Just, wow guys. This book. The knee-jerk reaction that I had was to write the dad off as a complete nut-job, also as a terrible person. But at the same time I think that Peggy’s mother deserves a little of the blame in what happened to her daughter. She’s so aloof—she basically leaves her daughter and husband without saying goodbye to go on tour—I’m not one to begrudge a woman her career, but I didn’t like her.
I agree about the mother- felt she was stereotypically Germanic—brusque, no affection. Of course, there is the fact that being a concert pianist is ALL she knew. Also, not to be forgotten—they got married when he was 17 and she was 25. Men are fools anyway, but YOUNG men?! They’re more immature to begin with and when you pile on marriage and fatherhood? Kaboom! I didn’t like him at all but probably for those reasons. He was lazy, should not have been a father, and had delusions about being a survivalist. And Peggy had to pay for it.
No way, no blame on the mother from me! James alone is responsible for his disgusting, horrific behavior. No matter what happens, normal people do not react by kidnapping, isolating, and raping their child. Even under duress. So unless Ute knew how terrifyingly unstable he was before she left (and I didn’t get that feeling), no.
I didn’t find Ute all that aloof, though; just a different kind of parent than I would be, maybe. Leaving without saying goodbye was weird, but at that point I was feeling like the recollection (being in first person) was childlike and not the most reliable there. That profession is chaotic schedule-wise. My own gigs are only within a 3-hour radius most of the time and if I leave when C isn’t home/awake, she has had issues remembering even when I prepped her. That’s where the other parent steps in with reassurance and reminders. Peggy’s dad didn’t; he was too wrapped up in his own interests. But we can assume he knew about the concert tour: Peggy specifies that in the narrative, so somebody had to tell her.
I thought Ute was a bit aloof; she always seemed so disinterested in Peggy; there were so many more frustrated and impatient words than kind ones. That said, I don’t place any blame with her. James was clearly immature and unstable. Marrying a woman who has a career that requires a lot of travel and having a child so young probably didn’t help him at all, but I can’t blame Ute for his decision to kidnap their child.
I initially didn’t dislike Peggy’s dad, especially before he dragged her across the continent to the remotest place he could find in Europe. Even after he took her away—I honestly believe that he was a little unhinged and perhaps doing what he thought was best, though that is debatable.
From the beginning, I disliked him pretty strongly. I went back and forth between thinking the dad was a self-centered jerk at best and thinking, “this is scary, he’s completely delusional.” As the novel progressed, those feelings ran together more and more.
My feelings about the dad were such a roller coaster. I started out disliking him, but then I started to have some sympathy because there was clearly some disconnect between him and reality. I couldn’t decide if he really thought the world was ending and took his hobby to the next level or not. Of course, my optimism was completely shattered by the end, which was difficult because I was rooting for him being disturbed, not evil.
How about the silent piano? I found that beautiful in a sad way. I thought it was a very poignant tool because when it all comes down at her mother’s house she is able to play that song, the one that brought her parents together. Very bittersweet.
I saw it a little differently: I don’t think she actually played La Campanella. That’s a difficult piece! As a piano teacher, I say no way. That being said, I do think she heard the piece in her mind as she played on actual keys at the end, regardless of what actually sounded; but again, maybe that imagination was a coping mechanism. She certainly needed some comfort at that point.
I wondered about the plausibility of Peggy learning to play that on a silent piano, but I hadn’t thought about that. Can you imagine what Ute must have felt seeing her sit at the piano and proudly play something that probably sounded like a mess to Ute?
The piano made me so sad because it symbolized so much and let Peggy remain connected to her mother. Her dad’s support of it makes me wonder if, even underneath all of his evil, he loved his wife because it was such an important instrument for her. It’s almost like he wanted Peggy to keep a connection with her mother in some way, but perhaps that’s just me looking for the humanity in the horror.
Did he really trick him, though? At the end, Michael says “all that survivalist stuff was only talk, bravado, boys playing games.” Maybe James took Oliver’s bravado far more seriously than ever intended?
I agree; I think that for most of the group, the survivalist stuff was just a hobby, a way to feel manly and capable. But I also wonder if Michael is only able to brush off their meetings as “only talk” because so many years have passed. After nine years, its easy to look back at your passions and dismiss them as juvenile games. And is it possible they took it more seriously than Michael is willing to admit, knowing the horrible things their “survivalist stuff” led James to do? I wonder if he says it was just “boys playing games” as a way of distancing himself from guilt.
I think you’re right and that Oliver really believed in all of the survivalist stuff but wasn’t “brave” enough to take the final step (I use that word loosely). Of course, the fact that the dad was “brave” enough to take that step would only serve as a way to cement his beliefs because it was up to him to carry them out.
What do you think about the story’s plausibility? It was 1976 and she was 8 when they go away. I truly don’t know—would a child of that age at that time believe first that their mother was dead (even though she had just talked to her) and more importantly that the world was gone, disappeared? It was a bit difficult for me to believe but I went with the story anyway.
I don’t know. I think that a child of that age is extremely malleable and she DID have a really close relationship with her dad, so that it would have been natural for her to believe him. What does an 8-year-old know about the end of the world? Kids put their trust into adults who are there for them—and I think at the outset of the book, her dad was there for her. If that makes any sense.
For years she’d been overhearing her father and his friends talk about possible reasons why they need to “prepare.” I also got the feeling she was a young 8. And it’s common for children to regress after a traumatic experience, so that could have come into play as well, especially as they got closer and closer to die Hütte.
I wonder if the reason that she accepted it is because she didn’t have a choice. I mean, her dad took her into the middle of the woods and told her the world had ended. Even if she didn’t believe it at first, at some point she would have had to accept her new reality because that is what she was stuck with.
I was so impressed by how Fuller shaped the narrative around Peggy’s lapses in memory/creation of Reuben, sowing tiny hints of the truth while leaving out the memories Peggy has repressed. I’m thinking especially of the scene where James calls her Ute and comes into her bed; I wondered if he was about to rape her, but Peggy clearly blocked out the worst part of that memory. I kind of want to re-read the book again, to look for more clues that Peggy’s version of events isn’t quite right.
Can we just talk about PTSD for a minute? Leah has hit the nail on the head with Fuller’s ability to shape the narrative around the lapses in Peggy’s memory and I can only imagine the process her mind had to go through to help her to survive what she went through.
I think we’re agreed about Reuben being a protective mechanism. As much as I like my isolation, I don’t think that humans were meant to live that way—we’re ultimately social creatures and by creating Reuben—her brain was trying to save her sanity with the isolation AND being molested by her father.
I’m reading this so late and you all have a really great, long conversation here, so I’ll mostly stick to the comments…but I have to add this! Do any of you think the building of the silent piano and learning of La Campanella symbolized James grooming Peggy? I get the sense that the abuse went on for the majority of the time in the cabin, not necessarily just the one time he calls her into bed. I mean, Reuben’s name was on the wall when they arrived.
Read Our Reviews:
Fuller plays with so many themes in this novel—what struck you most, readers? How did you feel about Ute and James? Did you see the ending coming? Or do you have a take on Our Endless Numbered Days we didn’t even consider?
In case you missed it, you can still read the Storify of our Twitter chat with Claire Fuller!