Discussion Week 3: "Jack Waits"

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There is always a line the scoundrel steps across and becomes a wanted thing. Sometimes the line is theater and robbery and kicking the fellow off the bridge; sometimes it’s simply a signed sheet of paper.

Perhaps it is fitting that my own line was merely the end of a dock. – p. 51

Thus begins the third part of So Brave, Young, and Handsome: “Jack Waits.”

There was so much in this section—too much to cover thoroughly without our conversation feeling like a dozen are taking place at once. Here are a few questions to get us started, but as always, feel free to pose your own and talk about things that stood out to you:

“What do you dream of, Becket, at night?”

“That I am at sea, or in a snowstorm.”

“When I was young I used to dream of escapes, and wake up sweating,” Glendon replied. “Now I mostly dream of captures, and you know what? I wake up calm.” – p.75

1) What do Becket’s dreams reveals about his longings? What is he looking for as he accompanies Glendon on this journey?

2) What do you make of Glendon’s response?

3) Earlier, Glendon had talked about the hard reality of jail. “A jail ain’t nothing but a collection of corners.” – p.63 Does his dismal synopsis of jail conflict with the response to his dream of being captured? Is there significance in comparing the “collection of corners” to the “curved line”?

When seeing his reflection, Becket says:

“I’d even begun to imagine myself a better individual, one tempered by experience and loss . . . I was just barely me. I used to resemble what I was—a well-meaning failure, a pallid disappointer of persons, a man fading. This fellow looked tired and rough, but—if I may say it—capable. “ – p.76

4) What had changed in Becket? What was the “loss” to which he was referring?

5) Enger uses the imagery of vision (or difficulty in seeing) throughout the book—Fog, night, a man “fading.” Where and how in the story do you see “vision” used?

6) Becket, Glendon, and Roberts are each in a different stage of life. What is each man looking for, and does age play a part?

Bonus question: The book draws on classic themes and archetypes of “The Western.” How so? How is it turning the classic Western on its head? Have you read Westerns before? Are you a fan of Western films? Other than setting, what do you think defines the genre.

Discussion Introduction
Week 1: “A Thousand a Day”
Week 2: “The Old Desperate”
Week 3: “Jack Waits”
Week 4: “The 101”
Week 5: “The Fiery Siringo”
Week 6: “The Rarotongans”


16 Comments

  1. Chinwe

    Thanks again for leading these discussions Julie!

    I’m going to jump on your bonus question 🙂 The long chase scenes in this section reminded me of the section of the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” where they can’t seem to outrun the gang chasing them. I especially remember the line they keep repeating: “Who ARE those guys?” The confrontation is inevitable; it’s just a matter of time.

    I’ve watched (and loved) a number of Westerns. One that comes to mind is the recent incarnation of “3:10 To Yuma” with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. I also remember watching “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” many years ago. Of course, there’s also the classic one, “The Three Amigos” 🙂 When I think of the genre, the word that comes to mind is “dread” — waiting for something bad to happen: the gang to ride into town, the peace to be disturbed.

    Also, often in Westerns the main character is motivated by revenge. However, Glendon is trying to evade capture long enough to ask for forgiveness for a wrong he has done.

  2. Chris

    1) In regard to question one, I think Becket is looking to prove himself as man. I think he is feeling like a failure in general, but especially towards his wife and child. I think he feel s like some sort of “adventure” will help him prove his mettle. As for Glendon, I think he is obviously weighed down by a burden of guilt over his sins, and is longing for some sort of absolution. I think he’s tired of “running”, and wants to be free. Capture would almost be a relief–and yet he does keep running.

    6) I didn’t think of this at the time (I have kept reading ahead), but Hood, Mote, and Glendon all represent men at the three main stages of life. Hood is the typical young man spoiling for adventure and romance. Monte is more of the prime-of-life man with a wife and family, but is a bit restless. Glendon is the old man who has seen a lot of life and has been tempered by it.

    Bonus question: Having read ahead more, I am starting to see how the story plays with these archetypes. Glendon is the “bad guy” outlaw, but he actually feels like a good guy, whereas Siringo is the “good guy” lawman but is really quite depraved in some ways.

  3. Apple Hill Cottage

    The youth–Hood–is brash, invincible, longing for adventure and rarely, if ever, thinks about death. Glendon–the old desperate–has seen it all. He knows death, capture, will come. There is a tired acceptance to him–running, hiding, keeping secrets–how that has worn on him. He is ready (calm) if only he can finish what he has set out to do–make things right by asking forgiveness. And Becket, the restless tweener? Successful, but feeling like a failure; seemingly happy, but longing for what he doesn’t have; wanting to be brave, but cowardly, “a disappointer of persons”. He is too old to be young, and too young to be old. Their personalities have so much to do with their ages.

    Peace Like a River was my favorite book of all time (until I read Hannah Coulter a few months ago; this book has been sitting on my night stand for two years! I just couldn’t get past that first section. I’m so glad you are doing this because I am enjoying it now that I’m this far into it. Thanks for hosting these discussions!

  4. redheadkate

    Glendon dreaming of capture reminds me of Phil Vischer in “Me, Myself & Bob” when he talks about how the threat of bankruptcy at Veggie Tales felt like pulling a heavy weight up a hill. Then when they finally declared bankruptcy (the thing everyone was dreading), it was like the weight lifted and he could breath again. So it isn’t that Glendon wants to go back to jail, but capture will give a sense of closure to the unending chase.

  5. Dan R.

    That part about the thought of capture bringing peace, for some reason, brought me back to the part from the last section (?) about Glendon’s desperate flight from, and Monte’s longing to persuade him to give himself up to, the law. It makes me think of the person who’s really captive to “the curse of the Law,” and will only be free when captured by real grace. That doesn’t sound very logical, so let me dig a little deeper.

    I think it’s significant that he doesn’t say what kind of “escapes” or “captures” he dreamed of. Given the excess of violence with which he (almost without thinking) reacts to the idea of giving himself up to the law (the incident on the train), and all he’s done since to avoid capture, and from his words to Monte on the (other) train, I don’t think he expects anything good to come from his being finally brought in. At the same time, every escape means another reason to keep on running, and Glendon understands (at some level) that being captured (by someone or something) is the only way to stop this endless fleeing he’s caught up in because of his transgressions; the only way to peace. I’m just speculating here, but if he finally reaches Blue and is able to ask forgiveness, he’ll finally know what to do next, what to give himself up to. Also, he may not even know all this about his pursuit of/by grace (seeing as it is revealed in dreams, and when he speaks of it he doesn’t seem to get the whole picture). He knows clearly, however, that he needs peace and rest, and that only in asking forgiveness will he somehow find them. I think he firmly grasps that an essential part of receiving grace is acknowledging our need of it.

  6. Chris Whitler

    It just kinda hit me that we now have three travelers together. If anyone is familiar with John Granger and Travis Prinzi’s work on Harry Potter there is talk of the “Soul Triptych”…3 characters that represent the heart (Harry), the mind (Hermoine) and the body (Ron). If our travelers could represent these things, which are they?

    Hood for sure is body. He is immediate and eager. Glendon could be the mind as it is his experience and wisdom getting them out of scrapes. And Monte could be the heart, longing for meaning and deeper experience.

    And as for western archetypes…when Siringo is bent over Hood by the campfire, I had an immediate flashback to The Dark Tower with Roland chasing the man in black across the desert.

    And vision, yes, I noticed that Glendon often can’t see things right away and it is Monte that helps him.

    Also the idea of names is still very important. Now all three travelers are not using their real name.

  7. sofia

    1) I think that Monte’s dreams may also indicate how lost he feels. Both seas and snowstorms connote adventure, but also a sense of not having any landmarks to navigate by. A few paragraphs before the dream discussion, he admits this feeling of being lost: “a page had turned and the story was anew one filled with doubtful creatures” (p. 75), but honestly, he seemed pretty lost and unsure of himself when writing as well. As pop psychology as it sounds, Monte seems to be looking for himself–for guideposts at least to show him the direction of his life. If he gets lost in this new adventure, it seems better for him than “disappearing” (as mentioned in the conversation on p. 81).

    2/3) I’ve enjoyed reading the discussion so far about the conflict between Glendon’s incessant slipping away from what will certainly lead to imprisonment and the peace he has after his dreams of capture. I especially like the point Dan made about this being a realization of a need for grace that’s brings and end to this life of running.

    About jail as a collection of corners: A corner seems to me to have a sense of finality to it: what is a dead end but two corners butted up next to each other? Once you’ve found where two lines meet to make a corner, there’s nowhere else to go. A curve, however, doesn’t appear to have this finality: it doesn’t meet another line that stops it–it continues out in an arc. There is a potential for growth in it.

    4) Monte’s tone as he narrates this section almost seems to me ironic, as if he’s looking back at a self who thought he’d gained battle experience when the skirmish hadn’t even happened. So far, he’s lost his grip and some small possessions at Davies’ house, and has been away from his family for two weeks, but other than that, to me, he seems to be casting himself as a character from a novel that he might wish to be, rather than what he still is at this point.

    By the way, did anyone else think of one of Monte’s stories when he described what he would be if he returned home (p. 81)? It reminded me of his story about the man with the transparent skin on p. 15. Was that initial story a cry for help whereas the other stories seemed to be an attempt to live out adventurous experiences that were not his?

  8. Loren Warnemuende

    I don’t have much to add regarding the first four questions–I think the comments here have really hit home on them. Sophia, I love your insight that what happens to Monte seems to reflect back on the various novels he’s written. I need to go back and take a look at that. I wonder if Hood Roberts will become the type of man that Monte’s most recent failure was about–the rancher.

    I think the corners, too, seem hard and straight in comparison to the curved line. I seem to keep seeing allusions to curved lines–like when the men finally reach the Flint Hills and the flat of Kansas is relieved. There are more places than that, and in some places they seem out of place. And of course, now I can’t find the place where that struck me.

    Regarding #5 and vision, that has struck me a number of times. I wondered why Enger keeps stressing how bad Glendon’s eyesight is. Is it more than a way to show his age? “Appearances would make it seem so.” Even the little interchange between Monte and Hood when Siringo shows up and they’re wondering if Glendon will be found relates to vision:

    “Suppose Glendon overcomes him by guile and brings him back hogtied and blindfold,” said Hood…

    “…What do you mean, blindfold? Why would he blindfold him?”

    And actually, come to think of it, dreams can be brought into the vision discussion, too. Not to mention how Monte sees himself in the mirror at the barber shop, or in choosing a fake name.

    Glendon’s comment regarding Monte’s name in the last chapter struck me. He’s told Monte it’s perfect and explains, “Well, because Jack waits, don’t he? He always waits… Then one day you write down his name instead of your own and lo, Jack is free unto the world.”

    That interchange reminded me of a blog post my sister wrote about characters who live in her mind and may or may not become characters in stories she’ll write. In a way, Monte has just become a new character rather than written a new one. He struck on the name in the way we often come up with a new character.

    And again with the vision idea: A name is a way of seeing a person. How does our perception of Glendon change based on what name he goes by? Even Charles Siringo uses different names to portray a persona. Hood Roberts–did he create his name e cause it sounds a little like “Robin Hood”? That’s who his name makes me think of.

    Enough rambling on that… I don’t have anything to add to six…

    As for the bonus question, nope, not a great fan of Westerns. I’m not sure why–I do like adventure stories, and I’ve loved pioneer stories like the Little House books, but I’ve never taken to the western genre. Which helps me understand why, though I like how this book is written and I want to see where it goes, I’m not deeply drawn to it. Maybe it has something to do with bad guys being made out to be likeable, and “good guys” like the detective Siringo aren’t actually “good”. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to be a bit black and white with truth and justice. I’m still pondering how grace plays into it.

    So how is this story turning the classic Western on its head, Julie? I haven’t read enough Westerns to know.

  9. Pete T

    The themes I that really stood out to me in this section are dreams, names, and … I am having trouble coming up with the right word … deservedness perhaps, or maybe karma.

    Maybe one of you folks can help me find the right word, but it hinges on the conversation on page 73 in which Monte and Glendon discuss where it matters if the man who was bit by the turtle was good or bad. Monte hold that, no matter if a person is good or bad, a terrible death is undeserved. Glendon says, “If a man’s got to die, let him be a bad man.”

    Have we decided yet how Glendon views himself? Does he see himself as “bad”? He certainly is trying to atone for his past, and this section makes me think he does indeed see himself as bad. A murderer even, who hasn’t paid for what he has done (74).

    So, if he is “bad,” what does he mean when he says, “If a man’s got to die, let him be a bad man”? Especially in light of his quest for atonement with Blue?

    And names:

    Loren had a great point about Monte becoming a new character rather than writing one. Do you suppose Enger is suggesting that a person must in some way live a new character before being able to write one?

    Also on names, with his words on page 101, Glendon foretells that Jack will be free unto the world. That certainly isn’t Monte, who sees himself as having failed the world. I’m curious to see how Monte gets there.

    I’m going to leave dreams alone for now and maybe come back to it later on. Thanks for the discussion friends!

  10. sofia

    (I forgot to click the “notify me of follow up comments…” box on my last comment, so here’s my attempt to fix that. Don’t mind me…My apologies if you just got an email with this in it.)

  11. redheadkate

    I’m with Loren on this book. I prefer the good guys to “win” and the bad guys to be punished or at least be sorry before they are given a second change. A friend and I had a discussion about this recently. He likes much more gray and grace in books to my black and white. This book keeps reminding me of the importance of grace.

    One thing that I struggled with in this section is the importance of cars. It surprised me that driving and accessibility to cars would be as common as it appears in the book set in 1915, especially when it talks about Susannah driving. What do y’all think about this?

  12. Sarah

    Around 1918 or 1919, before my grandfather was twenty, he went on a trip from New Jersey to California in an automobile. He never completed writing the story out, but I remember him regaling us with tales of selling advertising on the sides of the car, of working at a Harvey House somewhere in Arizona, of being in a town where a man had been killed in a gunfight but they were still waiting for the coroner to come for the body, and so on.

    In his own words: “It 1918 or 1919 two chaps Truman Smith and Bud Sexton talked me into driving out to California with them in a custom made Ford (a 1914 vintage). Truman Smith was a [sic] excellent mechanic and the car worked out fine. We left on Decoration Day and arrived in Los Angeles July 4. At that time there was no proscribed route. We took the long way going through the south through the heart of Texas. I haven’t got a [sic] actual record of just how we got to California but we made it…”

    It seems that, in the early days of automobiles, having a mechanic with you was almost essential, hence Hood Roberts. And the fact that there were no roads at times, or poor roads at best, seems born out by what my grandfather says.

  13. Julie Silander

    Such good thoughts… I don’t have anything to add, but from our “conversation” would love to have the crowd unpack the following:

    * Dan and Kate both mentioned the relief found in “finally being captured.” Does that strike a personal chord for anyone?

    * Sofia asks a great question – What do Monte’s stories reveal about him? Anybody go back and reread that section?

    * Pete and Loren talked about the need to “become a new character before writing about one.” What’s the significance of that concept in everyday life?

    *Any thoughts about Pete’s question regarding the “good man vs. bad man” discussion? I’m curious…

    * Chris and Chinwe give some insight about the bonus question. Any other thoughts about this story compared to the traditional Western?

    * Sarah – Amazing, really. It helps the story become more real for me. Anybody else have real-life stories regarding the setting?

  14. April Pickle

    Enjoying the comments.
    I was at a park with family yesterday and watched as a kid drove up on his bicycle and took a ride on the a swing. As he swung higher and higher, I thought about the arc it was making, the feeling of flying it was giving him, the passion with which he pumped the swing as high as it would go. I thought about Glendon, thought about Monte, thought about grace. I remembered that rivers are curvy, and so are nooses, and I wondered where this story will go. When the swing came to a stop, the boy got back on his bike and drove away.

  15. Pete T

    Yes, I was surprised by the appearance of cars in the novel. But I like it. There is something about the essence of a road trip and westerns coming together.

    And Sarah, that was such a cool piece of history. I agree with Julie. It helps this story become more real.

  16. Loren Warnemuende

    So…is one way this story is a Western turned on its head the fact that the characters are driving Packards and Cords instead of riding Mustangs and Pintos? 🙂

    I’m still waiting for my sister Carrie to pipe up with some more insight on cars in this era. She’s the one who’s done the research on our family history.

    I do have some of the tales about our great-grandparents that keep coming to mind as I’ve been reading this, so I’ll add to Sarah’s treasure. In the early 1900s they lived at the edge of the Sante Fe Trail, near Kansas City, Kansas. Before she married, my great-grandmother was an itinerant school-teacher, and rode a horse from school to school…with a rifle in tow, of course. I could picture her running around in an early car, but I don’t know if she did. She loved the open space and would have liked to move farther west. Their family took the train to Colorado a number of times. By the time my grandmother was finishing hi school, though, my great-grandfather could see that the world was changing, and the cities and industry were the future and pioneer days were on the wain.. The family ended up in Wheaton, Illinois in the early ’20s.

    When Monte and Glendon met up with Hood and the boy was waxing eloquent about the ranch he waned to get to, Glendon had a comment about this shift in culture: “Cowboy days are finished, Hood. You need to be thinking along other lines.”

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