The Known World by Edward P Jones

(Book 154) Mary hosted our meeting for The Known World; seven members attended and three played hooky! (OK, maybe they weren’t playing hooky.) We had updates from Marcia about Karen’s husband Scott and from Chris about Geri and we are all praying or thinking positive thoughts for both of them.

Mary started us off with chips, crackers, salsa, guacamole and crudité to nibble with our wine, while she did the final preparations for dinner. The main course was a Southern recipe for Smothered Chicken, a dish of chicken and gravy served over mashed potatoes and accompanied by a delicious salad of mixed greens, beets and pears. Dessert was a triumph! The book mentions apples and apple pie several times which caused Mary to google crustless apple pie. The recipe that came up was a cousin to apple crisp, apple brown Betty, apple crumble, and apple pan dowdy. We are all waiting impatiently for Mary to send us the recipe!

As we sat down to dinner, Chris started the ball rolling with “So, what did everyone think about the book?” There was quite a moment of silence before I said that had a few problems with it and listed: 1) that I was bothered by the very idea that there were free blacks who held slaves and 2) that I found it difficult to read because of the blend of past, present and future within the same paragraph.

Chris added that she is somewhat skeptical of the Pulitzer Prize in general, but that The Known World is a story not that well or artfully told. She said that she thought the writing was dense in a purposeful way to emphasize the slow, heavy, complex nature of the subject.

Sharon was daunted by the massive number of characters in the story, as was Marcia, and wished that her copy of the book had been like others of us who had a Dramatis Personae in the back of the book. She noted that she liked the book as it started, but felt that it was more difficult as she read on. Chris and I felt the other way round, in that the book was at first off-putting but as we immersed ourselves into it, we became more interested in the characters and the interactions between them.

Linda appreciated the time-jumping, particularly when the author jumped to the future to tell us where a character was in old age. I agreed that I became more comfortable with the time issue as I read deeper into the book. Susan said she wished she would have heard what happened to Rita, the woman that Augustus had packed into a shipping crate and sent North. Marcia felt that were several characters whose outcome stories hadn’t been told.

Melissa didn’t finish the book because she misplaced it and hasn’t been able to find it. We imagine it will turn up someday when a customer tries to rent it for a photo shoot!

Mary admitted that she didn’t read enough of it to form a full opinion, but thought that the book was tedious. Everyone agreed that it was a slow read. I was reading the book concurrently with Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and I have to agree with Roxane (as she talked about Django Unchained) that maybe we don’t need another book or movie depicting the atrocities of slavery despite a new angle.

We will meet next month at Linda’s on Tuesday, March 21st to discuss Ursula K Leguin’s Dancing at the Edge of the World.