Book chat: Sights Unseen

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Sarah Owen: Thanks for joining the chat today. We'll go ahead and start the chat
Sarah Owen: We're discussing 'Sights Unseen' by Kaye Gibbons,the second book in our series on Southern women storytellers
Sarah Owen: If you have any questions or comments, please submit them in the box below.
C-Dogg: How did you feel about the way mental illness was presented in this novel? Did it seem like a realistic portrayal.
Sarah Owen: I think the way Ms. Gibbons presented it said more about the time the book is set in.
Sarah Owen: There were limited options -- what treatment she could have and the isolating nature of being in a family with a member who has a mental illness.
Sarah Owen: Did anyone else have any thoughts on that?
Sarah Owen: Anyone have any thoughts on how the story was would be different than if it had come from the perspective of the mother?
Sherryl James: I think that I would have like to see the inside of the mother's mind.
Sherryl James: Hattie's perspective --a chld's perspective brought humor to most of the incidents. I found myself laughing rather than being upset with Maggie.
Sarah Owen: I wonder if it would have been a help or a hindrance to use some sort of other voice as well.
Sarah Owen: That's true -- do you think it would have been too difficult or heartbreaking to have it from the mother's perspective?
Sherryl James: Definitely, the chaos and confusion she must have felt. Her isolation from the world and her children. It would have been amazing --groundbreaking!
C-Dogg: I ended up with mixed feeling about Mr. Barnes character. Part of me felt sorry for him and part of me kind of hated him. Was I they only one?
Sherryl James: Mr. Barnes made me feel uneasy. What exactly was his relationship with Maggie? Why did he take his anger out on Freddie?
Sarah Owen: He was a complex character... I felt he represented -- in his dealings with Maggie at least -- the way women were seen in the South at the time
Sherryl James: Yes, but this is his son's wife. I thought his behavior towards Maggie was inappropriate--especially in the 1960s in the south.
Sarah Owen: He was behind the curve for women's rights, not allowing his wife to vote, making racist remarks about Pearl... He treated Maggie like a child -- much like Wollstonecraft's Vindication on the rights of Women argued against, and that was the century before.
Sarah Owen: But Gibbons does write that Maggie was the dynamic personality that his wife never had -- but I didn't figure out where he was coming from exactly as a character. What do you think?
Sherryl James: I got the impression that others thought he was too close to her and that his behavior was not appropriate. Ms. Menefree and Ms. Woodward definitely thought he was too close.
Sherryl James: Once Ms. Woodward came into the picture he could no longer buy her nightgowns --he had to send flowers to the hospital.
Sarah Owen: Dicussing the book earlier, someone mentioned that he was an 'enabler,' indulging her manic sprees
Sarah Owen: How do you think that Hattie's reactions -- or lack of-- to her mother effected Maggie?
Sarah Owen: She talks about passing in the hallway like strangers, her mother's rare touches, and so much being unsaid between the two of them.
Sherryl James: Hattie is amazed that she and he brother turned out so well. I am amazed that they did also in this story. It says a great deal about unconditional love between a mother and daughter.
Sherryl James: I think this illness may have made both of them stronger. They had to learn to cope and accept and find their own way.
Sarah Owen: That's true. Freddy funneled his energy into academic drive and pretty much emotionally isolating himself.
Sherryl James: I am fascinated by Freddie and his means of coping--anyone else?
C-Dogg: I loved Hattie's 'unique' descriptions of Uncle Lawrence and Aunt Menefree.
Sarah Owen: They weren't very involved in Hattie and Freddy's lives
Sarah Owen: Which I would expect more from family members
Sherryl James: Yes, Aunt Menefree a women that would drive a man to another woman. And Freddie he looked like a man that never got to go anywhere. Henpecked by a fussy overbearing woman.
Connor Threlkeld: I understand the author, Kaye Gibbons, wrote the book while dealing with her own misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder. How do you think those circumstances influenced her writing of the mother character, Maggie? How might it have been different if she had never gone through that experience?
Sherryl James: Yes, why didn't Aunt Menefree help out with Freddie and Hattie?
Sherryl James: I think her illness gave he great insight into the mind of the character. We would I think be convince that Maggie is mental ill without Kaye's background.
Sherryl James: Kaye Gibbons has had a very interesting life.
Sarah Owen: Since Gibbons has daughters, I wonder if that experience helped her understand her own impact on her family.
C-Dogg: Maybe indirectly she did help Hattie. I am guessing that her actions helped shape Hattie's views on relationships. Hattie was a guide for what not to do.
Sherryl James: I read an interesting article about the chaos in her own home when she is manic and writing.
Sarah Owen: Oh really? what did it say?
Sarah Owen: And I think she did help Hattie in that way, but Hattie already has such clear ideas on what mothers should do even as a young girl
C-Dogg: Was she really manic? I read somewhere that she was misdiagnosed.
Sherryl James: Kaye calls it her hypo-manic stage--just before she goes fully manic. She stays up for days writing on long yellow legal paper. She tapes these to every surface in her kitchen and the family wakes to find her in this state drink coffee and drained.
Sarah Owen: That's so interesting.
Sarah Owen: As for misdiagnosis, I've read about her struggles with her illness -- she'll often claim she's cured
Sherryl James: Yes, I read on-line that she had been misdiagnosed also, but then looked at a literature resource guide that she goes off and on her medication.
Sarah Owen: But often, mental illness is linked to creativity. Especially since you mention her hypo-manic phase, do you think she could produce works such as this if she'd never had the illness?
Sherryl James: I think Kaye Gibbons is very much the mother and perhaps the daughter in this story.
C-Dogg: I think Poe was the same way, he suffered with depression all his life
Kim Luciani: Seems like the book could be about her and her hopes of how her daughter's will cope with her illness.
Sherryl James: Her illness probably does heighten her creative abilities.
Sarah Owen: has anyone read any other works by her? Ellen Foster, maybe?
Sherryl James: Yes, it could be her persception of how they view her.
Sherryl James: I definitely will be reading Ellen Foster after reading Sight Unseen.
C-Dogg: This was my first "Gibbons Experience"
Sarah Owen: I'd definitely like to read Ellen Foster as well.
Sarah Owen: She published her first book so young.
Sarah Owen: How do you all think she had a Southern woman's voice in this book?
Sherryl James: Ellen Foster is her first I believe and her most celebrated. I believe she was 27.
Kim Luciani: I read A Virtuous Woman several years ago. Great read!
Sherryl James: The book has all the trappings of the southern novel. The small town where everyone knows everything --about everybody--but we must remain proper and prim.
Sarah Owen: Haha, good description.
Sherryl James: I love the line "The Barnes woman with all the problems." In the North the neighbors would have called her the crazy Barnes woman.
Sarah Owen: A very Southern way to say it!
Sarah Owen: Does anyone have any questions or comments before we wrap it up?
C-Dogg: No but I enjoyed it. Thanks everyone.
Sherryl James: Hope to see you all at the Book Discussion on Nov. 16th.
Sarah Owen: Thanks to the community outreach librarian Sherryl James and everyone else for chatting
Sarah Owen: As a reminder, the book club will meet Nov. 16. at the Friedman Branch Library, 1447 Jackson Road in Augusta at 6:30 p.m. for an open discussion about the entire book.
Sarah Owen: Light refreshments will be provided and the meeting is expected to last until 8 p.m.


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