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“With words alone, Gail Godwin has created an important piece of music about a love which death can only increase and deepen. Yes, and Frances Halsband’s illustrations are a haunting countermelody.”
“Evenings at Five reads like a novel, but it’s a fictionalization of a real event. Gail Godwin uses all the weapons of art to deal with her own all-too-real grief, and the result is a rigorous exercise in restraint, control, irony, memory.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“A LITTLE MASTERPIECE . . .
DEXTEROUS, STRONGLY FELT, MULTI-LEVEL WRITING.”
“[A] heartrending book . . . Brilliantly webbed scenes fill its pages . . . Godwin writes with enormous clarity and unvarnished prose. She writes, in other words, not to approach the truth but to forcefully ascertain it.”
“Possibly her truest book . . . There is a quiet dignity here that pulls you into the two people’s lives. . . . Full of wicked humor and sage and subtle advice, laced with achingly familiar refrains of love and loss, Evenings at Five could well restore a bereaved man’s or woman’s sense of self.”
—The Roanoke Times
“An exquisite portrait of a thirty-year relationship . . . There is a depth and intensity within that many large tomes never capture. . . . Just as Christina ultimately knows she has to move on, one assumes Godwin needed to write Evenings at Five to move on and work on another outstanding novel.”
—South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“QUIRKY, WRY, AND SURPRISINGLY POWERFUL . . .
with a delight in words and the ways people use and abuse them that is typical of this urbane author.”
“If asked to list my ten favorite American fiction writers, Gail Godwin would be among them. In this, her latest . . . she evokes in a short book the long married life of two artists. Evenings at Five is a strong tale of love-after-death.”
“The New York Times bestselling author of Evensong has scored again. . . . The novel, which can be read in one sitting, is an excellent showcase of Godwin’s talent. Those not already Godwin fans are apt to be converted.”
—The Sunday Oklahoman
“Gail Godwin has written a book about the heaviest matters of loss, grief, and loneliness with a touch so light that I was as often deeply amused by it as I was deeply moved.”
“The most balanced heart-rending book you ever read on the nature of loss, loneliness, and grief.”
“INTIMATE AND TOUCHING.”
“A fierce evocation of what—at some time or another—everyone is bound to endure. . . . An amazing little volume that contains an explosive emotional wallop.”
—ROBB FORMAN DEW
“An unflinching account of love, loss, grief, and the struggle toward consolation. It should touch every reader with its emotional power.”
“No one does the nitty-gritty of soul-searching like Gail Godwin. . . . [She] is one of the few contemporary novelists willing to tackle the ticklish (to modern writers) topic of religion in real life. In a novel inspired by her own experience, she does it again, beautifully.”
“Godwin accomplishes more in this smart, arch, and charming little illustrated novel than many of her peers do in far heftier volumes.”
Five o’clock sharp. “Ponctualité est la politesse des rois”: Rudy quoting his late father, a factory owner (textiles) in Vienna before the Nazis came. The Pope’s phone call, followed by the grinding of the ice, a growling, workmanlike sound, a lot like Rudy’s own sound, compliments of the GE model Rudy had picked out fourteen years ago when they built this house. Gr-runnch, gr-runnch, grr-rr-runnch. (“And look! It even has this tray you pull down to mix the drinks.” Rudy retained the enthusiasms of childhood.) He built Christina’s drink with loving precision after the Pope’s call. Rudy did the high Polish voice, overlaid with an Italian accent: “Thees is John Paul. My cheeldren, eet is cocktail time.”
Or sometimes Christina’s study phone would not ring. Rudy simply emerged from his studio below and called brusquely up to her in his basso profundo: “Hello? The Pope just called. Are you ready for a drink?”
The ominous rolled r’s on the “ready” and “drink”: if you’re not, you’d better be. I won’t be here forever, you know.
The cavalier slosh of Bombay Sapphire (Rudy never measured) over the ice shards. The fssst as he loosened the seltzer cap and added the self-respecting splash that made her able to call it a gin and soda. Then, marching over to the sink: “I need Ralph.” Ralph was their best serrated knife. The thinly cut slice of lime oozed fresh juice. Rudy cut well; he cut his own music paper, and he had been cutting Christina’s hair exactly as she liked it for twenty-eight years. And in summer, a sprig of mint from thegarden, a hairy, pungent variety given to them by the wife of a pianist who had recorded Rudy’s music. Sometimes Rudy joined Christina in the gin and soda. Her financial man from Buffalo had given them two twelve-ounce tumblers with old-fashioned ticker tapes etched into the surfaces. She always kept them in the freezer, so they would frost up as soon as they hit the air.
Other times Rudy would say, “I need a Scotch tonight.” That went into a different glass, a lovely cordial shape etched with grapes, given to him by the daughter of a pasha who had invited him to her houseboat parties in Cairo back in ’42 and called him Harpo because his assignment in the Royal Air Force had been playing piano and harp to keep up troop morale. “I need a Scotch tonight” could mean either that his work had gone extremely well or that some unwelcome aspect of reality (his music publisher sending back sloppily edited orchestra parts, being put on hold by his health insurance provider, being put on hold by anyone at all) had undermined his creative momentum.
“Thees is Il Papa calling from the Vatican. Cheeldren, eet is cocktail time.”
Christina was a cradle Episcopalian who had gone to a Catholic school run by a French order of nuns in North Carolina. Rudy was a nonpracticing Jew who had gone to a Catholic Gymnasium in Vienna until age fourteen, when the Nazis came. Rudy always liked to tell how there were two Jews and one Protestant in his class at the Gymnasium, “and the Protestant had the worst of it by far.” So Rudy and Christina shared an affectionate fascination with Popes, especially this one, with his hulking masculine shoulders before they began to stoop, and his nonstop traveling, and all the languages.
What did I think, that we had forever? Christina asked herself, sipping the gin and soda she now made for herself. Often Rudy had interrupted himself in midsentence to explode at her: “You’re not listening!”
What was I listening to? The ups and downs of my own day’s momentum. We were both “ah-tists,” as the real estate lady who sold us our first house pronounced it. She herself had been married to an ah-tist. Her husband’s novel had been runner-up for the Pulitzer, she told us, the year Anthony Adverse won. Her name was Odette, as in Swann’s downfall. Rudy was fifty-two and I was thirty-nine and neither of us knew, until Odette carefully explained it to us, that you could buy a house without having all the money to pay for it up front.
Christina would arrange herself on the black leather sofa they had splurged on in their midlife prosperity (a combined windfall of a bequest from Rudy’s late uncle in Lugano, with whom Rudy had played chess, and a lucrative two-book contract for Christina, in those bygone days when there were enough competing publishers to run up the auction bid) and which the Siamese cats had ruined within six months. She would cross her ankles on the Turkish cushions on top of the burled-wood coffee table and train her myopic gaze on Rudy’s long craggy face and crest of white hair floating reassuringly from his Stickley armchair on the other side of the fireplace. An editor had once told Rudy he looked like “a happy Beckett.” Christina felt rich in her bounty: the workday was over and she had this powerful companion pulsing his attention at her, and her whole drink to go. They raised their cocktail glasses to each other.
|Evenings at five||1|
|Old Lovegood girls||157|
|Waltzing with the black crayon||227|
|Mother and daughter ghosts, a memoir||253|
|A reader's guide||273|
1. Let’s start with the very first sentence in
Evenings at Five: “Five o’clock sharp.” Do you hear a bell tolling? What does this one sentence tell you about what you’re about to read? The phrase is repeated on page 29. How do you react to hearing it again? Five o’clock is associated with a ritual in Christina’s house. A ritual—originally meaning a prescribed religious ceremony—has taken on the meaning of a regular household activity.
Is there such a thing as a household religion
—and if so, what composes it?
2. Are stronger memories associated with rituals than with other events? What kinds of experiences make the strongest memories? What kinds of sensations and associations does Godwin latch on to as Christina evokes the cocktail hour?
3. Are rituals necessary in helping us avoid feeling vulnerable in lives easily dominated by our own weaknesses? How does Christina use rituals to counter her ritual alcohol drinking?
4. Some memories are “graven on the heart”
(page 16) and others strike familiar chords. Chapter
1 ends with Rudy answering Christina’s question,
“What are you thinking?” by telling her, “I
wasn’t thinking. I was hearing music.” Does
Christina attain this kind of sensitivity in a way?
Is what she hears on page 17 a kind of music?
To a certain way of hearing, is everything music,
including Rudy’s answering machine message
(pages 38–39), to which Christina applies the
Gregorian term melisma (an ornamental phrasing of a word or syllable)? The last chapter, “Coda,”
reminds us that Godwin has composed a sonata in
Evenings at Five. In what ways can you sense or hear a sonata in the novel?
5. Godwin says that, after writing the first five pages of Evenings, she had tricked herself into a new way of writing. What is that new way? To get a handle on this, look at the kinds of sentences she writes and at how one sentence connects to the next.
6. By the end of chapter 2 of Evenings,
you realize that Christina is talking with Rudy,
who has died. Is such a conversation helpful,
or does it cause you to worry about Christina?
Your opinion will determine what you think
Christina’s fate will be in this story. See Rudy’s posthumous conversation with Christina on pages 97–98.
7. Look at how Godwin ends each chapter in
Evenings. Write down the ending sentences or key clauses in succession on a piece of paper and see how they tell the story.
8. What do you know about different grieving ceremonies? Christina undergoes a few. What should the purpose of such services be? Are they effective? What do you think of the ceremonies that Christina experiences? What is the art of condolence letters?
9. What kind of a record of a person’s life is left after his death? What kind of a story does an appointment book tell? Evenings provides a remarkably comprehensive account of the different kinds of things that linger or last after death—including junk mail. What are those things? What is Godwin’s strongest case for eternal life? Keep in mind her opinions on page 58.
10. In a .ctional world, memorable impressions are symbols, key events are omens, and coincidences are fate. In our lives, is there such meaning? What is the meaning of Christina’s temporary semiblindness? What about the sighting of the bear?
11. On page 57, Christina discovers how much she misses Rudy’s awful moments. Are there any personality traits people exhibit that are not lovable
—perhaps shallowness, conformity, or lack of personality? Does this relate to Christina’s uneasiness with the paltriness of most confessed sins in “Possible Sins”?
12. Godwin opens up a lot of space in her novel for Gil Mallow. Mallow is the child of a mother who had given birth to him because, at
.rst, she hadn’t known she was pregnant, and,
then, used her pregnant condition for her art.
Eventually, she rejected pregnancy-inspired forms and artistically aborted the idea of Gil. Why is
Mallow such an important person in Godwin’s and Christina’s universes? How much are you affected by the heartbreaking episodes in Evenings?
Christina sobs, cries, and hoots with laughter at various points. At the end of chapter 3, she says,
“My heart is broken.” As dream analysts say after hearing about agonizing dreams, what were the feelings you had witnessing the episodes?
13. What percentage of your life do you think is dominated by memories rather than your engagement with present needs? How much do you wish to stay connected with the past? Why?
Is it useful to have talismans, such as Rudy’s metronome, or passwords, such as the one
Christina holds on to in “Possible Sins”? What role does Bud play throughout Evenings? Do cats have some special supernatural connection?
14. Godwin’s novels always include the names of books that characters are reading or to which they are referring. They provide a subtext to the story. If you’re ambitious, make a list of the book references in Evenings, .nd out what they’re about, and see what they say about the novel.
15. What does Christina mean when she says
(on page 113), “I have to make the crossover between image and presence”? She then says, “I,
the visual one, now have to rely on sounds.” Are visuals associated with image, and sounds with presence?
16. You have an opportunity, now that Godwin is including her Christina stories with Evenings at Five, to witness the growth of a major work. How do the stories connect to
Evenings? What major themes are developing?
Where are the gaps? What additional stories would you like to see?
17. At the end of “Possible Sins,” Father Weir suggests using a favorite food as a password for spiritual communication rather than a memorable piece of wisdom. What information do you use for private passwords in e-mail accounts or as personal information to con.rm your identity with credit-card companies? What really sticks in your mind?
18. What fairy tale does “Largesse” evoke? Do modern women have to create a body of stories to counter the messages of traditional fairy tales?
19. Both “Largesse” and “Old Lovegood
Girls” involve fellow airplane passengers who play roles in ushering Christina into her story.
Are each of the Christina stories a mythological journey? If so, what insight or dividend does
Christina retrieve from each descent?
20. How does Godwin struggle with the idea of the ingénue? In her interview, she says that she had never been an ingénue. Yet in “Old
Lovegood Girls,” she acknowledges an attraction to the old Southern way of life and the importance of such a concept to her father. At the heart of this issue are Christina’s views on goodness, expressed in her essay for Miss
Petrie. Does Christina’s belief in goodness,
even though it’s a revision of the traditional model, indicate an attachment to the old ideal?
Or does Christina reject the ideal as a product of the “market for brides”? How do you think
Godwin views marriage?
21. In “Waltzing with the Black Crayon,”
Kurt Vonnegut issues some rules for writing. Do you agree with them? Do you have a list of rules?
22. In what ways is “Mother and Daughter
Ghosts, A Memoir” a ghost story? Why does the term ghost apply to the daughter as well as the mother?
23. What is it that causes Godwin to slip into the role that attaches to her at the conference in
“Mother and Daughter”? Was Godwin looking for a way out of what had been developing at the conference? What might have been and what were her ways out?
24. What do Godwin’s and her mother’s imagination exercises say about them at the moment they compose them?
25. “Mother and Daughter” contains a powerful revelation—the mother’s admission of what she had witnessed and redressed at her father’s funeral. It comes under the heading “the worst thing that had ever happened in her life.”
What function does revelation play in Godwin’s reaction? What kinds of questions elicit revelations?
“What is the worst thing?” is one. Another kind of revelation leads off “Waltzing with the Black Crayon.” What are the different kinds of revelation?
Posted April 2, 2004
What do Pope John Paul, a serrated knife fondly known as Ralph, and a bottle of gin have in common? Artfully, with humor and tenderness, Gail Godwin weaves the Pope, Ralph, and Bombay Sapphire gin into a loving testament. Every evening at five, Rudy builds his wife a drink with loving precision. and announces that 'the Pope has called.' Rudy is a composer and hears music; Christina is a writer lost in a world of words. But somehow, despite their differences, for 28 years their marriage works. When Rudy dies, his formidable presence no longer holds center stage in Christina's life. The gifted linguist and world traveller with a mellifluous voice 'one octave below God's' is gone. Stripped of his presence, Christina is reduced to drinking her gin alone and conversing with Rudy's chair every evening at five. It's Christina's recollections of Rudy that makes Evenings at Five a standout. She reads his appointment diaries, kept through their years together, reliving the chronicle of his life. She listens to his music, composed one note on top of another until he reached a glorious symmetry - much like their life together. His is a powerful and lingering presence that defies death. Christina's memories are a delightful read, despite the sobering subject. Ms. Godwin's skill as best selling wordsmith proves itself once again in this latest book. Evenings at Five transcends death and loss, guiding each reader to an individual finale.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 10, 2005
I really enjoyed Evensong and Father Melancholy's Daughter, but this left me pretty cold. Funny, as I am a recent widow. It just didn't 'grab me.' Or perhaps it was too painful. I didn't know when I picked it up that Ms. Godwin's own partner had died in 2001.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2010
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Posted May 30, 2011
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