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Disobedience: A Novel by Jane Hamilton
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Disobedience: A Novel (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Jane Hamilton

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8041011,352 (3.28)33
Member:PaperbackPirate
Title:Disobedience: A Novel
Authors:Jane Hamilton
Info:Anchor (2001), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:2008

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Disobedience by Jane Hamilton (2000)

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English (9)  French (1)  All languages (10)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Henry Shaw is seventeen and a high school senior. Even though he has had a rather unusual and carefree childhood in rural Vermont, he considers himself part of an ordinary and happy family. It is only after he moves with his family to Chicago that he discovers, through inadvertently accessing his mother’s email, that she is in love with a man other than his father. Should Henry confront her or must he suffer silently? His new knowledge of his mother’s behavior is a burden for Henry. While he agonizes over this, his parents seem to be quietly waging their own war over Elvira, Henry’s younger sister, who is slowly become a living re-enactment of a Civil War soldier.

Disobedience is a novel of modern times and yet of an old problem. It focuses on a high-tech way of not only conducting, but also monitoring, a less than desirable relationship. The characters are so authentic that at least one of them is sure to be reminiscent of a real life person! Hamilton does the voice of Henry so well that it’s hard to realize that he is a fictional character and not a real young man struggling with a terrible family problem. All of the characters are graced with passion and humor which shine through the pages.

Hamilton highlights the way in which one particular family scapegoats a particularly vulnerable family member. Often this happens in real life--the act of scapegoating--even though family problems are often system problems, those having to do with relationships between family members. Although some readers may view Elvira’s antics as humorous, they are quite the opposite. In this story, Elvira suffers a great deal of torment from her mother and brother for an interest in which she has a great passion. Hamilton brings great insight into family relationships and into a teenager’s way of thinking. Teens often think they have things figured out, but they don’t have enough life experience to truly understand complex situations. Some readers may be put off by the slow-moving the plot, but the psychological action never lets up until the last page is read. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Aug 19, 2013 |
Henry Shaw is a high school senior who, at seventeen years old, is about as comfortable with his family as any teenager can be. His father, Kevin, teaches history with a decidedly socialist tinge at the Chicago private school Henry and his sister attend. His mother, Beth, who plays the piano in a group specializing in antique music, is a loving, attentive wife and parent. Henry even accepts the offbeat behavior of his thirteen-year-old sister, Elvira, who is obsessed with Civil War reenactments and insists on dressing in handmade Union uniforms at inopportune times.

When he stumbles on his mother's email account, however, Henry realizes that all is not as it seems. There, under the screen name Liza38, a name Henry innocently established for her, is undeniable evidence that his mother is having an affair with one Richard Polloco, a violin maker and unlikely paramour who nonetheless has a very appealing way with words and a romantic spirit that, in Henry's estimation, his father woefully lacks.

Against his better judgement, Henry charts the progress of his mother's infatuation with Richard - her feelings of euphoria, of guilt, and of profound, touching confusion. His knowledge of Beth's secret life colors his own tentative explorations of love and sex with the ephemeral Lily, and casts a new light on the arguments - usually focused on Elvira - in which his parents routinely indulge. Over the course of his final year in high school, Henry observes each member of the family, trying to anticipate when they will find out about the infidelity and what that knowledge will mean to each of them. Henry's observations, set down a decade after that fateful year, are so much more than the "old story" that his mother deemed her affair to be.

I thought that this book was just okay - to my mind, the story could have been told more simply, without such intense focus being paid to Elvira's obsession about the Civil War. Disobedience by Jane Hamilton wasn't perhaps my favorite book of all time, but I am certainly still interested in reading more books by Jane Hamilton. I give Disobedience by Jane Hamilton an A! ( )
  moonshineandrosefire | Oct 31, 2012 |
Every time I read one of Jane Hamilton's books I love her writing even more. Who else can wrap you into a world, defining people so clearly that you expect to look around and see them at the coffee shop?

"It was possibly because he had no ego that he was more fully himself than anyone else I could name." ( )
  bataviabirders | Aug 21, 2010 |
Most people don't really like this book, which is about a family with some unusual and unlikeable behaviours. Even if people do like some aspects of the book, they almost always don't find the family attractive or even realistic. I liked the book because I looked at the family and found it was like looking in a mirror. What does that say about myself and my family? ( )
  oldblack | Mar 13, 2009 |
Despite being narrated by a teenage boy, this feels like a woman's book, heavy on relationships and family dynamics. Hamilton's writing is polished and highly readable, sometimes ingenious and truly funny. I appreciated the extended Civil War metaphor, and Elvira's/Elvirnon's part in it. Ultimately, though, I didn't feel the characters deeply enough to make me want to rush back to their story. ( )
  joshberg | Feb 2, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Bev Jensen
First words
Reading someone else's e-mail is a quiet, clean enterprise.
Quotations
Living with a high school teacher is probably not that different from living with a coal miner. They are down the shaft, they are cleaning up from being down the shaft, or they are preparing to return to the shaft.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385720467, Paperback)

A wayward wife, an Oedipally obsessed e-mail snoop, a pint-sized Civil War reenactor (oops, make that living historian), and a cheerfully oblivious cuckold comprise the Shaws of Chicago, the decidedly quirky characters of Jane Hamilton's fourth novel, Disobedience. An unlikely family to fall prey to the vagaries of modern life, the Shaws are consumed with clog dancing, early music, and the War Between the States. But they do possess a computer, and when 17-year-old Henry stumbles into his mother's e-mail account and epistolary evidence of her affair with a Ukrainian violinist, he becomes consumed with this glimpse into her life as a woman, not simply a mother.
To picture my mother a lover, I had at first to break her in my mind's eye, hold her over my knee, like a stick, bust her in two. When that was done, when I had changed her like that, I could see her in a different way. I could put her through the motions like a jointed puppet, all dancy in the limbs, loose, nothing to hold her up but me.
While his mother (whom he refers to variously as Mrs. Shaw, Beth, and her e-mail sobriquet, Liza38), dallies with her pen pal, whom she calls "the companion of my body, the guest of my heart," Henry experiences his own sexual awakening; his 13-year-old sister, Elvira, retreats into gender-bending historical fantasy; and their father remains determinedly absorbed in pedagogical responsibilities.

Ironically (and not completely convincingly) narrated by an adult Henry, Disobedience has a rollicking tone somewhat at odds with the somber prospects that loom for this family. A very worldly teenager in some ways, despite the hippie wholesomeness of his family, Henry tells his tale in abundant, almost flowery prose, imagining his mother's private life with elegiac fervor. As in her earlier A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton writes with affection and insight about the darker side of apparently ordinary Midwestern folks. --Victoria Jenkins

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:11 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A young man awaits the consequences of his mother's extramarital affair with a violin-maker, information he discovers when he accidentally stumbles across her e-mailbox. From Jane Hamilton, author of the beloved New York Times bestsellers A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth, comes a warmly humorous, poignant novel about a young man, his mother's e-mail, and the often surprising path of infidelity. Henry Shaw, a high school senior, is about as comfortable with his family as any seventeen-year-old can be. His father, Kevin, teaches history with a decidedly socialist tinge at the Chicago private school Henry and his sister attend. His mother, Beth, who plays the piano in a group specializing in antique music, is a loving, attentive wife and parent. Henry even accepts the offbeat behavior of his thirteen-year-old sister, Elvira, who is obsessed with Civil War reenactments and insists on dressing in handmade Union uniforms at inopportune times. When he stumbles on his mother's e-mail account, however, Henry realizes that all is not as it seems. There, under the name Liza38, a name that Henry innocently established for her, is undeniable evidence that his mother is having an affair with one Richard Polloco, a violin maker and unlikely paramour who nonetheless has a very appealing way with words and a romantic spirit that, in Henry's estimation, his own father woefully lacks. Against his better judgment, Henry charts the progress of his mother's infatuation, her feelings of euphoria, of guilt, and of profound, touching confusion. His knowledge of Beth's secret life colors his own tentative explorations of love and sex with the ephemeral Lily, and casts a new light on the arguments-usually focused on Elvira-in which his parents regularly indulge. Over the course of his final year of high school, Henry observes each member of the family, trying to anticipate when they will find out about the infidelity and what the knowledge will mean to each of them. Henry's observations, set down ten years after that fateful year, are much more than the "old story" of adultery his mother deemed her affair to be. With her inimitable grace and compassion, Jane Hamilton has created a novel full of gentle humor and rich insights into the nature of love and the deep, mysterious bonds that hold families together.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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