I've met a new-to-me blogger, Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit. I had the chance to interview her over a book she's just read and reviewed, Mrs. Lieutenant. She's also interviewed the author, Phyllis Zimbler Miller, and if you take a look at that interview you can also enter a giveaway for your own copy of this book! Here is our interview:
Melanie: This book sounds like it has an interesting structure. Did it tell the story from 4 first-person viewpoints, or a third person overview?
Serena: There are 4 POVs in the novel from each of the female characters. It was great to hear the inner thoughts of each character in their respective chapters, and I don't think a third person narrative would have capture what the women were thinking and feeling as well as the current structure.
Melanie: Were the characters recognizable as distinct individuals? Which of the women did you feel the most connection to, and why?
Serena: The characters are distinct individuals with varied pasts and concerns. For example, Sharon Gold is the Jewish, northerner and she is preoccupied with fitting in and in one case she discovers that she has nothing in common with the Jewish wives club members, but has more in common with Kim, Wendy, and Donna. I actually did not feel an affinity with any of the characters. I loved hearing about their respective fears and concerns, but I did not feel connected to any of the women. However, I could identify with the each woman's struggle to belong.
Melanie: Have you read many books set around the Vietnam War? If so, how does this compare?
Serena: I have read other Vietnam War novels and nonfiction books in college. One of my favorite authors is Tim O'Brien who wrote In the Lake of the Woods, The Things They Carried, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, July, July, Tomcat in Love, and Northern Lights. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam is a non-fiction work I read for class by Frances FitzGerald, but I don't believe that I read it cover to cover. We also read Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann. I've also read the following poetry books as well: Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa and Song of Napalm by Bruce Weigel. I'm sure there are other books I've read as well, but these are the ones that come to mind.
I would say that the majority of the books I've read about the Vietnam War focus upon the male perspective of going to war, being in the war, and coming home and dealing with its effects. Mrs. Lieutenant is the only book I've read that deals with the impacts the war had on the wives of these soldiers and how they dealt with the prospect of being left behind and possibly never seeing their husbands again. It also provides a female point of view of war in general and the wives' obligations as part of the military.
Melanie: Some reviewers have drawn parallels between the setting of this book and that of the Iraq War. Considering that, do you think this would be a good read for those either pro or con about the current war? What about non-Americans?
Serena: I think this book would be a great fit for those who either are anti- or pro- Iraq or Vietnam War. It provides an inside look at the emotions stirred up by conflict and wars that are not easily understood. Non-Americans interested in American history would find the book interesting as well. But in a broader sense I find this to be a human interest story, a struggle of women with the emotions they have about war, losing their husbands, and traditions kept during that time period by the military.
Melanie: Do you feel from reading this book and interviewing the author that it is heavily based in her own experiences? Does knowing about the author's background beforehand add or take away from the reading experience for you, generally?
Serena: I knew about her background before reading the book, and I don't think that it detracted at all from the novel because both viewpoints are presented about the war, as well as some more ambiguous viewpoints about the war. For some, serving was a duty, while others saw officer's training as a means of escaping the draft or biding time until the war was over. Phyllis Zimbler Miller did indicate that this novel is heavily based upon her experiences as Mrs. Lieutenant, but she does not let her personal experiences color the characters she has created.
Melanie: Did you have a favourite part or find something especially memorable that you'd like to share?
Serena: I cannot pinpoint my favorite part of the book, only because it would give away too much for one of the character's stories. But it is a doosey and it caught me off guard.
Melanie: And a couple of general questions, if you want to answer them -- I see from your blog that you are a writer. How does blogging fit into your writing life?
Serena: Blogging is a great relief from my daily writing at work. It's creative, but it isn't where my passion lies. Poetry is something I write most often, though I am working on some fiction pieces and a novel. I have a hard time juggling my many interests on occasion and one interest may surface as the dominant writing pursuit from time to time. I enjoy blogging because it is a community experience and it always provides me with new books to read.
Melanie: What are some of the things you have found most fulfilling about having a book blog? More books for the TBR, finding like-minded people...??
Serena: Oops, I already partially answered this question. I like the community aspect of blogging and meeting new bloggers with a variety of interests and writing styles. It's great to read some of the more humorous stories people blog about, but it is also great to read reviews of books I haven't discovered yet or even books I have discovered. I enjoy reading reviews that are opposite of my own as well because it provides a different outlook on what worked for that reader and what didn't work for me and vice versa.
Serena: Flower Children by Maxine Swann seems to take a unique look at the impact the 70s and free love has on children who were coming of age at that time, did you find the perspective true to life?
Melanie: Despite growing up in the 70's I was very far from having hippie parents! But I found that the characterizations seemed realistic and the action flowed from those characterizations very naturally. So, yes, I believed the narrative voice, especially when the children were younger; as the two girls became adolescents in the final story, I wasn't as taken by them.
Serena: How would you describe the narrative?
Melanie: The story unfolds in discrete chapters which switch back and forth from first person (the voice of second daughter Maeve) and third person. I wasn't actually sure I really liked that approach, maybe all one or the other would have flowed better. It might also have been interesting to see the family through the first person eyes of each of the children.
Serena: Some reviews on Amazon have characterized the novel as a string of short stories, did you find this to be the case?
Melanie: Absolutely. The chapters, although following one another in chronological progression, were definitely separate stories which could stand alone. And therefore I did find some stronger than others -- as I mentioned, the story with the two girls as adolescents didn't have quite the same dreamy, reminiscent tone as the others.
Serena: Do you often read novels set in the 1970s or that time period?
Melanie: Actually, not really. I don't search for them, anyway, and I'd guess that my faint surprise at reading about the 70's in this one means it's not a regular occurrence.
Serena: Who would you recommend read this book to and why? Or would you not recommend the book, and why?
Melanie: I think that children of the 70's would find a lot of familiar touches, even if you didn't grow up in the country with hippie, divorced parents from extremely eccentric families... Really, probably anyone with an interest in American fiction, or domestic fiction from a bit of a different viewpoint would like this. It is full of free love and pot though, so if that bothers you, perhaps it's not the book of choice.
Serena: What were your favorite parts or elements of the novel?
Melanie: I enjoyed the voice of Maeve, and the dreamy feeling in the first couple of stories especially. It captured that random childhood freedom which I certainly had, to wander alone or with friends most of the day without having to be fearful or worried about strangers. In the first story, the author describes the two young sisters laying flat and still in a field long enough for a buzzard to show interest, and then suddenly sitting up thinking it was about to dive at them. This image repeats itself in the final story when the sisters return to their home as adults, and it really works.
Serena: Were the characters believable or well-rounded?
Melanie: The two girls were pretty clear, but aside from the big sister views of the two younger brothers you don't find out much about the boys. I would have liked a little more background and spirit to the mother; she was a bit vague for me. Their father, on the other hand, was quite a character, with each story filling out his profile a little more. When the kids go with him to their grandparents' in one story, you find out where he gets all his eccentricities from -- his whole family is made up of oddballs. Overall, they were all drawn clearly enough to feel like real individuals who I wanted to keep reading about.
Serena: You mentioned that you are not caught up on reviews, do you find that your reading and reviewing obligations are overwhelming at times or do you like the challenge of catching up?
Melanie: Every once in a while I feel overwhelmed, but all this reading and blogging is supposed to be fun, so I don't stress out too much. I don't feel obliged to review everything I read, or blog every day.
Serena: Here's a few other random questions:
I wonder how you came up with the title of your blog and if there is any significance to the title.
Melanie: I made up the word "Indextrious" as a blend of index and industrious, because I'm a librarian who likes cataloguing and indexing and picky things like that!
Serena: On Book Blogs, you belong to the Travel the World group, is there a particular reason you were drawn to that book group and how has your experience with the group been?
Melanie: I've just joined so have no stories to share yet. I'm interested because I like reading international fiction and seeing things from other viewpoints.
Serena: Taking on a lot of reading challenges seems time consuming, how do you find the time to work through all those challenges at the same time?
Melanie: Um...I rarely finish challenges! I just do them for fun and for community.
And speaking of community, thanks again to Dewey for coming up with so many great ideas and helping we book bloggers to get to know each other just a little better. And don't forget Serena's giveaway; enter to win your own copy of Mrs. Lieutenant!