Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Five Skies - April's Book Discussion Title

The Thursday Evening Book Group discussed the Reading Across Rhode Island selection for 2009 at their latest meeting. Ron Carlson’s novel Five Skies was chosen this year for the project, which aims to get everyone in the state reading the same book. This story of three men working on a construction project to build a daredevil’s ramp over a gorge in Idaho is a study in characterization, setting, relationships, male psychology, loss, and redemption.

Darwin is a man who recently lost a wife, he is the cook and foreman of the project. Arthur is a big burly guy who is AWOL from his previous life and also mourning the loss of his brother. Ronnie is a younger man who is struggling to find direction after years of bad judgment and some jail time.

Members liked the slow revealing of the characters’ backgrounds, the great descriptions of the physical surroundings, the gradual bonding of the men. Our group is all women at this time, and most of us had trouble with the mechanics of the work. Some questioned whether the author was correct in his depictions of the carpentry and engineering behind the building of the ramp; others were completely unfamiliar with the tools and equipment, making it difficult to get the full sense of what the men were accomplishing.

We discussed this as a “man’s book” that women could still like, due to the sensitive portrayals of the men. Men often don’t speak of feelings, but this book showed how men can relate to other men. Members saw a special fondness for Ronnie exhibited by the two older men. Readers rooted for Ronnie to overcome his obstacles, and were touched by the sense of responsibility for him that the older men exhibited. One reader suggested that a way of looking at the story, is that the building up of Ronnie was for the older men, the healing balm for their own losses, as the building of the ramp and learning the work, was the healing catalyst for Ronnie.

Short of giving away the ending, let’s just say, all were stunned by the final pages, yet somehow redemption and dealing with loss does lead to a resolution for the characters. The big sky, in all its renditions, remains as a powerful force. PL



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