Sarah Canary Q1 – 'Sometimes one of the great dreamers passes among us.'

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What did you think of Sarah Canary as a novel? Did you enjoy the story? Did you enjoy the characters? Did you enjoy the setting? The situations? Did it hold together as an overarching story?

Comments

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    I'm sorry to say I didn't enjoy it. If it hadn't been a book club read, I'd have given up on it quite soon. I wasn't sure what the novel was trying to say. There was certainly a reflection on how racism was overt in the 1870s, and there was a sympathetic portrayal of mental illness. But nothing really held together for me.

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    While reading the first 1/3 I kept thinking, wow this is really good. The main thing for me was the way everyone kept projecting onto Sarah their own preconceptions... was she a spirit bride? Mentally ill? A wolf child of the woods? An exhibit? A runaway criminal? And in all of this Sarah herself did nothing to confirm or deny the assumption.

    However, the rest of the book did not live up to this... it seemed to me just more of the same with no real change or new development / revelation. People's motives for following Sarah were vague and largely incomprehensible, she herself gave no real clues, and we just had more people projecting their own fantasies and explanations onto her.

    So having been excited by the first third, I got bogged down and struggled to finish the last few chapters. So I suppose no, it didn't hold together for me as an entire story, though the central concept was certainly worth exploring.

    I wanted to like the Pacific North West setting, having once spent a year in Seattle, but the way it was written seemed quite generic wilderness. About the only bit that reminded me of Puget Sound was the portion with multiple boats plying to and fro.
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    I liked it. It was sad and very strange. The setting didn't come across very strongly apart from being "the 19th century American West" but there was enough there. The main characters (Chin, BJ, Adelaide) I liked a lot.

    The situations were focused on portraying the unfairness and prejudice of the world, but there was enough to bring it together for me.

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    Well, if you read the rest of my replies it will be obvious that I liked it a lot. I thought the writing was really wonderful. I like the characters, even the bad ones for being bad. I really enjoyed trying to tease out some of the deeper meanings. I agree the setting was not drawn to any depth, but I didn't feel that hurt the story much. Compare this to The Land God Gave to Cain, which was almost all setting with a very thin plot.

    It did fairly hit us over the head with misogyny and bigotry - perhaps that was necessary. The author must have recognized this herself, and offered an explanation of sorts partway through:

    Chin remembered B.J.'s complaint about Miss Dixon, that she was always making you see something ugly. She didn't create it or imagine it or misperceive it. It was there, all right. But you might not have seen it for yourself if she hadn't made you.

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    Maybe - though relatively short - this would have been a good slow read candidate. I've certainly come to appreciate some facets of Sarah Canary better as a result of this discussion.

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