(I didn’t see a thread already started for Safekeeping so I just figured I’d make a new post? Hopefully that works.)

Throughout Safekeeping Thomas masterfully incorporates both dialogue and inner monologue with varying degrees of quotation marks, paragraph indents and speaker tags. Most obviously are the sections where Thomas is speaking with her sister, dropping both punctuation and speaker tags at various points, giving the conversations and informal “standing in the kitchen” feeling. One of her more extreme examples comes in the section “Bluefish and Her Father,” writing: “Come out of there, everybody screamed, it’s a school of blue-fish! They’re feeding!” (96) I enjoy the way dialogue without quotations or indents allows the reader’s eye to travel across the page faster and the conversational tone. I am fascinated by Thomas’s mastery of this element of writing, because it often confounds me in my own writing, especially when dealing with speaker tags and punctuation other than a period.

However, I could not determine if Thomas had a pattern or method to her decision on when to use quotation marks or not. One question I’d like to pose is regarding the rules or techniques (if there are any) regarding punctuation and/or speaker tags around dialogue.

Both Brevity’s nonfiction blog, and American Literary Review note that Safekeeping has a poetic feel to it and one-way Thomas does this effectively is by telling a secondary story through short sentences. For example, in the section “Unfamiliar” Thomas uses short sentences such as “he didn’t knock,” “it was past midnight,” “he was in a furious rage,” “he was nineteen,” and “I felt bad,” giving more insight into her relationship with her first husband by implying he was prone to angry outbursts. In “Coming Home Tomorrow”, it’s short sentences like “she looked at him again,” “he was losing ground,” “she didn’t know,” “he tried to smile,” and “it was over” that sum her second husband’s cancer battle. In both cases, the short sentences offer a poetic element and reminded me of poems from A Sand Opera by Phillip Meters. This is especially true in “Coming Home Tomorrow” where Thomas repeats the line about her husband not being able to raise his arm or sit up at the beginning and end of the section. I also like the idea of “hiding” a deeper meaning behind a surface level one that requires the reader to find it.

Finally, I was taken with Thomas’s use of repetition. Not only that, but the repetition of things three times. Thomas was married three times. The number three holds a lot of significance for her. In “Married Men” Thomas and her sister talk about her eating her cake three times. Thomas and her third husband go on three dates before they’re married. Her third husband doubts her about a rocking chair three times. Thomas ends “Weather” and “What Goes through the Mind While Stripping the Meat from the Bone” with three short sentences and will often repeat phrases in sentences three times. I thought the repetition of things in threes was effective through the book and I am curious about the idea. I’m interested in exploring the idea of if there is a number (or I suppose an object) that holds significance for an author how to carry it through a work through repetition.

***

This is not part of my official blog, but I wanted to point it out. Of course, one of the first things that stood out to me (and which I am envious of) is Thomas’s ability to switch between points of view throughout Safekeeping. The one NY Times review Ifound of Safekeeping by Nora Krug argues that the POV switch makes Thomas’s character too elusive. I tend to disagree, I don’t think it made Thomas too elusive because for me at least it was always clear (except for maybe one or too very brief spots) that Thomas was talking about herself. In an interview with American Literary Review, Thomas mentions that she was trying to paint a portrait of her life no matter how messy. I like reflections that are more ambiguous and focused on trying to capture the feeling or essence of someone rather than trying to pin something concrete down. Thomas also mentions in this interview that she used different points of view because she didn’t want to paint herself as either a saint or a victim, and I think she ends up accomplishing this goal, not only for herself but also all of her husbands.

I am interested in what everyone else thought on how effective they thought the different points of view were in Safekeeping.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Jess Miles Response to Safekeeping

  1. I initially assumed that this book would focus on Thomas’s relationship with her second husband, but Safekeeping stretches beyond this realm. It explores many different kinds of relationships, which I appreciated. I found that Thomas’s pieces about her younger self really added to my idea of her character as well as the trajectory that lead her to her second husband and to caring for him as his health declined.

    One thing that stood out to me about this book was the way Thomas shifted between first and third person.

    Perhaps using third person indicates that the Thomas of the story is a younger, more distant self from the Thomas who is narrating the rest of the pieces. Maybe the use of “she” is meant to take the focus of off Thomas and onto others.
    One of these pieces is “Jimi,” in which Thomas discusses seeing a poster of Jimi Hendrix in her grandson’s room. She now sees Jimi as a man who needs to be cared for instead of the sexy musician from when she was young. She now sees him as a grandmother would. The subject becomes Jimi instead of Thomas and her grandson. This is reflected in Thomas’s use of third person, bringing the focus onto what she would say to Jimi Hendrix if she had the chance (25).

    Another time where Thomas uses third person effectively is “‘Hey Jude.’” Here, Thomas conveys the distance between the past and the present through her use of second person. She writes about a time in her life that, given all that has happened, feels like it was experienced by another self. Thomas highlights this distance, “The music made her cry then; it makes her cry now. Listening to it now brings back memories so sharp they taste like blood in her mouth” (41). This passage is particularly interesting because while using “she,” Thomas still connects this past self to her current life. The messages here conflict, the distance overlaps. This use of third person also indicates that pain may be a factor for Thomas. Thomas writes, “As if youth were a limb that had tormented her, and its phantom remains, and she can still feel it aching, and she misses it because it was her own” (41). This memory is still, in some ways, present. Maybe Thomas uses third person here to heighten the distance, to try to push the pain away. Or maybe she refers to herself as “she” to indicate that this version of herself is haunting her as if “she” had another, separate life.

    These moments are contrasted by the ones which Thomas brings into focus through first person. The final piece in the book, “What the Moment Can Hold” opens with Thomas recounting feeling distant after the birth of her granddaughter. She struggles to contribute and find her place in her daughter’s family while wanting to help. The subject of this piece is distance, it is a feeling of displacement and uncertainty, but Thomas keeps it in first person. We see why as the piece closes and Thomas brings us into the moment with her. She describes the way her newborn granddaughter reacts to water as if she has reentered the womb. There, Thomas describes being reunited with her daughter, despite the tension that had been weighing on them, “We don’t speak, but my daughter touches my arm as we realize what we are looking at, what the two of us are being shown. The is the face of the unborn child” (179).
    Thomas describes this moment in first person because it brings her into the present. It pulls her out of the tension and makes her realize how connected she is to her daughter and granddaughter. It is important that this moment is in first person because it is important that we are also experiencing this moment through Thomas’s own eyes. There is a beautiful vulnerability between them all as the daughter touches her mother’s arm while holding her own daughter, something that Thomas conveys beautifully and this clarity.

    What I appreciated the most about Safekeeping was Thomas’s honesty and compassion toward her second husband. This man fills a role that we often think of as secondary. Their marriage ended, so why should Thomas feel obligated to help her former husband? She might not have to, but Thomas is honest about her grief and feeling of responsibility. In telling this story, she reveals the way that people cannot be unwoven from our lives. This isn’t a relationship I’ve ever seen depicted in literature, or anywhere, before. I admire the way that Thomas is so upfront about her conflicting feelings about the man her second husband was while also honoring his role in her life. There is a preciousness to the way she talks about their first meal after being married, the secret they share in “I Ate There Once.” Thomas notes the continued intimate communication she had with her second husband, “They have their own secret language. It isn’t secret, but it is their own” (93). Thomas goes on to recount a moment the two of them shared by saying that they had “eaten there once” in reference to their “wedding supper” (94). Both of these moments illustrate the way she loved her second husband long after their marriage ended, the way that she could wish to keep someone safe and love them after their romance is no longer part of their relationship.

    I so admire this complexity, especially in contrast to when Thomas depicts her second husband as harsher, less patient. The piece immediately following “I Ate There Once” does just this. In “Her Second Husband’s Lack of Beliefs,” Thomas describes a moment in which her husband “disabused her” of the idea that he believes in anything. He tells her that a rock pool is just that and “Not God,” while she “did what she could with it just the same.” Here, this husband is less tender. There is a tension there that crops up throughout her stories of him. Through these multiple lenses, readers come to understand what their marriage was like and come to better understand Thomas’s unique grief at his passing.

    I am also very interested in the way Thomas presents herself so complexly. I really enjoyed the moments she shared of being young and promiscuous or when she doubted herself as a young mother. Even “What the Moment Can Hold,” Thomas worries about being worthy of her granddaughter carrying her name. I’d love to know what everyone else thought about how Thomas portrayed herself and the rest of her family, given all of the moments she chose to share and how some are more flattering than others. I’d also like to know what people thought about more meditative pieces, such as “The Mothers of New York” or “Jimi” in contrast to pieces that have more action in them? Also, how did your experience of reading the stories in third person change from the ones that were in first person?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Renee’ Drummond-Brown
    Safekeeping by: Abigail Thomas
    8-12-2018
    Foot Notes* The Beetles-Hey Jude and Dr. Maya Angelou-Phenomenal Woman Poem-
    Google links are at the bottom of page.

    Safekeeping, by Abigail Thomas is a one-of-a-kind autobiography of her intellectual worth. The book cover was striking because the photo of the sealed jar housed (what I believe) a blueprint for safekeeping. The author’s quote on her cover “some true stories from a life” was brilliant in capturing the imagery of those mysterious airtight secrets. Those special touches spoke volume to me and metaphorically pointed to the author preserving her memoirs.

    The author’s book is beautifully crafted with intense prose. Her chapters are very brief and appear somewhat fragmentary, often leaving the reader with more questions than answers and yet, simultaneously, leaving one wanting for more. Her brief passages reflect crucial moments of the many facets in her startling life. Her book epitomizes the meaning behind this anonymous quote “what don’t kill you will make you strong.” She writes with such convictions offering whimsical punchlines to her craft when figuratively pointing to images of clothing, food and numbers throughout the book.

    The authors weaved imagery depicts a game with absolutely no rules of hide and seek metaphors. For example, clothing is used to show status and position. In the chapter “An Issue of Clothes,” Thomas was brilliant in executing the message of the housekeepers’ rank. Thomas writes “Mrs. Gregorette loved to iron. She took a mouthful of water from a glass she kept on the counter and then sprayed it on the clothes. Right out of her mouth! My mother enjoyed this very much, and our horror” (p. 22). Thomas’ voice refrains at the end of the chapter, that laundry was not of importance which further adds a glimpse into her family’s status.

    Food is a nutritious substance that we as humans rely on to maintain our growth, therefore, I believe Thomas uses metaphors relating to food to feed our souls within her message. In the chapter “Apple cake,” Thomas writes “When I was young I gave myself away; it was all I had to offer. But not today. Today I will bake a cake. The cake is not a metaphor” (p.9). The author’s ability to make one savor the moment and hang onto her every word using food was a sheer delight. The confidence in her writings to tell the reader “The cake is not a metaphor” was bold.

    The numbers in Thomas’ writings express a numerical value of concepts that relate to levels of classifications. For example, she writes “Life is so sweet, she thinks, her brain taking up the rhythm of her stride, one two three FOUR, five six seven EIGHT” (p.8). She boldly repeats the number count on the next line which forces the reader hold onto the numbers FOUR and EIGHT. She skillfully capitalizes those two numbers and purposely leaves out the commas in between the other numbers. This mastery skill adds value to the expertise her writings.

    I noticed the author dedicated her writings in this specific manner “For my family, again and again,” she literally used similar repetitions in the beginning of each chapter of the book. For example, page #3, she starts the chapter with the first two sentences echoing one another and skillfully follows suit throughout the veins of her book. The author captures the reader’s attention using personification, craft and style.

    After the proposed dedication, Thomas captures my heart quoting lyrics from one of my favorite songs: Take a sad song and make it better. -THE BEATLES, “Hey Jude.” Once reading the book, it immediately came clear that the Beatles song “Hey Jude” was the blue print behind her book. The lyrics in verse 1, “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad…Take a sad song and make it better…Remember to let her into your heart…Then you can start to make it better.” I believe that Thomas writes from a place of seeing her cup half full rather than viewing it half empty.

    Her positive attitude in the book taught me how to hold onto the moment as a writer when she skillfully penned “Life is so sweet, she thinks, her brain taking up the rhythm of her stride” (p.8). Her quote also made me reflect on a poem, Phenomenal Woman, by Dr. Maya Angelou who wrote: “The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman.” There is something about the confidence in Thomas’ ability as a writer to be able to take her sad situations, pregnant at 18, marrying 3 men during the era in which this was frowned upon and still yet, have the ability to sketch a self-portrait of making herself better as a woman, phenomenally.

    Verse 2 Of the Beetles song “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid…You were made to go out and get her…The minute you let her under your skin…Then you begin to make it better.” The chapter “A Simple Solution” (p. 38) sheds light on humility, simplicity and resolution for outcomes. It reflects during the year 1969, having three children to care for, making $90 a week when the rent was $145.35. Still yet, her life mimics verse 2 of the Beetles lyrics when she wrote “we made do with what we scrounged up.” Although, her middle daughter complains of the days, their mother would stick her dirty feet in the tub with her children. Thomas never complains or let it get under her skin, but rather viewed it from the lens of a child, learned from it and vowed to never make the same mistakes.

    I believe that verse 3, of the Beetles lyrics “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain…Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders…For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool…By making the world a little colder” is the catalyst of the author’s message because it was those crucial moments that formed a pivotal moment in the authors life. While it is important to be nurtured, clothed and fed one’s self worth should never be counted out by others standards.

    https://genius.com/The-beatles-hey-jude-lyrics
    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48985/phenomenal-woman

    I loved this author’s refrains as they related to numbers, however, I would like to know if anyone thought they were a bit over used at times?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fine discussion of issues of craft, Renee! I am happy you brought up the issue of food as I think it’s an important element, and I look forward to discussing. I was also glad to see you looking at her work in the context of class and women’s history.

      Like

  3. Renee’ Drummond-Brown
    Safekeeping by: Abigail Thomas
    8-12-2018
    Foot Notes* The Beetles-Hey Jude and Dr. Maya Angelou-Phenomenal Woman Poem-
    Google links are at the bottom of page.

    Safekeeping, by Abigail Thomas is a one-of-a-kind autobiography of her intellectual worth. The book cover was striking because the photo of the sealed jar housed (what I believe) a blueprint for safekeeping. The author’s quote on her cover “some true stories from a life” was brilliant in capturing the imagery of those mysterious airtight secrets. Those special touches spoke volume to me and metaphorically pointed to the author preserving her memoirs.

    The author’s book is beautifully crafted with intense prose. Her chapters are very brief and appear somewhat fragmentary, often leaving the reader with more questions than answers and yet, simultaneously, leaving one wanting for more. Her brief passages reflect crucial moments of the many facets in her startling life. Her book epitomizes the meaning behind this anonymous quote “what don’t kill you will make you strong.” She writes with such convictions offering whimsical punchlines to her craft when figuratively pointing to images of clothing, food and numbers throughout the book.

    The authors weaved imagery depicts a game with absolutely no rules of hide and seek metaphors. For example, clothing is used to show status and position. In the chapter “An Issue of Clothes,” Thomas was brilliant in executing the message of the housekeepers’ rank. Thomas writes “Mrs. Gregorette loved to iron. She took a mouthful of water from a glass she kept on the counter and then sprayed it on the clothes. Right out of her mouth! My mother enjoyed this very much, and our horror” (p. 22). Thomas’ voice refrains at the end of the chapter, that laundry was not of importance which further adds a glimpse into her family’s status.

    Food is a nutritious substance that we as humans rely on to maintain our growth, therefore, I believe Thomas uses metaphors relating to food to feed our souls within her message. In the chapter “Apple cake,” Thomas writes “When I was young I gave myself away; it was all I had to offer. But not today. Today I will bake a cake. The cake is not a metaphor” (p.9). The author’s ability to make one savor the moment and hang onto her every word using food was a sheer delight. The confidence in her writings to tell the reader “The cake is not a metaphor” was bold.

    The numbers in Thomas’ writings express a numerical value of concepts that relate to levels of classifications. For example, she writes “Life is so sweet, she thinks, her brain taking up the rhythm of her stride, one two three FOUR, five six seven EIGHT” (p.8). She boldly repeats the number count on the next line which forces the reader hold onto the numbers FOUR and EIGHT. She skillfully capitalizes those two numbers and purposely leaves out the commas in between the other numbers. This mastery skill adds value to the expertise her writings.

    I noticed the author dedicated her writings in this specific manner “For my family, again and again,” she literally used similar repetitions in the beginning of each chapter of the book. For example, page #3, she starts the chapter with the first two sentences echoing one another and skillfully follows suit throughout the veins of her book. The author captures the reader’s attention using personification, craft and style.

    After the proposed dedication, Thomas captures my heart quoting lyrics from one of my favorite songs: Take a sad song and make it better. -THE BEATLES, “Hey Jude.” Once reading the book, it immediately came clear that the Beatles song “Hey Jude” was the blue print behind her book. The lyrics in verse 1, “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad…Take a sad song and make it better…Remember to let her into your heart…Then you can start to make it better.” I believe that Thomas writes from a place of seeing her cup half full rather than viewing it half empty.

    Her positive attitude in the book taught me how to hold onto the moment as a writer when she skillfully penned “Life is so sweet, she thinks, her brain taking up the rhythm of her stride” (p.8). Her quote also made me reflect on a poem, Phenomenal Woman, by Dr. Maya Angelou who wrote: “The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman.” There is something about the confidence in Thomas’ ability as a writer to be able to take her sad situations, pregnant at 18, marrying 3 men during the era in which this was frowned upon and still yet, have the ability to sketch a self-portrait of making herself better as a woman, phenomenally.

    Verse 2 Of the Beetles song “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid…You were made to go out and get her…The minute you let her under your skin…Then you begin to make it better.” The chapter “A Simple Solution” (p. 38) sheds light on humility, simplicity and resolution for outcomes. It reflects during the year 1969, having three children to care for, making $90 a week when the rent was $145.35. Still yet, her life mimics verse 2 of the Beetles lyrics when she wrote “we made do with what we scrounged up.” Although, her middle daughter complains of the days, their mother would stick her dirty feet in the tub with her children. Thomas never complains or let it get under her skin, but rather viewed it from the lens of a child, learned from it and vowed to never make the same mistakes.

    I believe that verse 3, of the Beetles lyrics “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain…Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders…For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool…By making the world a little colder” is the catalyst of the author’s message because it was those crucial moments that formed a pivotal moment in the authors life. While it is important to be nurtured, clothed and fed one’s self worth should never be counted out by others standards.

    https://genius.com/The-beatles-hey-jude-lyrics
    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48985/phenomenal-woman

    I loved this author’s refrains as they related to numbers, however, I would like to know if anyone thought they were a bit over used at times?

    Like

  4. I found it difficult to fully invest in Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping, with a narrative arc that seemed non-existent. While the book is organized into three sections, this is misleading since there doesn’t seem to be any consistency within or throughout. The essays are short, albeit often succinct, and present strong vignettes, but jump around without thought to sequence. With Safekeeping, I really wish I had taken a Dramamine every time I opened up its pages! Given that Thomas had more than one husband, it was difficult to follow the story line. Although the flash essays do offer vivid scenes for the reader to indulge in, one does not have time to settle in before being pushed through another door in the crazy fun house that is this collection of short stories.

    I felt anxious the whole time. Thomas’ prose is presented in small sound bites, which I can’t reconcile as having a purpose given the actual content and life we are reading about. To add to the discomfort, Thomas switches from POV, from concise to lengthier sentences, and from lyrical prose to hurried dialogue. In many instances, there is such a mismatch that it robbed me of finding the elegant craft alluded to on the back of the book jacket.

    For example, the essay “An Elegant Theory” provides an extremely brief first-person account of a thoughtful comment Thomas’ daughter made over dinner. The following third-person essay, “Gone,” puts the reader in Europe where the author and her father sit at a café without talking to each other, but ends with a reflection on loss and grief. Besides the nod to having conversations with parents in public dining locales, I found it difficult to connect the essays. In this way, I found the author to be an unreliable source.

    Like

  5. Hi All – Great discussion today! Here is the other half of my response, which was cutoff from the original post:

    In several instances, there is a clear and graceful connection between title and essay, and following essay. “No Happy Answers,” “But It Got Better” and “I Had a Good View,” tell a sequence of stories that relate directly to Thomas’ children and the aftermath of the second divorce. In these three short pieces, we see her son vividly represented—not only as himself, but also through another child Thomas observes from a bus, years later. These three essays seamlessly paint a portrait that I could follow without question. Even the final sentence in each essay alludes to the next. In the last sentence of the first essay, Thomas states that her daughter had moved in with her boyfriend. In the second essay, Thomas mentions her boyfriend Wes. In the last essay, we see two adults in their own world not paying much attention to a boy who is more than happy to just run behind the pair, which is undeniably a reflection on Thomas’ behavior and regret.

    My struggle was that I didn’t find this synchronicity throughout the entire collection, which is why at times I doubted the author. This lack of harmony in storyline and connections, left me asking so many questions throughout and forced me on various occasions to flip back to review what I had just read. This is especially true when Thomas discusses the anger that both her first two husbands were prone to. In one occasion, I confused husband number one and two.

    Overall, there seem to be several devices used throughout the collection that work in some places and not in others, which left me wondering. The dialogue with her sister is one that I did not appreciate beyond the first essay that Thomas leverages to explain away the three husband. In this instance, it was absolutely helpful. But in every instance afterwards, if felt like an abrupt TV commercial. “The Money” really irked me as it robbed me from reveling in the “silence” that should have spoken volumes (per the book jacket summary). Yet, Thomas insists on hitting us over the head with “money was not the answer.”

    The collection had some great essays that are strong when considered on their own, but strung together made me doubt

    Like

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