of the first e-mails I read, and perhaps the very first one, was my mother's message to her friend Jane, back in Vermont. "This is an old story," she began. "There is nothing new in it." What she was doing, she said, was hardly noteworthy because it had been acted and reenacted countless times before. For me, during that year, the story had no elements that felt in any way worn. I don't believe that everything a person has seen and done is stored in the brain, there to retrieve if only you can pick the right lock. In fact, I blame the brain for making us as selective as we are, for editing out what we don't want to hear, for refusing to take hold of what could be the important detail. Still, if I have forgotten the first message, I have the sense of what it could have been. "This is an old story," my mother began. "There is nothing new in it." The seemingly shopworn tale my mother inhabited did not stop her from recounting, through the year, at great length, her feelings, her guilt, her despair, as well as the particulars--terrible in their vividness--of her journeys to see Richard Polloco in Wisconsin. Rpoll, he was, at luge.com. This is how our family was back then, not so long ago, less than a decade ago: Elvira Shaw, thirteen; myself, Henry Shaw, seventeen; Beth Gardener Shaw, thirty-eight; Kevin Shaw, forty-three. We had moved from a small town in Vermont to Chicago when I was fourteen. My parents seemed to feel that the upheaval, the trauma, of moving from one culture to another, from Mercury to Pluto, in effect, was worth it for all of our educations. I still ask myself regularly what it was, actually, that they were thinking. My father is a high school history teacher, a job that combines the skills of preaching, mudslinging, acting, and arm-twisting. You take his American history survey course and you can never again celebrate a holiday such as Columbus Day or Memorial Day or Presidents' Day with any sense of national pride. After my father has done his song and dance, you know more than you wanted to about the roughly 9 million Native Americans who died between 1642 and 1800. You are filled with disgust, dismay, and self-loathing because a complex civilization, a creative and by and large generous civilization, was wiped out. My father was offered a position at the Jesse Layton School in the tony Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago. At the time I didn't catch the detail that he'd been fired from his job in Vermont, probably because too many of his students felt disgust, dismay, and self-loathing after learning about their heritage. No problem, to move from the Northfield mountains, pure granite, from a town of 317, to a Midwestern city of 7 million built on a swamp. What, really, were they thinking? If we were going to go urban, my parents figured we might as well bypass the suburbs and do it up right. Without much discussion, as was her way, my grandmother purchased a brownstone for us on the upscale block of Roslyn Place near the Jesse Layton School. Minty, we called my grandmother, dollar signs blinking in our eyes. It was I, as a toddler, who parsed Grandmother Gardener down to the essential component. It goes without saying that we all wanted to be as close as we could to the aging matriarch, she who ruled with her iron hand from Lake Bluff, Illinois. As far as the Jesse Layton parents went, the school was basically a front for the Democratic Party, for rich bleeding-heart liberals. If Kevin Shaw couldn't live on a racially balanced street, at least he was given free reign to teach as he pleased, to turn out little socialists from his class to his heart's desire, with the understanding, of course, that the firebrands would someday settle down and become responsible Democrats. Although his salary was modest, he believed his position at Layton had many elements of the dream job. My mother, for her part, was interested in moving back home to the Midwest because of the cold and snow of the Vermont winters and the mud of the Vermont springs and the black flies of the Vermont summers. Not to mention all year round the warp we lived in, somewhere between the hardscrabble life of the real Vermonters and the artiste vacationers, giddy with their views and the mountain air and their leisure. My mother was ready to leave all of it, and it was a fine time, because the band she played in had gone through a difficult period and split up. She was free of them. Not least, I think she believed that if we stayed in Vermont, her tomboy daughter would one day take off into the hills with nothing on but a loincloth, nothing but her bare hands and sharp new canines to get herself some bloody grub. Many friends expressed sympathy for us both before and after the move. They had the idea that Elvira and I were being wrenched away from Eden, taking that long fall from the fragrant warm garden to the gritty gray world where, it is true, Elvira would have to wear clothes. Fully dressed and in a brownstone, we would be cramped. Outside we would be in danger from both the careless ways of the rich and the careless ways of the poor. Chicago would be beautiful in a man-made way, but the splendor would hardly be noticeable because of the exhaust and the grime and the noise and the litter. The natives jogged with their dogs and could not break their strides to clean up after them; it was no better, probably, than a medieval city, the chamber pots being emptied out of windows right into the street. And there would be people, people everywhere. That would be the worst of it, I thought, the feeling that you were always in some- one's company. But I got tired of what seemed like pity, and I did want to point out to the chorus that Wellington, Vermont, was hardly Shangri-La, that at the church suppers in Wellington you could get a hot dish with beets called red flannel hash. Furthermore, the librarian, Mrs. Hegley, based on her extensive knowledge of her neighbor's moral behavior, either excused her patrons their fines or did not. My father had been a selectman, and I had heard enough of his conversations about the difficulty in getting monies for the school, for the library, for much of anything beyond snow removal within a week of a storm. Both my parents, I knew, worried about my education and my sensibility in a community where I was the only boy in school during deer-hunting season. All this is not to say that Wellington wasn't a good place and that I don't still miss it. I was taken from Vermont before I could think to want to leave it myself, and so for me Wellington is the ideal, my old backyard there my deepest sense of home. Right away after the move I longed for it, in spite of the fact that I'd been in a conspicuous position, the kid of a proselytizing socialist schoolteacher and a city-slicker piano-playing mother. To make matters worse, we had no television, not that, as my mother used to say, I didn't absorb most everything I needed to understand about our culture by respir- ing. Inhale, I got The Simpsons, exhale Beavis and Butt-head; inhale Letterman, exhale MTV, every single song, every single leer. When we finally did get a television, when we moved to Chicago, I watched it that first summer, up in my parents' room, without moving from the bed.

Meet the Author

Jane Hamilton lives, works, and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Rochester, Wisconsin. Her first novel, The Book of Ruth, won the PENErnest Hemingway Award for best first novel and was a selection of the Oprah Book Club. Her second novel, A Map of the World, was also a selection of the Oprah Book Club and an international bestseller. Her most recent novel, The Short History of a Prince, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998.

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Disobedience 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel introduces so many real emotions that often go unacknowledged....the book takes the reader through such awesome insight dealing with love, insecurity, betrayl, and most importantly, understaning. I was sad to end the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must admit that I am an avid fan of Jane Hamilton, and I found this novel comparable to her others through its profound simplicity in dealing with life crises. A remark made to Henry by his father, Kevin, about the intricacies of the marriage relationship illustrates my point. 'It's best if both parties understand at the start that you're going to be two flawed people stumbling along through the years, making it up as you go,' he tells his son. Hamilton has a way of making us see our fallibilities while, at the same time, maintaining our dignity. The experiences of this seemingly 'dysfunctional' family are not so different from those that many of us have faced. I would highly recommend the book, both for its insight and entertainment value.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Usually love Hamilton's writing , but this one literally put me to sleep . Would highly recommend this book for anyone who suffers from insomnia ! ! ! The 2 stars are for the beautiful language and excellent writing skills .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paloma More than 1 year ago
Pick a loaded word like "disobedience" for your title and write "Reading somone else's e-mail is a quiet, clean enterprise," and you have something to write about. Jane Hamilton, however, has brought me to disobey to original call to read this book by page 51. There is no focus. No theme that starts to warm the pages. No tension in the boy's mind who has invaded his mother's e-mail and imagines her to be having an affair. No reason to have the history teacher father and the on-beyond-tomboy daughter because they exist outside the boy, the mother, and the e-mail, without being woven together. Hamilton's main character might be original, but he is smothered by his imaginings of his mother. Best to go back to the classics before writing a classic theme into modern technology. Or, if what you're after is a young protagonist who is supposedly not contributing to the events at hand, try Lovely Bones.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
First, I want to say that I hardly ever remember the titles of books I have read, unless they are part of an author's series and appear at the front of subsequent books. That said, I saw this title in the bargain list and it sparked my memory. Maybe this will not appeal to those who relate more to the parents' age range in the novel, but for those of us nearer to the 17-year-old end of the spectrum, it is a suspenseful and refreshing read with plenty of real-life family quirks - everyone gets dragged to a Civil War reenactment, for instance. And this is an audio version read by the hottie from 'Much Ado About Nothing' - how can you go wrong? Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't even finish it! I read 'Book of Ruth' by this author and LOVED it, and also read 'Map of the World' which was just 'ok' so I thought I'd give this one a try. UGH! It was a struggle to just read half of it and finally I just gave up, and it's the first book I couldn't finish. Enough with the sister and her civil war obsession. Yawn Yawn Yawn!
Guest More than 1 year ago
the subject i thought would be very interesting -- how a boy and family deal with a mother's betrayal. however, i could not even get half way through the book...i felt as if i was reading the same chapter over and over. the way the plot was written made it cheesy to me (the whole cyber-love thing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are looking for a plot-driven yarn, this is not the book for you. But Hamilton has, in her extraordinarily insightful way, created a family and a situation that allow for some wonderful explorations of love, marriage, parenting, childhood, family expectations, sexuality, loyalty and commitment -- to name just a few things that every family and every person in a family experience in one way or another. Hamilton has never created a character that doesn't ring true. She manages to pull us inside her stories because though we may not like what is happening, we know the reality of it exists. In each one of her books, the reader is left with a heart full of compassion, which is a whole lot better than ending up with a nice, tidy, happily-ever-after ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Half way through the book and it's still about a young man and his civil war obsessed little sister and not the discovery of his mothers e-mail account of her involvement with a fellow musician. I know more about civil war uniforms than anything else. First read of this author--absolutely not impressed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree with the previous reviewers- I have really enjoyed her other books, but was unimpressed with this one. Some interesting characters, but overall, slow, not terribly engaging, and kind of pretentious.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jane Hamilton is my favorite author so I guess I was expecting a bit too much of this novel. When I read her books I am always envious of her talent for accurately potraying the way people really think. Well, I would say that this is the main problem with Disobedience: it had too much of Henry's thoughts (and he's not that interesting) and not enough plot. A lot of facts are repeated in his narrative without much change, he seems obsessed with his mother's life but not in an engaging way. The talent was very obviously there in Jane Hamilton's writing but that wasn't enough to make this as great as Ruth, Map, and Prince.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I work at a bookstore, and as an employee, I am always looking for books to suggest. This is definetly going to be one of them. The story seems typical, (wife has affair, unhappy marriage, unappreciatve kids), but the author takes a different avenue, and brings in a new storyline that I had not expected to find.. Definetly worth reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I heard such great things about this book before it came out and I was eger to read it. I had to force myself to read it in hopes that it would pick up. It was an ok book...it wasn't one of those books that you can't put down. I had no problem putting it down. Finally I finished it...I liked the message and there were parts I really liked. I liked the idea but with Henry being the narriator it was just boring. I think I might of liked it better if Beth was the narrator. Over all not one of the best books I have ever read....Sorry.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Family dynamics and teenage angst hold sway in Disobedience, a stunning fourth novel from the gifted Jane Hamilton. With empathy and affection she enters her characters' lives to skillfully explore the ever changing landscape of human mind and heart. Disobedience assumes varying forms and guises in this chronicle of one year in the life of the Shaw family, beginning with 17-year-old Henry who inadvertently opens his mother's email to discover that she is having an impassioned affair with Richard Polloco, a Ukrainian violin maker. With his painful past of family terror during the Bolshevik Revolution, Polloco becomes to Beth Shaw '...a person with something real that had happened to him, that had wounded him. He was a person she might be able to comfort, a man she could lead out of the dark past, going from light to light to light.' Online in her loving notes to Polloco, pianist and solid mother Beth has become Liza38, an i.d. bestowed upon her by Henry when he introduced her to the mysteries of computer operation. He wanted her to have a name with some gusto and this 'sounded like the code name of a blond spy with a sizable bust' rather than a 'flat, no crackle name, Beth.' The family is rounded out by father, Kevin, and thirteen-tear-old Elvira, a devoted, sometimes obsessive Civil War re-enactor who disguises herself as drummer boy Elviron to participate. She persists in always dressing in handmade Union uniforms, even to adding a clanking sword as she attends a family wedding. Elvira is encouraged in this pursuit by Kevin and worried over by Beth. When Kevin, a liberal leaning high school history teacher, is ousted from his job in Vermont, a place Henry views as his 'deepest sense of home,' the Shaws move to an upscale suburb in Chicago. Self described as 'the heavyweight champion of depressed teenagehood,' Henry wears long hair and wire rimmed specs. He is somewhat of a loner at his exclusive new school, and further alienated by the knowledge of Beth's unfaithfulness. Alternately fascinated and repelled, he knows he should not continue his 'electronic eavesdropping,' but he does. To him, her defection marks a loss of the childhood security that he once felt within his family circle. His response is further complicated by the fact that he has just experienced his first sexual encounter. Beth's confessions of guilt to an online friend do little to win Henry's understanding or forgiveness. There are times when he is nominally courteous to her at best, entering into dinner table conversations only to taunt or disparage Elvira. Some solace is found for Henry in his friendship with Karen, a schoolmate, who with her dyed black hair and bizarre clothing 'looked as if she were a fifty-year-old masquerading as a teenager.' Were he to confide his mother's infidelity to Karen, he imagines she might attribute it to a menopausal thing, saying, 'Think of the last egg hobbling down the fallopian tube, shrieking for one last sperm.' Ms. Hamilton has created an endearing figure in Henry, one who narrates his story with the insightfulness and bravado of an intelligent teenager. He is an embodiment of the difficulties encountered in growing up. Reluctantly he accompanies Kevin, Beth and Elvira to a reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh. It is here that unforeseen events alter the family's course forever. Deftly assured and almost preternaturally attuned to the feelings of a 17-year-old boy, Ms. Hamilton has again penned a story laced with humor, deep rooted love, and compassion. One could not find an abler guide to chart safe passage through the shoals of family life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I gave up on this book about a third of the way in. I just could not get into it, and I NEVER give up on books. It was still giving background information, and I found it rather boring.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that this book was completely dragged on. Throughout the whole book she keeps the reader waiting for the family to find out about Beth Shaw's affair. I thought that end was disappointing. It was so cheesy. Boo to this book!!!