Summary and book reviews of Disobedience by Jane Hamilton

Disobedience

By Jane Hamilton

Disobedience
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2000,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2001,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

From Jane Hamilton, author of the beloved New York Times bestsellers A Map of the World and The Book of Ruth, comes a warmly humorous, poignant novel about a young man, his mother's e-mail, and the often surprising path of infidelity.

Henry Shaw, a high school senior, is about as comfortable with his family as any seventeen-year-old can be. His father, Kevin, teaches history with a decidedly socialist tinge at the Chicago private school Henry and his sister attend. His mother, Beth, who plays the piano in a group specializing in antique music, is a loving, attentive wife and parent. Henry even accepts the offbeat behavior of his thirteen-year-old sister, Elvira, who is obsessed with Civil War reenactments and insists on dressing in handmade Union uniforms at inopportune times.

When he stumbles on his mother's e-mail account, however, Henry realizes that all is not as it seems. There, under the name Liza38, a name that Henry innocently established for her, is undeniable evidence that his mother is having an affair with one Richard Polloco, a violin maker and unlikely paramour who nonetheless has a very appealing way with words and a romantic spirit that, in Henry's estimation, his own father woefully lacks.

Against his better judgment, Henry charts the progress of his mother's infatuation, her feelings of euphoria, of guilt, and of profound, touching confusion. His knowledge of Beth's secret life colors his own tentative explorations of love and sex with the ephemeral Lily, and casts a new light on the arguments - usually focused on Elvira - in which his parents regularly indulge. Over the course of his final year of high school, Henry observes each member of the family, trying to anticipate when they will find out about the infidelity and what the knowledge will mean to each of them.

Henry's observations, set down ten years after that fateful year, are much more than the "old story" of adultery his mother deemed her affair to be. With her inimitable grace and compassion, Jane Hamilton has created a novel full of gentle humor and rich insights into the nature of love and the deep, mysterious bonds that hold families together.

Chapter One

Reading someone else's e-mail is a quiet, clean enterprise. There is no pitter-pattering around the room, no opening and closing the desk drawers, no percussive creasing as you draw the paper from the envelope and unfold it. There is no sound but the melody of the dial-up, the purity of the following Gregorian tones, and the sweet nihilistic measure of static. The brief elemental vibration that means contact. And then nothing. No smudge of ink, no greasy thumbprint left behind. In and out of the files, no trace. It could be the work of a ghost, this electronic eavesdropping.

I was the boy in the family and therefore, statistically, the person most likely to seize upon the computer culture, the child to wire the household, tune it into our century, keep the two systems, one for me, the other for the rest of the Shaws, up and running. Elvira, my sister, was detail oriented and analytical and could have easily outdistanced me if only she'd had the desire. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About The Reader's Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Jane Hamilton's Disobedience, a novel that offers a fresh look at the age-old problems of love and betrayal, the hard lessons of history, and the fragility and strength of family life.


About This Book

When seventeen-year-old Henry Shaw inadvertently logs onto his mother's e-mail account, he discovers a secret that turns his previously stable sense of his family--and of himself--inside out. Mrs. Shaw is having an affair with Richard Polloco, a Ukrainian violin maker whose poetic messages and romantic lifestyle seem to offer an intensity ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
New York Times

...lovely, resonant...there will be much to discuss about the haunting if arbitrary way that Ms. Hamilton makes past and present, love and war, loyalty and treachery all intersect.

Library Journal

This warm, wise, and often very funny book is a worthy successor to the acclaimed Map of the World and is recommended for all fiction collections.

Kirkus Reviews

The mysteries at the core of an adolescent boy's being are placed in a tender, precious light in Hamilton's latest triumph which also poignantly portrays a mother torn between a lover's embrace and the family she's long called her own.

Publisher's Weekly

In a miracle of empathy, Hamilton manages to grant psychological validity to all the members of this ordinary-seeming but emotionally distracted family, and to strike the reader's heart with her tender evocation of both human fallibility and our ability to recover from heartbreaking choices.

Reader Reviews
Lacey, Librarian

This book is awful!
I chose this for a bookclub read and was very disappointed. I had to force myself to finish it. The author, a woman, does a poor job of writing from a 17 year old boy's perspective. The writing is slow paced and disjointed. We spent the entire ...   Read More

Linda

This was a riviting read - I could relate to it completely - I could not put it down. When, like I have, moved around alot, email is my touchstone to the rest of the world: my friends. I would rather my car break down or my phone go off-line than ...   Read More

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