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formergothardite

American Elsewhere Discussion

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Meh
formergothardite

@CTRLZero mentioned the book American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett in the strange books thread and I decided to pick it up from the library. 

This is a book that needs to be discussed, even if it is just me and @CTRLZero:lol:

I'm on page 205 of it, it is 662 pages, so this is a huge book. I have no idea where this is book is going. I'm enjoying it a great deal and I find myself wanting to just sit and read it instead of doing things I need to be doing, but I'm confused about what direction this book is heading. 

My guess at the moment:

Spoiler

Aliens. Aliens were sent to Earth for some reason and some of them can blend in, but some can't. I'm not sure how they convinced the town to accept them, maybe they always make it perfect. But they brought an evil alien along on accident and he is making things a whole lot less perfect. The government lab was to study the aliens and somehow Mona's mother formed a connection to the aliens and that is why she went insane when she left and why thing went crazy when she killed herself. Mona's mother passed the connection to the aliens down to her somehow and that is why Mona could see them when they took her at night and why she could get a brief glimpse of the crazy stuff in Mrs. Benjamin's tea closet. 

 CTRLZero am I on the right track? 

Anyone else read the book or want to read the book? 

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CTRLZero

Just a note that I am reading through the book again to appreciate all the clues the author provides (and I totally missed the first time).  I'll try not to reveal any major plot twists (except under spoiler drop down).

I'm glad you are enjoying it.  Since you mentioned the book House of Leaves (which I plan to buy), I thought you might appreciate the weirdness of the "room...it just seemed to keep going..." right from opening chapter.  In re-reading the book, I am appreciating the details that I missed the first time around.  For example, the songs are meaningful once you realize it is a town somewhat stuck in time (or is it?!?).

Mona's mission is to go to Wink and "find out what her mother was doing there and what turned her into the weeping wreck of a human being Mona knew."   It takes a little effort to find the town, since it isn't referenced on any maps, but Mona is determined to figure it out -- I like that Mona goes from indifferent to determined.  I looked at a map, and there is a Jemez Mountains outside of Los Alamos, so it was fun to try to figure out the approximate location.

So, as far as being on the right track that a reader should pay attention (like the opening page said!) to Mona's mother's role in the story, you are may be very somewhat close!  There are a lot of sub-plots, but they all work together pretty well.

 

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Meh
formergothardite
5 hours ago, CTRLZero said:

So, as far as being on the right track that a reader should pay attention (like the opening page said!)

Clearly I haven't been paying enough attention because I had to flip back to see that it says in HUGE letters PAY ATTENTION!

I noticed that songs have been mentioned a lot, but haven't paid too close attention. I think I will for sure have to read this book twice. 

Right now I'm at the part where she is

Spoiler

walking through the valley with the key looking for the door. I found the part where they tossed the body of the man over and the guy looked back and saw bunches of bodies dressed in the same way including a child creepy. 

 

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CTRLZero
13 minutes ago, formergothardite said:

I think I will for sure have to read this book twice. 

It's really worth it to go through it again, because I'm appreciating the dialogue, etc., now that I know each person's role through to the end of the book. 

I'm re-reading the part where they introduce the character Bolan.  I'm putting a question under spoiler, mostly as a reminder to me, because this comes up later in the book. You may be getting to it about now.  It's about heroin (chapter 6).

Spoiler

"Even today, Bolan is not sure where the heroin comes from."  So, later we discover where the heroin is manufactured.  Is this how the town of Wink generates the revenue to keep going?  I don't think this is explained, but I'm just putting this scenario together now that it occurs to me.

 

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CTRLZero

As I'm reading through again, I'm taking more time to appreciate how the town of Wink is "great" and who would ever want to leave (chapter 13).  Sprinkled through the chapters, though, are references to unsettling rules like the lab (Coburn) must never be mentioned (even though the logos are all over the town), and if thought of, must be forgotten.  Also the punishment of Norris because he doesn't fit the norm.

Here is a plot twist that I now see in retrospect.  It has to do with Bolan and the ticker tape machine (chapter 16):
 

Spoiler

 

The machine is asking about Mona and the search for her mother.  "She's talked to a couple of people in town about it.  That broad at the courthouse, the one you hate, for one."

So...I had been confused about who was communicating to Bolan through the machine.  Now I see that Mrs. Benjamin has an enemy, but it's not yet clear if the enemy is inside or outside of Wink.  And why are the woods so weird and dangerous?  Who are these people (or aliens, or...)? 

 

PS:  There's that "Pay Attention" warning again, lol!

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Meh
formergothardite
Spoiler

The part about the woman standing there till her feet bled watching her husband because that is what "good" wives did made me think of the fundie culture. That whole chapter did. All these people are sticking to rules and doing things that they have been told will make them happy, but deep down they are miserable. They keep having to convince themselves they are happy. The top two people who died might have enjoyed the life and that is why they pushed for it, but many of the rest of them were miserable. They stuck to all these ridiculous routines and rules because they had been told that is what would make them happy. 

I haven't finished the book so this might be answered, but I wonder how much choice the town people had in accepting the rules. They said they agreed to obey the rules and in return they got a "perfect" town, but did they really have the option to tell these things no?

Mr. First's relationship with the teen girl was creepy as fuck. He groomed her from the time she was baby and it make it seem like he made the relationship sexual.

 

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CTRLZero

Yes!  Isn't that the most amazing chapter?  If you take a look at my American Elsewhere post in the "Strange Book" thread, you'll see I had almost exactly that take on that episode.  I likened the lemonade scene to that certain "adoring gaze" Michelle gives JB.

When you are done reading, I want to discuss:

Spoiler

Mona's earlier car accident and the sad outcome.  I'm reading through to see if I missed something, because I was surprised at the end.  It was probably my fault for not "paying attention" - ha!

 

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Meh
formergothardite

The book seems to almost be a commentary on how people think stuff or rules will make them happy and those things never will. 

Spoiler

The poor guy trapped in the alternative universe surviving on awful fruit seems to have been forgotten after he helped Mona figure out what was going on. He was so crushed to find out he had been there for over 30 years and the whole lab was abandoned. Was he sucked in when the lightening came? 

 

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Meh
formergothardite
12 hours ago, CTRLZero said:

 

When you are done reading, I want to discuss:

  Reveal hidden contents

Mona's earlier car accident and the sad outcome.  I'm reading through to see if I missed something, because I was surprised at the end.  It was probably my fault for not "paying attention" - ha!

 

Spoiler

Do you think that Mother caused the accident to make sure Mona came to Wink? In the alternative timeline she was happy and would have been less likely to search after a town that was on no map. 

Did Mother cause Mona's father's death? It kind of seemed like it was hinted that there was something weird with the timing of his death and the things going on in Wink.

I was rather shocked at the end where the entire town died in such a brutal way. 

 

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CTRLZero
12 hours ago, formergothardite said:

The book seems to almost be a commentary on how people think stuff or rules will make them happy and those things never will. 

One of the reasons I liked this book is that it has a little more substance than the sci fi schlock I typically read.  The author takes time to explain some of his views on life (I don't know if this is directed more at a young adult audience, but I appreciated having it spelled out).  For example, after Dord picks up the dead guy and is freaking out, Zimmerman discusses the "ladder" and how corporations (or society/government) are structured.  "...everyone on the ladder has agreed to it.  Because it's easier that way. ...  so this guy riding high on the chain gets to say how things are and how they aren't..."  (Chapter 24)  This part and others reminded me of the Trump administration and the pervasiveness of a lack of critical thinking and/or a willingness to blindly follow a chain of leaders.

I am currently re-reading Mona's meeting with Dr. Coburn (alt. universe), so I'll make some comments on that later.

In other randomness, the white security towers reminded me of the fence in the series Lost.

And it is much easier to understand the fable of the birds now that I've finished the book and am going back over the whole story.

Stay tuned for more comments.  :smile:

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CTRLZero

On the topic of Gracie and Mr. First, which relates to your question on choice:

In Chapter 28, Gracie really indicts her parents and the town for what has happened to her.  Some quotes:
 

Spoiler

 

"Gracie is convinced her parents did not do anything at all:  she is sure they cowered in their bed in the dark, afraid to provoke those who secretly maintain Wink...

"Because over the past year Gracie has come to realize that there is a bright, vicious little coal of hate smoldering...They have traded the happiness and well-being of their families...

"What control they think they have is all illusion.  At any time one of Them could come walking into their houses, and they could do nothing about it.  Just like her.  Just the way it happened to her.

Flee Gracie, Flee!  But of course, she can't.  This does remind me of the fundie culture we examine at FJ.  Definitely grooming.

 

 

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CTRLZero

I'm sometimes slow to put things together, like the ticker tape messages and the leftover letters from the wind storm are

Spoiler

both generated by Mr. First

Now I'm reading about Dr. Coburn.  I don't have much to add from what you deduced, but a couple minor things:

Spoiler

Bonnie's visions when she's picking up the skulls are of Dr. Coburn wandering in his time-compressed, bleak landscape.  She sees the tree with rotting fruit (caused by "bruising"?).  I think he was captured when the two universes overlapped, and the lightning storm was a byproduct of the merging.  That's a guess.  Is he not mentioned again?  Poor guy.  It might have been better if Mona hadn't told him about how much time had actually passed.

On another note, I'm enjoying going through the book and writing a few thoughts, even though it's just the two of us.  I tend to re-read books I've enjoyed, so it's nice to have this conversation for posterity.  I wouldn't mind doing this again sometime.  Maybe with a book that's more popular so more people join in.  Thanks for joining me in reading this book!

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Meh
formergothardite
On 12/7/2017 at 4:08 PM, CTRLZero said:

like the ticker tape messages

I will have to go back and read it again, but I thought this was generated by 
 

Spoiler

The youngest one, the one who had figured out how to kill the others. He said something about how none of the others had ever bothered to see if they could go out to the Roadhouse. 

 

Spoiler

Mother/Her reminded me of Jill Rod. and some of the other fundie mothers. She just collected children and viewed them as objects she owned. The way she treated the oldest as a group who got more attention is what really brought to mind Jill Rod. 

 

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CTRLZero

I probably put two and two together and got five!  I was assuming the same person who generated the message via windstorm was the same person who ran the ticker tape machine, since Gracie said he always used awkward communication styles.  But then Mrs. Benjamin keeps asking "who are you," so I believe you are right.  Even though Mr. First was metaphorically pushed out of the nest (rejected), she would know who he is. 

It's interesting that we are finding parallels to our fundie families as we read through the book (the FJ influence). 

Spoiler

I'm reading through the last third of the book now to try to piece together the tale of the baby.  I was really confused on that point, too.

My order of House of Leaves should arrive in a few days.  Looking forward to another mind-altering experience, lol!

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Meh
formergothardite
Spoiler

The baby part is very confusing. So this was the baby from an alternative timeline, but why did they need so much blood? It seemed like when they sent her back they just walked into the timeline and put her in the crib. Was Mother going to exist as a baby? I don't quiet understand what the plan with the baby was. 

Another question was how did Mother set up the white poles that kept them all trapped? And why was the real oldest one kept as a prisoner with bunches of rabbit skulls? Mother didn't seem to realize he had come, so who trapped him? 

 

Edited by formergothardite

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AnywhereButHere

I finally got around to picking this up at my library, so I just finished chapter 10. I'm trying not to read spoilers here which is very hard for me. I love spoilers, but I have a feeling they would confuse more than help with this book. Just looked at some. Yup - I was right. :pb_biggrin:

With all of the mention about Coburn messing with quantum physics, there has to be some sort of time issue. No one yet seems to remember Mona's mother, and Mrs. Benjamin says she can remember way back but maybe not that far back, but you'd think she could remember the 70's (although with her "tea" - maybe not...). Anyway - really looking forward to the rest of the book!

 

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