Book Club Chronicles

Part One

In a University town during the present time, ladies have a book club where they are studying The Tale of Genji, the worlds first novel written by a lady from Heian Japan, with a graduate student. The ladies are going through tumultuous times that echo those of the book they are reading; a husband is dying, a marriage is falling apart, a decision about retirement has to be made. Old loves re-appear, the bereaved are able to love again, though not in the same old way, new men appear and court the ladies, loved ones sicken gradually. Houses that were used to bring up children are too large and too complicated for the lives they now lead. Their graduate student goes away for a quarter, perhaps into exile.

Will there be a happy ending for any of our ladies? Do our ladies believe in the concept of happy endings? Will they continue reading The Tale of Genji together?


Part Two

We rejoin the characters from The Book Club Chronicles as they are struggling with their lives and their loves. They are still studying The Tale of Genji, with the same graduate student from that previous time. Bill plots to return Annie to his life because of his need for revenge or for a reconciliation? Annie resumes writing after the death of Hans, and discovers the problems of publishing. Claire flails around to find an outlet for her intellectual energies. Katherine is having fun with her various men, while still mourning the loss of her great love. Franny, who has turned sour and angry, has become an annoying mystery.

What is a happy ending for these ladies, if there is such a thing as a happy ending? While struggling they meditate on the nature of men and women and of marriages as they continue reading the great masterpiece from 12th century Heian Japan. Written in Japanese by Murasaki Shikibu, a court lady, instead of the highly regarded Chinese that the men wrote in, it is described as the worlds first novel.


Part Three

The ladies Book Club finish their study of The Tale of Genji and, leaderless, wonder how to keep their book club vital. After much debate, the ladies take on the study of Romeo and Juliet. In their close study of the filmed versions of the play, the ballet and musical comedy and then their close study of the text itself, they find themselves meditating on decision making, on the nature of tragedy, and on their own domestic lives. Franny, confronted with a straying husband, ill health, and estranged children tries to plan her next step. Katherine finds herself traversing the maze of decisions about the treatment of her breast cancer. She is not alone as Annie and Claire make up the gal posse that protect her. All of the ladies and their gentlemen who are part of their lives are drawn into this latest crisis. Always, the book club provides a refuge from the problems of their everyday lives as well as illumination about those decisions that are thrust upon those of advancing age.


Part Four - Macbeth

The ladies having completed their study of Romeo and Juliet move on to Macbeth. It is February in Chicago, a dreary month that seems to last forever. The skies are grey, the streets cold and dangerous, a setting that mirrors Macbeth. The three witches who make their target Macbeth, the ghosts who torment Macbeth and his consort Lady Macbeth resonate with what is happening in their own lives. Katherine is haunted by the certainty that her cancer will recur, and is terrified that she will die alone. Franny is tormented by the ghosts from her past that she thought she had escaped by marrying Sam. Annie, reconciled with Bill is worried about the fate of the artists, writers, and doctors in a culture that exploits those who do the actual work. Claire is disturbed by the play and the pain it is causing her and her friends. All are intensely aware of how little time is left to them and how precious that remaining time is. Changes, welcome or not, come to all the ladies. The Book Club and their friendships provide sustenance and comfort in this unsettled time of their lives.


Part Five

It is early fall when the ladies reconvened their book club. At Katherine's suggestion they continued with Shakespeare and studied Hamlet using the text and the version filmed with Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius as their base. Surprised at their reaction to the characters in Act 1, they quickly realized that seen through the filter of their age and gender that they were the ones most able to mount a defense of Gertrude. They added the Sir Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet as contrast. Their study of the play is reflected in the talks with the males in their lives: Claire is newly married and her Henry is determined to hold on to his corner office; Annie's husband, Bill, is facing the end of his career which will effect her in unpredictable ways; Franny, slowly recovering with the help of her therapist, wants to reconcile with Sam and her children; Katherine is convinced that her liaison with Mark will not endure and is determined to enjoy her remaining time with him. A new member, welcomed gingerly into the book club, turns out to be a good addition. The ladies struggled with both the play and with the awareness that because of their age, they and all their friends and mates were seen as obsolete.



Part Six

The storms of autumn arrive, the storms of their lives continue. The ladies decide to study Shakespeare's The Tempest, wrongly thinking that a comedy will be easier than another of the big tragedies. Finding a suitable filmed version is difficult, reading the text is even more difficult. They struggle, seeing in this late play parts that mirror their own experiences. Claire and Henry struggle in their late life marriage with the debris and assumptions from their earlier marriages. Annie fights against the physical constraints that come with her aging as Bill wrestles with what he will do after retirement. Katherine is haunted by her past and her brush with cancer and has trouble accepting that Mark is in her life for the duration. Frannie now has grandchildren and a measure of happiness because she has faced the demons of her upbringing. The new members of the book club, Sally and Clarissa, have their own issues as their long standing friendship shatters. Clarissa is rejuvenated by one new passion and one old passion. All this occurs and is illuminated by their reading of the glorious music and the strange plots of The Tempest.



Part Seven

The ladies keep trying to find an easier Shakespeare play to study and decided upon Twelfth Night, another late play. As they start reading it, they discover that it is complicated. They find the Rylance version on a DVD and entranced use it and the text to study it. They reflect upon how Viola and Olivia respond to grief, their reading deepens as they witness their own responses to grief, Annie, Henry, Katherine, and Franny have buried well loved spouses. All wrestle with their physical aging and the threat and advantages of retirement. They reflect on the many love stories in Twelfth Night as they wrestle with their own love stories, late life marriages, and the how they have brought their pasts into the present. They struggle to make sense of this simple on the surface but very complicated theatrical play. Most of all, once again they, as a group, revel in the beautiful language of Shakespeare that pierces their hearts and at the same time uplifts them.


Joan H. Parks Follow Joan H. Parks on Twitter Joan H. Parks on Facebook