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An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg April 1, 2006

Posted by pvccbookclub in Current Discussion.

April's book club selection is An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg. This
book is the OneBookAZ community reading selection for April.

There will be many book discussions on An Unfinished Life all across Arizona during the month of April. Visit the OneBookAZ homepage to find out where they will be occuring. We will have two live discussions of this book at the PVCC Library. Please, join us either Monday, April 17th from 10:30 am – 12:00 pm or Wednesday April 19th from 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm.

Jean Gilkyson has run out of options. She must run away from her
latest abusive boyfriend and keep her daughter, Griff out of harm's
way. The only place she can go to is the home Einar Gilkyson, her
father-in-law, and the man who blames her for his son's death. Einar
lives with his best friend, a black, disabled cowboy named Mitch. Mitch
and Griff play a central role in healing the chasm that separates Jean
and Einar. But this reconciliation comes at a great cost.

Questions to consider for discussion:

Why is Einar so upset when he finds Jean trying on some of his deceased wife's clothing one night?

How is Griff like her father? How is her relationship with Einar different from her father's?

Why is it important to the story that Mitch is black?

Describe Griff's relationship with her mother. How does Jean's guilt and grief shape her relationship with Griff and with Einar?

If you could choose the reading selection for OneBookAZ or a similar
community-wide book discussion, what would you choose and why?



1. Paula - April 2, 2006

Just a heads up! The author of “An Unfinished Life” Mark Spragg, will be at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ on April 4th at noon. Here’s the address if you are interested in going:

Changing Hands
6428 S. McClintock Dr.
Tempe, AZ 85283
SW Corner McClintock & Guadalupe

Have fun!

2. chica - April 14, 2006

I think it is so sad when Einar admits that he has in the past come up to the loft to dance with his dead wife’s dress. It shows a tenderness about him that we don’t get to see much of. Later when Nina tells Jean “It’s harder to lose a child, give him that,” also speaks to how much Einar has truly lost. How much he has to gain by accepting Jean and Griff into his life.

3. Kathryn - April 17, 2006 - April 18, 2006

I felt it was a wonderful book – sad and happy at the same time. I thought the characters were well written and I truly felt I knew them. I was glad to see that Griff was able to break Einar’s “barrier” and be able to get to know him. Jean was so troubled but, at the end, I felt she would find true happiness in her home town.

4. Paula - April 21, 2006

Hi Kathryn,

I agree this was a hopeful and enjoyable read. I was surprised at how much I empathized with characters like Einar and Mitch who are so different from me. Griff was such an admirable character. What an amazingly strong and perceptive little girl!

5. iscreamkid - April 21, 2006

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story told in a compelling fashion. I do not believe that Griff could have remembered all four of her mother’s lovers. As I do the math, at four men with one and a half year relationship apiece, the character is claiming to remember events that occurred at age one and a half years and again at age three. What child however precocious would recall events in someone else’s life at that age? Griff is even supposedly able to judge that the men were being verbally cruel to their mother? Otherwise I would count Griff a wonderful, if very disturbed little girl.

6. JennieD - April 22, 2006

One of my friends just read this book and said she was surprised she enjoyed it so much because she doesn’t normally like books about “boys”. She thought the central characters were Einar/Mitch … whereas I believed that Griff and Jean were equal in centrality. The somber tone of the book seemed to mellow throughout, which matched Einar’s heart a little (corny I know).

7. pvccbookclub - April 22, 2006

This book left me with so many questions: How did Ella die? What was her relationship like with Mitch? What was Jean like as a child? What were her parents like? What made her and Griffin leave their hometown in the first place? Why did Mitch never find a wife of his own? I don’t mind not having the answers, but it makes me wish that there will be a sequel, so that we can spend some more time with these characters.

8. JennieD - April 22, 2006

I have to say I prefer a book like this that leaves me wanting more, rather than suffering through a million pages feeling quite tired of the characters (and yes, I’m talking about you John Irving). So while this was spare it was still satisfying .

9. Shelle - April 24, 2006

I don’t mind that there are questions remaining. Perhaps that’s a great tie-in with the title: an Unfinished Life. Our lives are always unfinished until we reach our end. What questions might an outside observer have have about our own lives that may never be answered? Much is left to our imaginations, which I think helps the characters live on within us.

What I loved most about this book is the almost palpable sense I had of the relationships amongst the characters. Mitch and Einar’s, Jean and Einar’s, Jean and Griff’s, Griff and Einar. Each is woven into a beautifully rendered novel. Perhaps these relationships add up to a “finished life?”

10. JennieD - April 25, 2006

I also enjoyed trying to piece together a bit of who Griffin had been, by who these people became in his absence.

11. Elizabeth Saliba - April 25, 2006

Great comments so far, everyone. The one thing that stuck out for me is that Mitch is black and yet he and Einar are so close. I have been to those areas of the country (Wyoming and Montana) where people of color are the exception and not the rule and actually seem out of context . So Mitch and Einar seemed odd to have the kind of relationship which I thought in the time period to be innacurately portrayed. But then I heard the author speak about his work. He described how ranch culture is such that elements such as race, religion, etc. really didn’t matter as much as the comraderie that forms amongst those working. He also said that many of these working cowboys read extensively, and quality works (although their education was limited). So, I guess the relationship is not contrived.

12. pvccbookclub - April 25, 2006

I agree, Elizabeth. I believe that their experience during the Korean War shaped their friendship in such a way, that no racist social mores would prevent them from being friends. Einar says that Mitch saved his life more than once, and so he owes Mitch his friendship, solidarity and more. They both were too strong and proud to let anyone else dictate the terms of their relationship.

13. litlove - April 26, 2006

Hi! I love your blog and wish there were more out there dealing with books. It’s lovely to hear people discussing novels so interestingly. I’m a lecturer at a UK university keeping my own blog that deals a lot with literature, and on Sundays I pick a topic and choose several novels that fit it to recommend to other readers. Please feel free to visit if you’d like to: http://litlove.wordpress.com
And keep enjoying the reading!

14. JennieD - April 27, 2006

I also wondered (and may have just missed it in the book) how Mitch ended up in Wyoming. I grew up in Montana, and as Elizabeth mentioned above, there are very very very very few African-Americans there. Was Mitch from that part of the country? Did he follow Einar home after the war? Why did he stay? I thought from some of his comments that he may have had feelings for Einar’s wife, but that wasn’t ever fleshed out. Was his life “unfinished” at all because he didn’t have a family of his own?

15. Dixie Klatt - April 27, 2006

I liked the scene between Jean and Nina, Jean’s employer at the restaurant. It is so small town that they become close friends and nurture each other. Nina’s tragic experience with her child’s drowning helps her to understand Einer’s anger and since of loss. Nina places the blame on herself for the drowning and it never really goes away. The women are able to mix marguaritas and jokes along with some serious soul searching. I like the authors blending of the serious and funny along with the small town nurturing that is woven throughout the story.

16. Alayne - May 6, 2006

Thanks for the great discussion.

I agree with Shelle’s comments about the importance of the sparse details surrounding all the characters. Spragg did an excellent job in portraying real life relationships. Isn’t it true that we can live side by side someone and still not know them that well?

I liked that the book portrayed the rich inner lives of the characters rather than big events. I was grateful that Spragg didn’t write in details about Jean getting beat up by Roy; nonetheless, we can easily imagine poor Griff’s sad reality as she had to listen to these events in the trailer. The book had big drama in its character development without being “dramatic.” I kept expecting Roy or Mitch or Einar to die and I was happy that the author didn’t end the novel with such a big bang.

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