"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

QMBC V: The Grapes of Wrath



Reading: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


MacTurcaills, Townsend Street, Dublin


Assembly


So long was it between QMBC meetings that one of our number found time to acquire and settle in a new home, and another was inclined to take a wife. Good news indeed but what would these tidings mean for the four cornerstones of the QMBC?: Wit, intense debate, healthy appetites and gentlemanly punctuality. Certainly as 7 o’clock approached it seemed the latter would be the first to fall prey to our changeful circumstances.


In order of appearance we were, Whitby Syme, William Clay, Mycroft Webb and Xavier Paddington - who brought with him the alarming news that Atticus McCarthy may not be in attendance and that Tiger McGavin had missed the DART.


In the following period of awaiting the others’ arrival, the question was noted in the minutes “Is William winning the book club?” Perhaps this was prompted by William’s successful nominations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and also of his confidence in his then unrevealed selections for QMBC VI. No answer was minuted.


Next, the boundless sympathy for which the QMBC is known was exercised as Xavier told a piteous story of automotive woes, exploitative mechanics and a €1,300 bill for brakes. Tiger arrived in fine form and declared he would buy a platter to thank Atticus for house-buying legal advice and Xavier for various feats of strength displayed during Tiger’s relocation. (Strength so impressive that Xavier’s need for brakes, or any sort of mechanical equipment to aid his raw power, was called into question.)


Our waitress arrived and Tiger placed an order for a 15-man platter. Needless to say she was incredulous - only 5 then being present - and our assurance that 2 more were to join our party did little to assuage her concerns.


Atticus and Carl arrived, a mere instant apart, and just before 7 o’clock. No doubt their keen legal minds had precisely pinpointed the time of arrival that would most excite their fellows’ anticipation and yet avoid a “poor show”. All then present were champing at the bit for discussion, but Carl's dallying at the bar further forestalled proceedings.


Tiger was presented with a QMBC-commissioned plaque to adorn his new home. Short work was made of the 15-man platter and general bonhomie was enjoyed by all.


Breasts


Mycroft opened the discussion with an allusion to the final page of the book, instantly jeopardizing any possibility of linear discussion, with his tabling of the observation that Steinbeck was a tit man. The final scene was discussed with disregard for context or meaning focusing instead on the mechanics of breast-feeding. Tiger quickly established himself as the QMBC’s resident expert on the subject (even outdoing Atticus’ “intimate” familiarity with lactation, “unfortunately” garnered through inescapable dialogues with a coworker) through repeated use of the verb “express”. He claimed that if the woman stops expressing she will stop creating. It was observed by the group that this is akin to rapping. Speaking more specifically about Rosasharn, the eminent Mr. McGavin then explained to the group how she probably got off on it.


Whitby revealed his bizarre expectation that the wordless understanding shared between Ma Joad and Rosasharn was building up not to an act of breast-feeding but one of placenta eating. He conceded that Steinbeck’s choice made more sense, but the high protein content of placenta was agreed upon by majority vote.


The American Dream


The preliminary discussion of breasts complete, and confident that the topic could, and would, be resurrected in the fullness of time, William set about making his main point - that the book was overly contrived; the Joads’ misfortune being maximized, and socialist ideas repeated and repeated, so as to “spoon-feed” a message to a stubborn American audience.

(After proof-reading by William, the error of the previous paragraph not being in bold type has been corrected.)


He cited the back cover blurb

“I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags, I don’t want him satisfied.”

to support the idea that the intended audience is too enamoured with the American Dream to open their minds to socialist ideas. Tiger, clearly not similarly restricted, declared that the book had “made him a communist” and he’ll “always vote for minimum wage” in future. His new-found regard for the proletariat was further displayed with the comment that the book gave him a great insight into “yokel life”. Parallels were drawn between the Joads and the Beverly Hillbillies, including the memorable image of Granma Joad riding atop the Jalopy.


Carl commented that he had never read something so critical of the American Dream, and was surprised the book has been embraced to the extent that it has.


Cultural comparisons were made between America and Ireland beginning with Tiger’s thesis that they never had a Jim Larkin. William said that Ireland had no need to write or read a book like GOW because “we were too busy dying and starving.” He went on to misquote William Strannix from Under Seige:

“This is why they call it a revolution. It comes around again and again.”

Aficionados of the Casey Ryback duology will of course know the correct quote as:

Hence the name: movement. It moves a certain distance, then it stops, you see? A revolution gets its name by always coming back around in your face. You tried to kill me you son of a bitch... so welcome to the revolution.”


The Depression


The grim reality (or exaggerated depiction) of The Great Depression made an impression on all. Whitby admitted to prior ignorance of the period, and was shocked by what he read. Xavier was struck by a permanent sense of foreboding and the loss of humanity (with the exception of the Joad’s stay in the government camp). Tiger found it horrible and depressing. Mycroft called it “their famine” and pointed out the absurdity of people comparing the current recession to The Depression while they “eat Coco Pops and watch Vincent Browne”.


By contrast Carl found GOW melodramatic, caricatured and overdone. Both he and William said the book was repetitive and too long.


Quincey Morrisness


As ever, an effort was made to identify any traces of Quincey Morrisness in the selected text. Tom Joad seemed a likely candidate, having used a shovel to kill one man, lived in a hole, and for coming out on top in a night fight against a group of strike breakers armed with sticks.


William found difficulty finding QMness in other members of the Joad family, judging them to be “shit at everything”. He preferred Muley as a Quincey Morris substitute. He told of his disappointment when the book did not extend into 400 pages of Okie counterinsurgency after the scene where Muley hid in the wheat on page 60. During his lauding of the elusive survivalist, he overlooked the very real possibility that Muley was bat-shit nuts.


Carl, Atticus, Mycroft and Whitby agreed that Ma Joad was the hero of the book and the first woman to score highly on the QMness scale. A strong matriarch who gave a “kick up the arse” to weak men when required, and held the “fambly” together in the face of all adversity. She was likened to “your one from Crouching Tiger”, surely one of the highest commendations bestowable on a fictional woman.


Atticus and William were convinced that Ma Joad had cancer. When pressed for an explanation from a shocked Whitby, Atticus seemed puzzled that something so self-evident would need any further discussion. Whitby thought she was just tired.


Religion


Tiger took charge of proceedings from time to time, announcing various topics of discussion. When it came to the turn of religion, a subject with undeniable significance in the book, he read a specially-chosen selection to spark theological discourse:


“You should a got a wife,” said Joad. “Preacher an’ his wife stayed at our place one time. Jehovites they was. Slep’ upstairs. Held meetin’s in our backyard. Us kids would listen. That preacher’s missus took a godawful poundin’ after ever’ night meetin’.”


The fruitful discussion went on to cover the book’s depiction of exploitative origanised religion (with its collections and judgmental attitudes), compared with the Casey’s personal beliefs exemplified in the idea that “it’s a sin if you feel it’s a sin.”


It was also agreed that hug-dancing, generally frowned upon by the more devout characters in GOW, is “the best kind of dancing”.


Snippets of a Discussion about Sushi


William: “Recently I’ve had a pregnant style hankering for sushi.”

Tiger: “Wasabi?”

William: “I like food to eat me.”

Carl: “I’d eat sushi every night.”

Mycroft: “I associate sushi with self-loathing.”


Pre-concluding Comments

William: Most discusionable

Mycroft: Heavy hitter

Tiger: Not very erotic. Except for the end.


Concluding Comments


Tiger: Whilst I thought it was an excellent book, I find it hard... come back to me.


Whitby: Great character interaction on the small scale, and a feel for the large scale too.


William: Americans need to read and understand this book.


Tiger: It’s a thinker about tinkers! ;)


Atticus: Hard to come up with a quip. It’s unquippable.

(Atticus apparently not acknowledging Tiger’s enthusiastic remark only seconds before.)


Xavier: Meaty.

(Noted as yet another reference to food by Xavier.)


Mycroft: I’m not sure who’d win between Ma Joad and Jason Bourne but I’d like to see it.

(Perhaps an effort to goad William, after the earlier claim that the latter’s ideal book would be written by Quincey Morris, about Jason Bourne and starring Matt Damon.)


Carl: Literary All Bran. Tough to digest but ultimately rewarding.


When he relaxed from sound bite mode Carl added that “It’s been good for the club.”


Ratings


Carl: 63

QM: 65

William: 33

(QMness 8/16 ; Actionness 6/15 ; Well-writtenness 8/15 ; Interestingness 5/15 ; Unputdownableness 6/22)

Mycroft: 66

(QMness 12/16 ; Actionness 10/15 ; Well-writtenness 15/15 ; Interestingness 15/15 ; Unputdownableness 14/22)

Atticus: 70

Xavier: 70

Whitby: 68

(Plot 15/20 ; Execution 16/20 ; Characters 18/20 ; Food for Thought 9/10 ; Extra Points 10/13)


This gives The Grapes of Wrath an average rating of 62.14, the highest rating to date for any QMBC book.


For a more detailed analysis of the QMBC ratings to date, please see the attached appendix below.



Nominations


All members were eager to announce their nominations for the next book. All members including Xavier, who had apparently forgotten rule 5 of the QMBC:

“The person who wins wins not next time.”

He pleaded his case admirably, and perhaps gained some support among the club’s moderates, but it was suggested that acquiescing would ultimately lead us to a descent into anarchy (similar to the bone-chilling pseudo-meetings of our unnamed sister club), and Xavier was taught a cruel lesson.


William:

The Iceman by Chuck Ladel

My Word is My Bond by Roger Moore

(appealed to Mycroft as it may tell how many women he “speared”)


Whitby:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell


Atticus:

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant


Mycroft:

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Ideas that Matter by A. C. Graftling


Tiger:

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

The Hunger Games by Suzan Collins


Carl:

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson
(Atticus: “You had me at dystopia.”)


Results



2 points1 pointTotal
My Word is My Bond12
THWATF215
Bel-Ami113
Alone in Berlin113
Waiting for the Barbarians124
Julian Comstock124


The surprising result was confirmed by a recount, carried out by William. After a moment’s reflection he took responsibility for the outcome with his 2 point vote for Roger Moore’s Word is My Bond.


The next meeting of the QMBC was tentatively scheduled for August. Fate would have it that an earlier meeting would come to pass...




Appendix - Click to enlarge pictures



Figure 1 - Statistical Analysis of Historic QMBC Ratings



Figure 2 - Graph of Historic QMBC Ratings




Figure 3 - Linear correlation coefficients between QMBC members’ ratings


They may have shared the same womb and lived under the same roof the majority of their lives but Whitby Syme and William Clay are QMBC polar opposites with an observed negative correlation over the last 5 books of -88%, only further books will tell us if WS really is the Jack Lemmon to WC’s Walter Matthau.


However, their interaction is contrasted by the exceptionally high positive correlation between CJ and AM of +96%, these members seem to be operating the QMBC equivalent of an eastern european Eurovision voting bloc. Your minute taker is reluctant to comment further on this matter aside from commenting that it would not be the first time that a solicitor and a barrister colluded.