The Gray House, Week 5

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Drawing by this artist

The photo is my backyard fence, with some editing that makes it look eerie, don’t you think?

Welcome to Week 5. The book is getting more and more intriguing. Today’s section is:

Week 5 (pp. 301-367)
23. The Confession of the Scarlet Dragon
30. Tabaqui: Day the Sixth

Ch 23: Ralph visits the pack. He is back, like he never left. He sat through the lesson. He was staring at them. He is impolite somehow, the way he is scrutinizing them. He is described as wild, untamed, he is asking Smoker how he is doing in his new environment. No news on Noble.

The door is locked. They don’t know who may be inside the dorm, with the door locked. Tabaqui is the narrator. Sphinx, Alexander, Lary, and Humpback are there. They speculate if it could be Black killing himself. But it is not Black, it was Blind with a girl.

Blind was in Lary’s bed, making out with Gaby. Girls come into place now. Tabaqui is glad it wasn’t his bed. Lary hates it. Gaby is purple in places. They describe Gaby as an ugly girl, but with good legs. Vulture was the one who facilitated the encounter. Tabaqui asks Blind how it was, Blind doesn’t feel anything, he says. Sphinx seems upset about the whole thing. They are all picking on Blind and the pitiful state of his linens.  Blind, as a leader, calls for a new law. Girls are permitted everywhere, they will visit each other, the way it was before, but the way it hasn’t been in a while, Tabaqui says.

Tabaqui is in the corridors when he sees a woman, her husband, a girl and a boy, brothers. He automatically likes the boy. His fingers and hands are different, long, not chubby. He hears the mother complain about her son, describe his behavior as impossible, criminal. Shark says that they are not a criminal record facility.  The mother realizes she went too far complaining about the things that happen when he is around (electronics that break). Shark says they only accept children with disabilities, to which the mother answers that he has been epileptic since he is ten.

Tabaqui talks about how money will buy his entrance in the house. And his file will say he has something different to what he has, or that he doesn’t have anything and yet he’d be admitted, as it is for others. (Now this gives us a clue to who is in the house. Children with disabilities, and it also could be highly problematic and dangerous children or youngsters whose parents have money and don’t want them with them.)

The new boy called a dragon is Alexander, he seems to be epileptic, but he also seems to have something special. Sphinx tells him that if he wants to be there he has to follow the rules and not do any of what the mother claimed he was doing at home. He seems to have always belonged to the house, as if he had materialized.

Alexander says he did never break the rules. The only thing he did was, as he describes it, to chase their bad dreams. He gets close to them, and they don’t wake up with yells or screams anymore.

Alexander took Tabaqui outside, where he wanted to go while raining, but he found him soaked and wet. When he dries up, he asks the ones in his pack for a ladder. He wants to paint a dragon. He has a stone that looks like the eye of Noble, and he paints lilies -they represent Noble, and adds it to the dragon painting. The pack finds Tabaqui drawing the dragon, and they are all drunk, but not Tabaqui.

He goes back to the dorm, and all of them are sleeping their hangover. Tabaqui finds a clock that he smashes because it wakes him up. Sphinx noticed what Tabaqui had painted. There’s Humpback in the room, and Baby, hugging their Chinese red lamp, Alexander, and Sphinx too.

Ch 24: Confessions of a Scarlet Dragon. We are hearing about how one of them got there. He grew up with his grandfather, a doubled standard kind of monster, who did not use napkins or cutlery. He starved this boy. He ends up dying from choking with a fish bone. They send this boy (I think it’s Alexander), to God’s house to ‘clean him’. He goes to another relatives house. These relatives complained that there are those others with shaved heads threatening them because Alexander lives there. Finally they send him to the House, where he feels at home, because he thinks he was sold to his relatives, but in the House he is a slave of his own volition.

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This amazing picture is from this person at flickr
(Do you think of Alexander’s grandfather’s kitchen?)

I remember that in the beginning of the book, Alexander is described as a slave, one they don’t hear speak, and one who does everything they ask him for. It’s also mentioned how his grandfather was shown in ‘the tube’ (TV?), as a scammer, involved in fraudulent things.

Alexander is talking about how he never broke the rules. He only performed small ‘miracles’ (which they seem to be drug trafficking to me), since he says he passed that poison from his hands to theirs, he did not expect that it would be Wolf the one who would do this to him. He feared Sphinx, but Sphinx became his friend. But when Alexander spent time with Wolf at the cage, Wolf convinced Alexander that he also wanted to be his friend. But, by knowing his secret, Alexander is now his slave, which is to Alexander worse than being dead. Wolf asks Alexander to get someone out of the house. But Alexander gets lucky, his curse worked to his favor when Wolf shows dead the next day after this request. It appears to me to be an overdose.

Alexander is on the rooftop. (Did he fall?) This is a strange scene, that ends with Alexander at the Sepulcher. There’s a girl he saw. And Alexander is sent to the Sepulcher, where Blind visits him. Alexander wants to confess, but he doesn’t find the way to do so, and he did not want Blind to feel as if he owed him anything. Which makes us believe that Wolf asked Alexander to get rid of Blind, to make him leave the House, not necessary kill him.

Wolf and Blind go out in the night (we are talking about the time before Wolf died), they visit the Forest. Alexander says he is afraid of going outside.

Ch 25: Tabaqui, day the 3rd

It looks like Tabaqui has the flu, they are giving him a treatment, so that he passes the revision. It is physical revision day.  The next day, day 4, his throat is fine. He calls the nurses spiders, and he doesn’t like them. Sphinx says there’s nothing interesting, but Tabaqui says that’s not true, there’s the new law, the law that allows girls in their dorms. And, how is Sphinx going to know, when he is always inside the dorm. Sphinx is taking care of Tabaqui.

Sphinx is irritated because Blind is with Gaby, the girl. Black tells Gaby, who has invited you?, and she answers, your boss’ boss, Blind.

Ch 26:  Gaby says that the boys are anxious. It’s the day of their physical, they explain. Long can relate, ‘Now this one time when I got raped…’ Tabaqui chokes on a nut, Gaby whacks his back.

Gaby inspects the boy’s records to their dismay. When Black comes back, Smoker starts asking who is Mother Ann, since Sphinx said he wasn’t Mother Ann to be kicking Blind’s girlfriend out of the dorm.

Sphinx and Tabaqui found the information. They were interested in the yellow papers found in the basement. They put the pieces together, and found out that the House was founded in 1870. They are the only ones who have a picture. They say the children at that time wore gray uniforms.

Ch 27: The Soot of the Streets. This section starts with the manual and the options for entertainment they have in the House. One of the notes says,

WHILE JUMPERS AND STRIDERS DO NOT REALLY EXIST!
Have a nice time.

Smoker doesn’t believe Sphinx. Sphinx says, let’s go to smell the soot of the streets. Smoker asks if they are going outside. Sphinx gets upset. Smoker doesn’t seem to know that there are banned words, words not spoken, such as outside. Smoker doesn’t believe Tabaqui, Sphinx accuses him of not listening, and not thinking. Sphinx says threateningly, Smoker, do you want to crawl on the floor? Sphinx doesn’t like the way Smoker asks, instead of asking him, ‘what do you mean about the soot of the streets?’, he blasts off, ‘are we going outside?’

Smoker and Sphinx talk in private. Sphinx says that maybe he is spoiled, Alexander understands him without words, Noble is always quiet, but Smoker, it is as if I have to ask you to forgive me for something you are not telling me.

Blind is trying to get a drink, and Sphinx enigmatically says, ‘Blind, you know that this machine has not been giving anything but paper cups for the last hundred years.’ They go to the common area, there is music, girls, even though Smoker is by them, Blind and Sphinx talk alone. Sphinx complaining to Blind that Smoker doesn’t listen. Smoker leaves the place upset but he thinks that maybe they two were talking close to him to allow him to listen.

Smoker finds Red. Smoker is still not used to talk to people of other packs. Red looks ugly, but they make themselves ugly looking on purpose. Red tells him that Mother Ann was the old principal of the house last century. When she was principal they added the sanctuary, that initially was just a room with two beds. Smoker thinks it’s Red who found this out, but Red tells Smoker that it was Tabaqui. Tabaqui likes to embellish the stories, to act coy, but he told the truth.

Sphinx catches up with both of them and asks Red to take off his glasses in front of Smoker. Smoker is surprised, he says he sees the face of an angel. He looks a different person. Sphinx exclaims, “I miss you Death”. Red says, I’m sorry, Death is no more. He also tells Smoker they do everything, the leaders of the packs, to look ugly. He even sleeps with a bag over his face. They look like corpses, and Red says he also has experience looking like them, the corpses.

Smoker tells Sphinx that he sometimes plays a game, he tries to imagine the leaders without their dress up clothing.

Lary is busy with his pimples and aftershave lotion. Elephant and his leader, Vulture, second house, look at the rain through the window, and a cactus,  the Pheasants in one are conducting a memorial service. The adults close the doors of the House, as if it didn’t exist. Lary is telling his girlfriend, ‘you’ll like them’, but she doesn’t want to go. Gaby is trying to choose the least damaged pantyhose, there’s an Asiatic girl in a wheelchair, very beautiful, Doll,

The chapter ends with Smoker’s dream, in which the Pheasants are calling him to attend Ghoul’s funeral. It’s a rare dream, he sees his parents, sister, a plant, Sphinx comes from that plant. We also go to Blind, alone now with Arachne, he is playing the flute, not as well as Humpback, this is again a very oniric chapter with Blind’s visions.

Ch 28: Witch and Grasshopper talk. She tells him that when he grows, he’ll be Skull.

Blind talks about how all of them sleep, and about the dreams he thinks they are having. He goes to Elk’s room, when he knows he is fine, he leaves.

Rex, one of the Siamese, is torturing a cat who falls in a hole and hurts its leg. Lame asks Rex to let the cat go, but the cat is hurt. Lame says they’ll play now, but he is Rex, and Rex is the cat. Max is looking at him from his dorm’s window.

The House sleeps, but not the basement. There the seniors are having a party. Grasshopper goes there following the song’s words, and breaking a window to let them be free. They ran back to their dorm, Stinker upset since he could not go that fast in his wheelchair, all of them scared that maybe the seniors have heard them and are following them. When they find themselves out of danger, they talk around an imaginary fire, and say they too will have fun, even without the girls, it will be even better when our turn comes. Magician claims to have seen Skull. They all say that’s not possible.

Grasshopper describes coffee and waxes poetic. He wonders if coffee is not the substance that makes you become a grown up. The music coming from the coffee place is calling him. He goes where the others, seniors, are. They seem to laugh at him, because Grasshopper wants to know what that music is. The seniors pass him a paper that says, Led Zeppelin, and Grasshopper asks, ‘led to where?’ The seniors laugh, maybe it’s music to better break windows. They caught him. It was Elephant who told them. But Grasshopper tells Elephant that they did not retaliate. Grasshopper gives that paper, Led Zeppelin, to Tabaqui, and asks him to write about it, -even though he doesn’t know what to write-.

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Don’t you love this artist’s coffee wings? Her name is Kelsey Montague

Ch 29: The day of exchanges, Tabaqui sets to go without much conviction. He picks those necklaces he makes with walnuts, etc. He gets a vynil from Lary. He realizes that most of the exchanging people are girls. He sees a nice girl with a vest of many colors. Tabaqui used to go to exchange day with nothing, and got things, until people got mad at him for doing that.

The girl is Mermaid. She insists in Tabaqui taking her vest. Tabaqui doesn’t want initially, but when he does, he also insists on her taking all his necklaces. Lary was approaching, trying to get there before the exchange between Mermaid and Tabaqui ends. But he misses it. After that, Tabaqui pays Viking to take him on his shoulders. Lary follows them to the room. There he informs Sphinx that Tabaqui stole his vinyl and took it to the exchange. Tabaqui tells Sphinx he did not trade Lary’s vinyl, but it is at his wheelchair, so probably one of the rats must have taken it.

Noble comes. He is changed. His haircut is a slaughter, done by a bipolar person, Tabaqui thinks. Tabaqui is both excited about Noble being back, but saddened to see him not being himself. Sphinx shakes them all out of their thoughts, and orders them all to go to eat. Tabaqui, excited, is fishing meatballs from the soup to add them to a sandwich. Here we have his habits that earned him his former nick, Stinker.

  • I ordered a paper-copy of the book, and I realized that those with book pages are a section ahead of the listening ones. I am going to include the first of next week section, since it is the last section in pages 352 to 367, Tabaqui Day the Sixth.

Ch 30 of the audio. Tabaqui Day the Sixth, pages 352 to 367

Ch 30: The boys receive the visit of Ginger and Fly. They are still not used to the girls. It looks like Noble likes Ginger, but Ginger goes back to the times before Noble, when the children were young.

She talks about how she was curious about the room they had, with the hidden drawings. And one day she climbed. Noble says what about the bars?, and she replies that there weren’t bars before. She says the seniors looked at her with curiosity from the first floor, but she made it. She saw the room, which wasn’t the way she imagined it, yet it was wonderful, it looked as if it expanded forever. She left them a present, a drawing, a bird. But she didn’t like it. She came to finish the painting the next day, and signed it Jonathan. The boys discovered all of the sudden that she was the Jonathan they thought it was a ghost. They left traps and everything, but never caught her. From them started a relationship in which Jonathan left them things, like a book called Seabird they’d all read.

Fly asks for the time, which drives Tabaqui crazy. He has that rule, no watches.

I have written lots yet I have not thought about the meaning in certain passages, the allusions that may play an important part, or not. But I will wait for you to do so at the comments as you can, or I’ll do this in my own head as I revisit chapters, conversations, a line here and there…

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66 comments on “The Gray House, Week 5

  1. I love your photos, Silvia! 🙂 Haunting. It’s funny, I would probably like that kitchen scene normally, but when you connect it with Alexander’s grandfather it takes on a sinister feel.
    Thanks for explaining what you got out of the Alexander’s miraculous “powers”. I didn’t understand that, but it make sense that it’s drugs?!

    Here are my notes so far, I’m not quite finished with this so I didn’t read your notes on the bottom.

    Alexander and Wolf open out the Confessions of the Scarlet Dragon –

    This jumped out to me…”I cried and hugged his knees. I crawled at his feet like the least of the shaved heads, I screamed with the pain of the reincarnation.” p. 306 ???

    delusional about miraculous powers from abuse in cult? (here’s where you mentioned the drugs, Silvia, which makes so much more sense!)

    Wolf died from Alexander curse? (overdose)

    Alexander tries to commit suicide due to the curse that he supposedly killed wolf with…?

    The stray dogs

    “…they live in a pack, and so do I.” p. 307

    Tabaqui

    Lewis Carroll line from Hunting of the Snarks

    Arthropods = Spiders?

    Black blackens…dislikes Long (aka Gaby) Long a nick for her long legs?

    Mother Ann

    ” Almshouse for Deprived Children”

    “The House bore this unctuous Dickensian sobriquet with pride.” p. 315

    The Soot of the Streets

    Shards?

    Wheeler’s Entertainment Manuel was very interesting to me and humorous. I feel like sometimes things are SO dark and then all of a sudden we get a glimpse of regular boys life and thinking…funny and cute. Then just as quickly we are back to darkness.

    Poor Smoker always seems so confused!

    KILL YOUR INNER CUCKOO! ENTER THE NEXT LOOP! p.319 (drugs?)

    “Learn to listen, Smoker, and you’ll see how much easier your life becomes.” p.321

    That’s all I have so far….I’m thinking through it…need to finish the reading here!!! We are suppose to be through p. 445 this week, correct? 🙂

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  2. I logged on today anticipating new photos. They’re always perfect! Enough time for a short post before I have to pick the big kids up from VBS.

    Confessions of a Scarlet Dragon is my favorite chapter so far. It is exquisite – painfully so. I would love to sit down and read it aloud with you all and talk about it page by page! It is so interesting to hear different takes on this chapter because it is a bit mysterious. Silvia, I like how you said that Alexander becomes a slave of his own volition in the House. Interesting how he wants to be there – wants to be one of many, rather than the center of attention. I am hesitant to believe that Alexander is dealing drugs, but I am open minded! To me, he seems the epitome of goodness. My take is that he has some kind of healing powers. We see it in the House, the way he can quiet nightmares. And I think he is taking pain out of their bodies when it he says, “My hands acted by themselves, quietly stealing their pain. I carried it, burning hot, and washed it off under the tap. It floated away down the drains, my legs were shaking, I was tired and empty; it was so beautiful, and it was not a miracle at all, honest so I never broke my promise. That’s what I thought then.” I think he can draw sickness out of other people and take it on himself.

    When it talks about him secretly passing “bits and pieces of miracles – so small that you could pass them around, stuff them in a pocket and then pretend there was nothing there…” I see how that could be read as passing drugs, but that never came to my mind in the context of the chapter. I thought he was speaking figuratively – trying to explain that his miracles were barely perceivable. Tiny gifts that he gave them without them knowing he’d done anything.

    What if Alexander is a healer? Maybe more than a healer – maybe he has some sort of super natural power – not like super hero power, but, I don’t know – like he can make certain things happen in the physical world, just with the power of his mind or his touch. What if when he was little, his parents realized this and freaked out and sent him to live with his grandpa who then exploited him by building a cult around Alexander’s miracles?

    Remember how Tabaqui, the moment he saw Alexander, knew he was a dragon. What exactly does this mean? Is it a dragon in the same way Noble is a dragon? According to Tabaqui, Alexander seems somehow set apart and different from the rest of humanity. And then Wolf find out – find out what, I’m not certain. I think, perhaps when Alexander passed his hands over Wolf’s spine, there was such a profound change in Wolf’s pain, that he knew Alexander did something. Alexander said that what he took out of Wolf’s body burned him and tried to poison him before he could wash it down the sink. So, what did Wolf want from Alexander? The cage scene read to me like a rape. I don’t think that is physically what happened, but that is the feeling I came away with. Wolf wants to somehow prey on Alexander. When Alexander says, “I always morphed into whatever was needed, with only one exception,” what is that exception? (Bradbury’s Martian here, right?) “Of course I knew what he wanted. Wolf’s innermost wish was no secret from anyone.” Someone suggested that his wish is to be the leader of the house. Does he want Alexander to somehow raise him to power with his miracles?

    Ahhh!! So much more I want to say, but the ‘pick up the kids’ timer is going off. It is my oldest’s 11 birthday today, so depending on what he would like to do this afternoon, I may be back for a short bit because…Alexander. ❤ And because I want to talk to you guys. But I am seriously in love with this chapter.

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  3. Two Alexanders for you from the fanart corpus: one romantic and one taken strictly from the description in the text (which does indeed mention the buck teeth)

    The second artist has a huge portfolio of the House illustrations, all of them puritanically canonical in the details.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The more I try to explain what I think and feel about Alexander, the less confident I am that I can do so. So much is impressions that I am having trouble translating into thoughts. After looking at the chapter again today, I want to take back my earlier thought that he was sent to his grandpa because he had unusual abilities. I don’t know why his family gave him away. I think, perhaps his grandpa decided to use him, but not because Alexander had displayed any special powers. I don’t know – and maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s hard to know exactly what Alexander thinks about himself. He talks about cursing his grandpa over and over and that those curses finally took effect and killed him. Just like he believes he is responsible for Wolf’s death. Is it simply the fanciful imagination of an adolescent boy or is there truth to it? He knows all about the façade of the miraculous. He knows about bleaching freckles and wearing colored contacts and about a man with the appearance of holiness who is in actuality a beast. He knows about inauthentic religious show, but I get the impression that he also knows , somewhere inside of him, about an authenticity in himself that allows him to do miraculous things in some capacity. He seems to believe it about himself and it is very different from his forced life as an “angel.” I just can’t get it into the right words, but I hope I make some sort of sense!
    Alexander’s family’s relationship with the television reminds me of Fahrenheit 451. “They didn’t need any miracles at all. Miracles scared them. Except those they saw on the Tube. It was their god, even though they didn’t bow before it or whisper prayers to it, just stared at it through the clear lenses of their glasses, but the effect was still the same both here and there, the only difference being that there I at least had been useful for something.” He lives first with an abuser, then he comes to a family that is so dulled and unimaginative – shells of real human beings. There is something special about Alexander – not just the things he seems to do – there is an energy to him, a realness, fulness….and these imbeciles who are his family only see a problem, only see an oddity, a freak, and they give away this beautiful person. (Maybe I will come to change my opinion, but that is how I see things right now).
    Help me with this part: “The Tube proclaimed it, so it must have been true. It was not true: he was just a dirty old man who lost his mind. But the Tube never lies, it is beyond suspicion, so they took me to the god’s house, to rinse the traces of Gramp’s sins out of me with holy water. They washed me and christened me, but still the letters kept coming, and the crazies with shaved heads kept stalking me and falling headfirst onto the pavement…..” Their god is the TV, so is Alexander saying that they put him in front of the TV to have him see the stories of his grandpa in order to cure him of…something….his oddities…or the attraction that the cult follows have toward him? Like they were trying to scrub the “angel” out of him?
    The followers are very strange. They do seem like they are on drugs or something: stumbling, sniffing the walls, scratching, urinating outside their door…..It says they were “seeking the angel that became a kind of addiction for them.” So, are they actually drugged up or is their strange behavior due to the powerful influence of the cult and what they have made Alexander to be?

    And this: “It’s the fear of the inevitable end to all this, the public flaying of the new, freshly grown skin. The fear of long-legged Sphinx carrying the secret of the real me. He who has power over someone surely would wield it?” I love the question mark at the end. From his life experiences so far, this is what he knows of people in power, and yet with Sphinx, he is beginning to think it possible to be truly known without being hurt, to think that someone could know your secrets and not betray you. We repeatedly hear about Alexander changing into something else, always becoming something new for the circumstances at hand. He has freshly grown skin now that he is at the House, but he is afraid of being found out.
    I agree with Amy about the rooftop scene. Alexander is trying to commit suicide to atone for the sin of killing Wolf. He is not brave enough. He slips, but he won’t let go, and he despises himself for his cowardice. Spiders find him and take him to the Sepulcher.
    I just put the pieces together about what Wolf asked! Yay me! I think, anyway. The first time I read about Blind visiting him in the Sepulcher, I didn’t really understand what he meant, but I think I got it now. He says of Blind, “He could turn into Wolf and make a razor blade out of me. I never told him who it was that I was supposed to forever tether to a post beyond the House gates. He could have decided he owed me something, and I didn’t want that.” I don’t understand why he thinks Blind could turn into Wolf – or Sphinx – but when he talks about being made a razor blade, it’s his way of saying that Wolf wanted him to kill. Yes? What Wolf wanted was for Alexander to take Blind beyond the House, tie him up, and leave him for dead? He stays silent on this because he doesn’t want Blind to feel indebted to him. Alexander has a strong conscience. He is haunted by something he did to protect someone else from harm. Maybe he feels that he did it selfishly? That he killed Wolf to protect himself from becoming Wolf’s slave? “Blind tells Alexander to come back, and Alexander asks how he will pay for what he’s done. Blind responds, “stupid,” and leaves. Why Blind’s response?

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    • Closer to the end we will get to see what removing Blind from the House, even for a short time, does to him, so metaphorically “tying him to the post beyond the gates of the House”, that is, permanently barring him from there, looks more like killing him than anything else. Wolf might not have known that, but I have a suspicion that Alexander had, that’s where the razor blade analogy is from – a person who would like to make him into his weapon will succeed in doing that if he wants it bad enough (yes, shadows of The Martian – becoming that which is the most desperately needed).

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    • And as for Blind’s response, probably Blind thinks that what Alexander did (even if he did in some way cause the death of Wolf – it can be argued that Wolf placed himself outside/above the House by his actions) was a necessary self-defense of the House itself, which acted through him (Blind certainly thinks of himself as no more than an agent of it, divining and fulfilling its wishes – the scene in Ralph’s office). Then “stupid” is “how can you not understand what’s really going on here”.

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  5. Speaking of VBS, Katie, that’s where I was for the whole day until now. Today some of us took the children to Cici’s pizza (one of our pizza chain places), and after to roller skate. I read your comments at intervals, but I could not respond until now.

    Where do I begin?

    Amy, the drugs. I don’t know. The rational part of me wants to insert that as an explanation. Katie, what you interpret as miracles, healing, from Alexander, could read as drug dealing. Here I am, not knowing if Alexander was part of a cult, if he is delusional, and he even thinks than those drugs are something nice he does for them. It’s deliberately ambiguous, I think, so we cannot decide at this point of the book.

    The thing with The Gray House is that as you said before, Katie, it accepts both readings, and even if some things can be explained realistically, there’s things beyond reality that are going on, things that have to do with time and the House that still seem supernatural.

    Katie, I am too intrigued by Alexander. He wants to fit so bad, he wants to not do whatever it is he does, which is part of him, and whether is something bad he doesn’t register as bad, or something good that others take as bad, or whatever it is, he only wants to do good quietly, and serve, and be left to himself (instead of abused, or ignored). You and Yuri mentioned him as The Martian, becoming other people -or animals?-, I also thought about Matilda, ha ha ha, how her family were obsessed with TV, and how they didn’t know how special she was.

    I don’t know in what sense Alexander is, like Noble, a dragon.

    Amy, I too feel the same. Sometimes it’s so humorous, these youngsters and their thoughts, etc. Sometimes it gets so dark. I’m so sad for them. I remember adolescence, those days we seem to have all the time in the world to just hang out, and talk, dream, etc.

    My favorite thing is that now you all start to comment on week 5, and all that I read from week 6 starts to make more sense. I have found a few things in the pages that are coming that are explained with these past events.

    One we have seen already, and it will continue gaining more meaning, Blind, the Senseless One. Tabaqui asks Blind how it was with Gaby, and Blind says he didn’t feel anything.

    Razor blades. That will come up again.

    I wish I could read the Scarlet Dragon chapter with you, Katie, and anyone else who wants to, together, page by page, and talk about it. If I were reading this book alone, I’d be devastated. This is a book one has to comment, it’s too complex to think about on my own. Even if we don’t understand it fully, your possible explanations and your remarks, make it possible to quench this mood the book throws me at.

    I need to read the Cage part again, Katie. You think it was a figurative rape? What’s that secret that Sphinx respects, but Wolf wants to use for his own.

    Alexander wanted to kill himself, but I also think Wolf death, although related to him, was not caused by him. He almost confessed to Blind (what did he want to confess?), but what kept him from talking was that he would have had to say what Wolf wanted him to do, and he doesn’t want Blind to feel like he owes him, as you all have said…

    So Yuri, you say that Blind thinks that Alexander, even not knowing, facilitated Wolf’s death, and that happened as a response to the House wanting to get rid of Wolf, as much as Wolf wanting to get rid of Blind?

    Are there two bands in the House? Are there those who side with the House, and those who are outsiders? I mean, Wolf had tried to escape when he met Grasshopper, right? Alexander came from outside, yet he seemed to have always been in the House (he blended, he listened to Sphinx, or that’s what it seems), and Wolf wants to use Alexander to get rid of the leader who has been in the House since little, Blind. But when Wolf dies, it seems that Blind approaching Alexander is a way for him to welcome him back, and to say, you are fine with us, the House ones, and Wolf’s death had to happen.

    Remember the conversation between Blind and Ralph. Blind says he would not have actively killed Wolf, he did not wish him death (unlike Wolf towards him), but he cannot hide he likes that outcome. And it may be he thinks it’s the House being one with his desires.

    Smoker, (not coming from outside the House, but outside their pack), is another one who seems not to want to get into ‘the House’ mood, group, rules.

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    • Oh, Silvia, your post is a treasure trove! And you articulate some things that I have been struggling to say.

      “He only wants to do good quietly, and serve, and be left to himself.” Yes. I think this is the essential thing about Alexander. Whatever his power is, whether in reality it is good or bad, he has only good intentions. I really feel a purity and innocence from him.

      I agree that this would be a hard book to read alone. It needs to be processed, and while I could do a lot of personal journaling about it, everyone else’s input makes the experience so much richer. It is so good in a book like this to get out of my own mind and the way I perceive and hear how others interpret the story.

      Alexander’s secret is such a mystery to me. He feels different from everyone else. Tabaqui senses he is different as soon as he sees him. I think it has to do with this, but I don’t understand. I don’t think the cage scene was sexual, but that was the best language I could find for how the scene felt to me. Rape, but no, I don’t think it was physical. In that scene Wolf is a sleazy perpetrator. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Alexander does seem so pure to me, and Wolf’s selfish desires are destroying his innocence.

      And as I am looking at the text again, I am struck by something. I strangely took the words,” I don’t want him dead, understand? I’m not a murderer. Let him just walk away. Leave the House, go into the Outsides and never return,” to be a memory and not happening in real time. For some reason, I thought it was spoken ABOUT Wolf and not by him. I thought the pack new he was not right, and they wanted Wolf to leave the House. But, it’s really Wolf speaking about Blind, isn’t it? I can’t help wondering what would have happened if Grasshopper hadn’t vouched for Wolf all those years ago.

      I like the idea of two bands in the House. Exactly right, what you say about Blind’s words to Alexander in the Sepulcher. And Alexander just can’t accept a resolution to his sin. He can’t forgive himself and move on. And that’s why Blind says, “stupid.” This chapter opens with his grandfather’s words, “you sin, you pay.” Alexander doesn’t know any other way. He doesn’t know any grace. He has to atone for it himself, and he can’t. If he could, would Wolf haunt him, or does he only hold power over him because Alexander can’t see a way to get clear of his sin?

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  6. What if it’s drugs? Because Alexander says initially he didn’t do miracles, but he stole their pain, and washed it under the tap. Could he have been taking drugs away from them? (Their pain, burning hot, and he washed it off under the tap, and his legs were shaking because of the possibility of getting caught?)

    Sphinx knows of his past life, and he is OK, but he tells him no more ‘miracles’. He tells him, talk, find a life (to forget what he was before), and initially, Alexander slaves himself to them all, but he decides to help them out more actively, in a way that he knows (maybe it’s a bad way, but he is doing it as a habit, because he doesn’t think it’s bad, since his right and wrong are so confused and he’s never been taught or loved or guided). But later, he starts again passing those little miracles, in small pieces. Tabaqui and Blind suspect something while watching TV. Wolf is the one Alexander gave more miracles than anyone else.

    When Alexander offers himself to Wolf in the cage, that means he tells him who he was, but unlike Sphinx, Wolf finds that confession a way to blackmail him into doing what he wants. (I still don’t understand how is it possible that Alexander could take Blind outside the House if he wanted to do so, how?) Instead of giving Alexander a possibility, as you say, Katie, of redeeming himself, a chance of saying, listen, what you did is in the past, who you are now is who you are, stay out of that ‘sin’ you were committing, and you’ll find your place, Wolf takes Alexander’s confession as a way of threatening him to tell others who he was, a way of getting him kicked out of the pack and the house unless he agrees to kick Blind. Alexander has never had anyone love him, give him warmth, and, drugs or healing, that which he does is not clear to him if it is from an angel or from a devil, thus leaving him vulnerable to others interpretation. He started to feel the trust of Sphinx, and find his place, but he felt tempted to do what he did all his life (probably what granted him maybe some attention or love), and got tangled up again in a situation that Wolf could expose, killing his opportunity to make the House his home. That will explain why he wanted to commit suicide, but that will also explain why, given that Wolf took his secret to the tomb, he accepts Blind’s offer to come back to the pack.

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    • I would think that this is more in the nature of reiki, that is, a “flow” of some “energy” that Alexander feels to be collecting off of Wolf’s bad back, relieving his pain.
      (BTW, I don’t know if you guys are into him at all, but Terry Pratchett has an almost identical premise in his “I Shall Wear Midnight” – the main character, a witch named Tiffany, regularly takes the pain, which she feels as a burning substance, from an ill person and washes it off under running water; the House predates it by >10 years)

      Liked by 3 people

  7. But if he does good to them, by taking their pain, why does Wolf blackmail Alexander? How is it that Wolf can use Alexander’s secret. Why is Alexander so vulnerable? Why does Sphinx think it best if he stops those ‘miracles’?

    (I have many friends who read and are fans of Pratchett, but I haven’t read any of his books yet. There’s such an abyss of good literature, so many possibilities after the XXth century, that it’s daunting. But I plan to keep on reading, and maybe Pratchett will take a turn in my reads!

    Pain feeling like burning sounds right, specially if they have spine pain. And I remember that Wolf wore a body cast? He wasn’t healed, he went to the sanctuary for that cast.

    BTW, I finished Omon Ra, Yuri, I have a 100 things to talk about, but I don’t know where to start, huh! I copied your translation, saved it into a word doc and fed it to my Kindle. I couldn’t have read it from the screen. I enjoyed your notes at the end regarding the book and your translation. I know I did not get it in full, but the portion I got from it, was enjoyed and appreciated. It felt Soviet, I felt the criticism, some of the sarcasm, I liked the twists and turns (even when they lost me, -grin), I got that hero or antihero feel… in short, I liked his style. I think you described perfectly where this work (and other books by the author you have read) fits.

    One thing I noticed, I wouldn’t say there’s feminine or masculine literature, but this book, Omon Ra, felt a lot like being inside the mind of a boy, a young man, and later a grown up man. Though I surely have missed many references, puns, and remarks, there were many universal themes and feelings that came through Omon. There’s a hazy part with the Greeks, (I don’t know if I was fully awake when I was reading it), that I liked a lot. I’d have to read this short tale again.

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    • Thank you! It’s a fun little book. Pelevin has been writing more or less the same thing over and over again for many years now, and the later incarnations are not necessarily better.
      I think that part of the reason that Sphinx has forbidden Alexander to do what he perceives as “miracles given not by him, but through him” was because he was afraid of someone, upon understanding the fact that Alexander is capable of doing them, would demand that he perform them to his advantage and not necessarily to good ends. Wolf did precisely that, and the threat that he had hanging over Alexander’s head was that he would tell everyone about his ability to grant miracles, and the (already superstitious) House crowd would just tear him apart with their demands (“The Martian” again).

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      • That’s what I thought, a fun little book, yet it has lots of nostalgia, it’s pungent and it keeps you thinking too. I was lost yet I knew also what was going on, ha ha ha.

        About Alexander, that makes now so much sense. That’s the key, not by him but through him. And that explains that, if he was again ‘slaved’ to Wolf (as he was to his grandfather), he’d be able to kick Blind out of the house, and Wolf would become the new leader.

        I’m definitely on team Katie. Alexander is such an endearing boy. I feel bad for having thought he was dealing with drugs, arghhh.

        Like

    • Did his grandfather use them for evil? I got the feeling that he essentially “sold” Alexander’s miracles (maybe creating dependents for gain was how he used them for evil) and was wicked and abusive to Alexander in private.

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      • Either he used them for evil, or he just used them and abused Alexander. Maybe it was simply the fact that he slaved him and didn’t let him just be himself and use his gift as he wished.
        Maybe he looked like a pious man to the world, and was a monster to Alexander un private.

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      • I would say it is evil to create a whacked out religion on the foundation of a child’s abilities and profit from it. I don’t think that Alexander did evil things with his abilities; I just think that his grandfather twisted and abused a good gift – he literally made Alexander an idol. I see the grandfather as evil for these reasons; it’s not Alexander’s fault. Gramps was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, manipulating and leading astray people who were desperate for a miracle.

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      • You are right, Katie, he did evil, he was evil. (I was confused thinking that the ‘world’ may not have recognized it as evil, as it’s the intention of cults to appear as wonderful and spiritual or ‘holy’ endeavors).

        I was trying to decide if he had a cultist thing, pretending to be good, or a straight forward evil nature organization, but the first thing makes more sense, since people regarded him as good.

        Gramps was a hypocrite, no question, and more, he was a child abuser.

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  8. I agree with you, Yuri, with your comments on translation. It’s not that translations aren’t possible, or defective, or that there’s always something missing… it’s more a problem of a culture and some peculiarities and references being carried in a language and an era, and the impossibility of translating them. And the fact that some books, like Omon Ra, are very steeped in those cultural perks that are not simply transferred to other languages. But I think I coincide with you in that you decided to translate it with all the obstacles, you solved the obstacles in a fair and clever way, you communicated that to us, readers, making us aware of the limitations. I still enjoyed it 100 percent. I’m not one to mourn what is out of my reach, but I’m an enthusiast participant of that which is to my reach! (Though I admit to being jealous of the parts that were published in Russian of the Gray House, that were left out.)

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    • Among other snippets there’s an “alternative ending” (not exactly ending, but a part of the last chapter before the epilogue) that they put into that edition; Mariam said that when it came time to write that final scene, the characters were resisting so much that she has literally a dozen versions; they all start the same and end the same, but get there through different paths. I was looking for an excuse to translate it (since Amazon wasn’t interested); now I’ve got it. I’ll try to have it ready by the time the club comes to conclusion.
      (and if I have time, a chapter in Noble’s voice too; it’s important to the understanding of his relationship with Sphinx – and not only his, but Smoker’s too)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, I sure missed a great conversation last night. It made for great reading this morning!

    Silvia, you asked how the grandfather used Alexander’s abilities for evil. I would say that he twisted a holy thing into something unholy. He abused the gift giver, not only with physical abuse, but….he took his humanity away, I guess I would say, by making him into an idol. Alexander is a generous person, but he wasn’t allowed to give of his own volition. With his grandfather he was robbed, when he very likely would have been happy to be a gift if he would have been allowed to be himself and live his life in a “normal” way.

    I was very surprised to meet Death and Ginger outside of the Sepulcher! They seemed essential to that place. So Death is now a pimp. Haha. I enjoyed that short exchange between him and Sphinx. They’ve had no interaction up to this point, but Sphinx obviously has affection for him.

    The Soot of The Streets chapter has so many little snapshots of life in the House. It gives me a warm feeling – it’s like a little peak into a quiet, every day moment of some of these characters.

    Silvia, you taught me a new word this week: oneiric.

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    • Red/Death is an example of Mariam’s approach to writing the House – that is, assembling characters in a scene and then just observing what they would do. He was never supposed to appear in the “present”, having died of his mysterious illness without ever leaving the Sepulcher, but, as she says, he flatly refused. When (soon; at the end of book 2) she put him in another perilous situation (again with a view of getting rid of him), same thing happened again. And at the end of the book he made another surprising choice.
      (We Russians also have our culture-defining book, like the Spanish have Don Quixote, the English – Chaucer, the Italians – Dante and so on; the one that is a watershed in language between ancient and modern. For us it’s Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin”, so we know quite a bit of trivia around it, and one piece of it is that Pushkin, while composing it, had written in a letter to a friend: “You wouldn’t believe what my Tatiana (that’s the main heroine) pulled on me! Imagine, she just up and married!”)

      Liked by 2 people

      • I just published my comment at the same time than you. So Death comes back as Red, then I get it! Ginger/Red, I suspected at this point what’s their relationship, but, having read up to the beginning of week 7, I know what their relationship is now!

        That’s so funny, what you comment. Agatha Christie got tired of Poirot, because he had a personality of his own, and she just got tired of being there for him, so she wrote his death in my favorite book of hers, Curtain, but she did not resurrect him after that. In Candide, by Voltaire, it wasn’t just one character, but several, after being ‘dead’, they strangely show up in another chapter, with a very whimsical explanation of why they didn’t die after having been hang, or stabbed, or ‘killed’, ha ha ha. It’s quite hilarious and modern, for a book written in the seventeen hundreds.

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  10. Katie! Look at your new avatar, so pretty, reading The Gray House! It gives a great idea of how huge the book is, in size and we can say, in content!

    This summer is pretty special. I live my own reality, and in the House too. My mind is always in one of the two places, and then this conversation. I agree with you, The Soot of the Streets was like taking a stroll around the House. I loved listening and picturing everybody in a ‘normal’ day, their comings and goings, their ways of finding themselves in the cobweb that is the House.

    When I wrote about The Gray House, I titled that post ‘A Reader’s Dream’, thinking it was my dream to ever read this book… I could call this summer book club A Dream Come True!, lol, we are not only reading together, but we have Yuri with us, and Mariam through him.

    Yes, Death and Ginger. I still don’t know how is it they let them be together at the Sepulcher, and why Death was the favorite patient there, and why he demanded to be with Ginger or he’ll get worse. I guess Death wasn’t ‘death’ then. And why does Sphinx in his conversation with Red says, “I miss you, Death”, and Red says, “I’m sorry, Sphinx, but Death is no more.”

    Why were the girls not allowed before, and now they are, as it used to be not long ago? Why don’t Sphinx or Black seem very excited about the girls coming to their wing?

    Why did Long (Gaby) say that she was raped?, she said it nonchalant, Tabaqui chokes on a nut, and nobody followed up on that?

    I too love the philosophical exchanges between Sphinx and Smoker.

    The origins of the House with Mother Ann, how is that affect the current make up of the House?

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    • The ban on intermixing between boys and girls (in the form of a Law, enforced by the House people themselves, not by the administration – Smoker is right about that) must have stemmed from the disaster that was the last graduation; I think that Skull-Witch affair, in the Romeo-Juliet fashion, exacerbated the Skull people – Moor people rivalry and contributed to the bloody finale. It looks like Blind finally decided that it was safe to reverse the prohibition (Pompey’s gone, so is Wolf, and Black’s ambitions are under control – so no possibility of the House splitting again before the graduation).
      I also think that Gaby is a recent transplant to the House and has an abusive past, and she copes by lowering the social status of sexual relationships, reducing it to a bodily function. This wouldn’t be surprising to the House dwellers; they know that everyone has their way of dealing with their demons, so if this is hers, fine. Tabaqui is just more impressionable, so he reacts; I’m sure Sphinx didn’t bat an eye when she said that.
      (some of the girls, as little as we come to know about them, also seem to have dark stuff in their histories; I am trying not to think what made Fly refuse to talk and hide under the bed when someone tried to approach her, and that’s starting from age 6).

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      • I’m ahead of the rest (if the rest are on this week or previous weeks), I’m at the beginning of week 7, but week 7 I’ve only listened to once, and week 6 twice, some parts I’ve read or listened even 3x. Mariam may have been the first author who has inspired what I just thought we may call “instant re-reading”. Even before finishing the book, I simply want to read and re-read, and re-read some dialogues, some parts, chapters, or big chunks.

        Maybe because I have a few pages advantage, but I thought that much, Yuri, that graduation and its massacre had to do with the girls. Now it makes sense, Romeo and Juliet. We saw that Witch was a Moor girl, and she passed messages to Skull through Grasshopper and Blind.

        And I also thought that much about the abuse. After Alexander’s admittance to the House, we knew that it’s either physical disability, or troubled children, children who may very well be troubled because of abuse.

        I forgot to say that once I watched a documentary (or read about this), on people who experienced strange things (at the verge of science) with electronics, and energy. There were people who claimed to burn out street lights, to break TV’s, etc, involuntarily, as a result of some different level of energy going through their bodies.

        Alexander’s gift is inconvenient for his parents (if it has that effect on electronics, and as a consequence of those following him from his grandfather’s times of who knows what), and it must be linked to his ability to draw pain out, heat, energy.

        I also felt bad for Gaby, she seemed to have low self esteem, and she was also willing to be ‘looked at’, even if she used her body to attract that attention. And Blind going with her also seems a strange reaction, as in Blind looking for something, experimenting, why not?

        I feel troubled about having called Blind sociopath. It’s not exactly that, it’s his upbringing. He never cried, and he didn’t feel anything with Gaby, he is called Senseless One… I again have an advantage, but I think I know something about him.

        In general, I like this children/youngsters. Or should I say, I care for them. Even though they are so messed up at times, to see them growing up with such a mix of problems and so little guidance breaks my heart. So far, it’s now the grown ups who start to look so unreliable and careless. I still have some hopes on Ralph, he seems to care more, though I still don’t know what’s going on with him either.

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      • Silvia, your comment about the documentary you watched makes perfect sense for Alexander. I didn’t give any though to the claim that he sometimes destroyed electronics.

        When Gaby is interacting with others, I find her obnoxious and pitiful, but in the snapshot we get when she is alone, it’s almost heart breaking. We see her humanity and are forced to acknowledge that she has real longings and needs. It is a very forlorn little scene. She’s not a Sonia or a Fantine by any stretch of the imagination – I don’t want to make her into a saint – but she is a product of a hard life that she’s had no control over. She’s the young woman doing what she needs to do to survive, and though she’s not doing it to save her child or keep her family off the street, might we not say that it is her way of coping with her demons and surviving in the House, and that it is a role that she is, to some degree, forced into. (That’s debatable, and I don’t know yet if I totally believe what I am saying. Not trying to force connections. This passage invoked a lot of compassion in me, and I’m trying to explain it). Maybe I’m the only one who was moved by the poignancy of this scene, and maybe I am making too much of Gaby’s inevitable role, I don’t know. I just think it’s sadly beautiful:

        “Lanky Gaby stuffs the photograph of Marilyn (Monroe, I assume) back under the mattress and sits on top, pulling her black-stockinged legs closer under her to keep from the cold. There are three more identical pairs of stockings draped over the heater, drying. Gaby takes them one by one and puts her hand inside, trying to find two with the least number of holes, so that she can scratch together a decent-looking pair.”

        She wants to be beautiful and desirable like Marilyn. She doesn’t keep the picture on her wall though. She hides it. Why? Later, she takes it to swap day – if I remember correctly. Is there significance in that?

        Do you say Gaby with a long A, like it’s spelled, or short A, like the name Gabby?

        I don’t know the significance of Mother Ann, except that she built the Sepulcher. It’s interesting that the House used to be run by a strict and devout woman, and now it is a place of loose and morphing rules made largely by the children instead of the adults. I’m interested to see if Mother Ann has further importance in the story.

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      • You are not the only one who thought about Gaby like that. Her scene is heart breaking.

        Trying to find a decent pair without so many holes… such a way of describing her life, full of holes, she is longing for some decency. I think she thinks she is ugly (others say so), and her only feature is related to that objectification and sexual allure, her long legs.

        I also remember when she was trying to clean the boys’ records, to her they were dirty, but she used her saliva, and the boys were repulsed by that. She wants to help them, to have a relationship with them, yet her behavior and her looks are too much for any of them to try to reach out to her in a loving way. After all, they are young, none of them knows very well how to interact with the girls, and there’s their hormones in the middle, their quirks and their tight friendship.

        I think narrator of the book says Gaby with a short a (the way I would say it without thinking about it, ha ha ha. I called my Karen friends Karen with short a until I realized their name was Karen, long a, -grin.

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  11. The photos and illustrations are marvelous. This book! Wow. I’ve had to slow way down to take it all in. I read some, listen some. I will never be on schedule, but it is an incredible world!! You breathe in this book, you “inhale” it (as in “I did not inhale”) and then you are within it. To not fully let go and be in the belly of the whale you won’t make it and won’t “get” it. Parts are mesmerizing. Parts I couldn’t give a narration on if I tried. It is spellbinding in the way I haven’t had a book be in years. And it is in translation! I cannot even fathom reading it in the original language. I think you would have to suspend regular life and just plow thru it in the original–it would not allow you to stop judging by what I am reading in a “mere” translation. So glad I decided to read this. It may be 2019 when I get finished. No matter. It is all the experience of this unique world.

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    • Lisa, your comment makes me SO happy. For a while, I felt a bit concerned about having encouraged many of you to read along a book that I thought could be a good read, but which I hadn’t read myself.

      And then we started, and I was, as you say, completely blown away by it, as you said,

      It is spellbinding in the way I haven’t had a book be in years.

      And Yuri came along, with those live footnotes and commentary, making this experience so special.

      As for being behind, don’t you worry, I am going to live in this book for long too, ha ha ha. I have already seen the ability the book has of not tiring you from reading it, or talking about it.

      Oh, I too think some parts I get what’s going on, others I also couldn’t narrate, only explain what i feel. Part of Mariam’s genius is, in my opinion, that ability of writing things that we can choose to downplay or we can think of a complex explanation.

      The more you give to the book, the more you receive. In week 6’s section, there’s a dialogue between a girl and a senior (I won’t say who), that I have already listened to twice and read once. I don’t tire of it. As I move forward, I feel a longing to go backwards in the book, as to have all I know about the House fresh for any new pages to come.

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  12. I’m thinking a bit about Smoker and Sphinx. Has Smoker changed since part one? The way he’s perceived has changed, but is that just narrator point of view? Remember how Sphinx spoke of Smoker earlier on? He dreaded his questions, but he saw a purity and openness in Smoker that seemed to endear him to Sphinx. Does Smoker still have this vulnerability? Has Black changed him? Did Pompey’s death change him? Or is he ultimately the same person he was?

    I sense a connection between these two characters. Despite the fact that Smoker chose Black, despite the fact that Sphinx has intimate, long-held connections with many members of the House, there is something under the surface that seems profound, and I’m not sure Smoker is aware of it. I don’t think he is. A few weeks back, I wondered if, when Sphinx sees Smoker, he is reminded of his own self as a child. Obviously Smoker is older than Grasshopper, but he has only recently come to the House. He wants to help Smoker learn to navigate the House. Why does he concern himself so much with Smoker when he seems so stubborn and sometimes even hostile? Is it because he is his godfather? Because, next to Blind, Sphinx is the leader of his pack and the House? Is it more personal than that?

    Supposedly Sphinx has stepped into Skulls shoes, but how so, really? He has his amulet, but is he like Skull? He strikes me more as Ancient’s successor. He has a strength and presence that is different from Ancient, but he is also a mentor, and it seems he is trying to train Smoker to be successful. Does Sphinx have only pure motives in the things he says and does? At times, depending on who is telling the story, Sphinx has seemed rather sinister, but when I see him in action and when I see him alone, I trust his intentions. Do you guys too?

    His theme with Smoker, over and over, is open your eyes, open your ears. He constantly admonishes him to fully use his senses. He can’t come out and tell him all the things that happen in the House; is this advice the most he can do for him? It’s interesting that Blind can see nothing and Sphinx, thanks to the training of his lookies game, has learned to see all, to see the things that are barely perceivable. He has this super sense of observation, and to him, Smoker seems to see not at all – more blind than Blind.

    I loved that scene when Smoker tells him of the game he’d sometimes play of undressing the leaders -because he surprised Sphinx. It was as though Sphinx realized maybe there is more to Smoker than meets the eye. Maybe it was another way of endearing Smoker to him since he has his own inner game world.

    In the Soot of the Streets chapter, I get what Sphinx was trying to do, but was he being completely fair? Smoker says, “I was just wondering what it was that you called the soot of the streets. Was that so wrong? And Sphinx replies, “But you didn’t ask it that way. You asked if we were going outside.” But Smoker DIDN’T ask if they were going outside!! He first said, “What do you mean, soot of the streets? Is that another joke?” Then Sphinx rather shifts the focus of the conversation to why don’t you ever listen to what people say to you. I get that Sphinx wants Smoker to read between the lines and live more intuitively, but, I don’t know….he sometimes seems to twist people up in his words. Black has complained about how Sphinx does this sort of thing, and while I trust and like Black less and less, he seems to have a point. So, is Sphinx just tricky or is there a valuable purpose to the way he uses his words. Is he trying to get a rise out of Smoker to push him to action? Sphinx’s statements and questions are designed to get Smoker to think and come to his own conclusions. Black is straightforward and tells Smoker what he thinks and what he wants Smoker to know. Sphinx leads Smoker to a degree, but he wants him to find his own way.

    Hope that wasn’t too convoluted. Very random thoughts this morning. Hopefully they will become more ordered as I digest them and as you all contribute your thoughts on these two.

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    • Katie, you wrote a fabulous commentary here! I’m savoring your comment, and I feel and think as you do, you’ve described my thoughts to a T. Black and Sphinx in relation to Smoker, right on the spot. Black tells him, Sphinx wants him to think on his own.

      I feel as if there’s something we don’t know, whatever Sphinx is trying to communicate, that will help us understand what’s going on between him and Black, and thus between Smoker and the rest as well. I do hope Mariam tells us or reveals this piece of the puzzle we don’t have. Something which will help us explain what’s going on, whether in the real realm or in the magical, or in both, but something we are not told yet.

      I too think Sphinx as seen by others, is very intimidating, yet in his private conversation with Smoker, the Grasshopper traits (he was to me very tender, and vulnerable) resurface.

      You are totally right about Sphinx and Smoker words. He is harsh, Smoker did not ask about going outside, but yet he was not in that deeper meaning, or in the read between the lines that Sphinx seems to want him to embrace. I don’t know a lot about Black. But we know that Smoker was bullied, and we also know that Noble tried to help him show a different attitude to that bullying that would hopefully stop it. Black cannot understand why Sphinx, who, according to him, tortured Noble, is that loved by the pack.

      Sphinx gets excited when Smoker tells him about those theories of him, or those ‘games’, of trying to look beyond appearances. Once more, I’m looking into the disabled physically against the physically whole but maybe mentally messed up children (?) The sissies pack seems to be composed of all who have some handicap. What’s up with Elephant? (does he have some intellectual handicap? He seems to be unable to express himself coherently. And Tubby? He is also baby like?)

      I think there’s something there. Sphinx feels Smoker’s distrust. Smoker has accepted Black explanation that Sphinx is ‘not good’, yet they love him. Maybe Black doesn’t understand the disabled ones? What is it that unites Noble, Sphinx, and even Smoker? They have a disability. Maybe Sphinx way was to push Noble until he overcame that disability as much as possible, and that’s looked as torturing by Black. Noble (was it Noble?) told Smoker to respond to Lary’s bullying in a different way, instead of tale telling to Shark, or threatening with that, respond attacking him, period. He is not expecting that. He doesn’t expect a Pheasant to retaliate. Pheasants seem to act like victims, and others gladly assume the role of the one inflicting torture.

      What is that reality Sphinx wants Smoker to see. And is he, as you say, changing? I still have lots of doubts of what’s going on with the outside rule, the not talking about going outside, and what’s going on with those who go outside (and come back but don’t talk about it, such as Noble.)

      (Katie: I edited your typo on your comment!)

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      • Thanks for editing. 🙂 So often, I don’t proofread until I post, and then it is too late!

        I agree that we don’t have some important information pertaining to Black’s relationship with the rest of the 4th. How and why did he become part of the poxy sissies? What happened to his leadership in Stuffage? I just finished reading part two today and was looking at the house list for part three. I see that there will be a change coming with regard to Black. I wonder if this means that Smoker reevaluates his alliance. I really want Smoker to become at ease and at home with his other pack mates. I hope that happens for him. I’m not even going to try to figure out what all those crazy designations are about in the next part. It’s interesting to look at, though.

        I find that as I read further, I care less and less about trying to put the various realities of the House into neat little boxes. The Longest Night was so good – the movement between reality and the underside so fluid.

        You’re right, Sphinx really is loved. The rest of the pack, excluding Black and, to a lesser degree Smoker, have great respect and loyalty to him, and love.

        Yes, looking beyond the disabilities….The 4th seems to have a high amount of physically disabled kids, but I think Tubby is the only one with a mental handicap. He is marked as insensible and a wheeler in the part one list. That’s why he seems so helpless and infantile. Interestingly, Black is the only one without a physical disability. Why did he come to the House in the first place? Obviously he is volatile and he’s often described as morose, so depression or ODD, or something. He just seems very misplaced in this pack.

        The 3rd seems to have a lot of members who maybe have cognitive issues. I really got that impression when Ralph came to visit them, and from some things that Vulture has said. Vulture seems pretty with it as their leader, and protective of his odd little group. I think Elephant and Beauty both show signs of cognitive disabilities, but not near the level of Tubby. Maybe having Downs, or something of that nature.

        I think you are on that right track when you say that Black doesn’t understand what Sphinx was doing with Noble because Black is physically powerful. He doesn’t have a clue what it is like to live without your limbs.

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    • I don’t trust Black, but I don’t think that Sphinx feels like he can just up and say what the problem is for fear of driving Smoker closer to Black. (Think of a parent criticizing his child’s totally unsuitable friend; the child is likely to defend his friend from the “attack” rather than take his father’ advice). I think Sphinx is trying to come at it obliquely, to get Smoker to ask questions rather than simply accept what he’s being told by anyone, including Black.

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  13. I too looked at book 3’s designations, and they are intriguing. I don’t know what they mean, but I’m sure I will as I read part 3.

    This,

    I find that as I read further, I care less and less about trying to put the various realities of the House into neat little boxes. The Longest Night was so good – the movement between reality and the underside so fluid.

    I agree. So fluid. Flawless. There’s a lot of clues and sentences that can be taken realistically or metaphorically. I am not trying to settle for one or the other anymore. I’m happy to read. I want to know more about them all, and the House, yet I don’t want it to end. And I’m very excited that we may have some extras (and no pressure to Yuri, whenever those extra pages come, they’d be very welcome), so that we can hear those whose voices weren’t there (and Black is one of them.)

    I agree with your judgment on the 3rd pack, and Vulture being so protective. I do like him too. Smoker is intimidated by him (that’s in the Longest Night.) And yes, he is the surviving twin, as you guessed earlier.

    I’m still working on the post for week 6. I’ve listened and read the section several times, but there’s A.LOT in next week’s pages, and so much I want to discuss.

    Stealing a bit from next week’s knowledge, I had already thought about how when we read about the House and its people, despite their different handicaps, I never seem to see them as disabled. I’m fine also reading and not finding a neat and tidy (or rational) explanation and compartmentalization of the House and its people. However, I would really love to know a tad more about what’s the matter with the outside. Do some of them not want to hear, because they do not want to leave the house at 18 and go back to their ‘life’ before the House?, or is there a place they are sent that they fear? (I’m thinking, are some of them leaving to be part of ‘real life’?, or do they send some of them to a place for crazies, or to a hospital like place? Could they decide to stay, continue living at the House passed an age?

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    • That’s one of the reasons Mariam is so firmly set against selling the filming rights – because you’d always see the disabilities on screen, while in the process of reading they disappear.

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      • It makes perfect sense. The disabilities will be an obstacle to knowing their personalities. I guess there’s many parts where the movie director will have to settle for one interpretation. And the clues, if you give them visually, one cannot find them retrospectively. And that’s one amazing thing of this book, how as you keep reading, the past pages become more loaded, and one can go back and they gain a new depth. It would have to be very altered and simplified.

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  14. It will be very interesting to talk about The Longest Night. That chapter is a little masterpiece. I will need to reread it. I like Vulture too, and I know what you mean about forgetting they are disabled.

    I think the main problem with the Outsides is that it is the unknown, but maybe there is more to it than that. I’m sure some of them integrate into society, but that would be a scary, uncomfortable process. The House has been their protection all these years. They know how to live there. Maybe some of them are put in group homes for adults, like you said, or possibly even asylums. I don’t know. There was a scene with Grasshopper and Wolf, I don’t remember now if it was for this week or next, when they are on the roof, and Grasshopper says something to the effect of look at how the streets of the outsides looks painted on – made of paper that you could punch a hole through, and what’s behind it? So, to the residents, the outsides seems like merely a facade – nothing real. And yet, people like Noble and Rat do go out there and return, and yet, like you said, it seems knowing talks about their experience on the outsides.

    Does anyone remember the name of the steel toothed man in Sphinx’s nightmare a couple weeks back? I can’t seem to find that information now. Trying to figure out who Crookshank is in the Longest Night and was wondering if it was the same person. Doesn’t sound quite right, though, but it’s bugging me I can’t find his name.

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    • I’m still typing the post for week 6, and that roof scene is coming.

      I’ll try to look for that name. I too though, whoa, who are those people in the Longest Night, who are part of their ‘dreams, hallucinations, alternate realities?’ I also am not sure if Crookshank is the same as in Sphinx’s nightmare, but the nightmares have similarities, the strange people, the river, (Moon River?), dogs, now cats too. I guess that’s all part of “The Forest”? And do you all remember how one of them said their nightmares started the same?

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      • Yeah, I think Sphinx told Noble that the entrance to the Underside is the same location for everyone. Is that what you are thinking?

        I certainly have some big question marks regarding who some of the people/beings in that chapter are!

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  15. The scene between Wolf and Sphinx reminds me of this play by Calderón de la Barca, called “La vida es sueño” (I looked it up and it’s hard to believe this play was published in 1635), Life is but a dream, and to the Shakespearean notion of us being players or actors in a play, and the existentialist idea of life as a nonsensical farce. Everything in this book is so fascinating.

    Page 165, the name is not given, Katie, he is just described as the man with steel front teeth.

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    • Hmm. Okay. I did find that scene, but I was so sure that the guy had a name, so I thought it might have been mentioned at a different point. I won’t worry about it. I’m sure, if he has a name, Yuri will be able to chime in with it at some point!

      Yeah, great connections about that rooftop scene. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” And Macbeth’s soliloquy about life being a walking shadow. And yes, with the existentialists, I think the elements of not only farce and the absurd, but also the notion that we define who we are based on what we do – on our action, or acting, is relevant to this book.

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      • No, I don’t think that the steel-toothed had a name. And Croockshank is the Forest persona of Shuffle/Magician (with his crooked leg).
        Also, Saara is Rat (even though he is referred to as male) – we’ll see more of her and Blind together on this side as well.

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      • Thanks, Yuri. Crookshank didn’t seem menacing to me, but I can get a bit spun around with all these names sometimes. I didn’t realize that each present day character had a different name in the underside too!

        That was a very intriguing scene with Saara and Blind. I’m glad that we will get to explore that relationship more. I really like Rat and I’ve been hoping that she, and Ginger and Mermaid, would continue to weave their way into the story. It’s an interesting reading experience because the reader has established close relationships with some of the male characters at this point in the book, but it’s just opening itself up to the female characters. So, we hardly know them, yet some of them have long established relationships with these boys that we are just beginning to feel our way through. When we first met Ginger in the Sepulcher, I had been pretty certain there were no girls in the House at all!

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  16. I got distracted the past few weeks, and I’m slowly catching up. There are a few things that haven’t really been mentioned that are nagging at my thoughts.

    1) Alexander is recognized by Tabaqui as a Dragon. What?! We have all talked about his gentleness, healing, willingness to serve, fragility, etc. I see all those things, but Dragons are dangerous, powerful, and prone to flame into destruction without notice. Is Alexander dangerous? Does he have more power than simply relieving pain and relieving bad dreams?

    2) Vulture—I feels sure that one of Siamese becomes Vulture, but which one? That cat scene was quietly horrifying.

    3) Death — You guys!!! Death is alive!!!!! But he turned into Red, and that makes me so sad. Why? What drove him there? He seemed so essentially good hearted, from the short scene we saw him in. Why would he grow up to lead the Birds? (Or maybe he wasn’t good-hearted at all, and that was just Grasshopper’s limited perception of the moment.)

    4) The scene where Grasshopper kicks in the window to free the seniors — somehow I feel like this is so important to who Sphinx becomes.

    “…once we get all that, we’re not going to just shuffle in place. We’ll fly away.”
    “Right.” Stinker nodded. “You’re going to kick out the glass for us, and we’ll just soar into the sky… You gave your word, so remember that.”

    Free from what? Soar where? How can soaring away be freedom, if what they really want is to stay in the House?

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    • 1. Both Alexander and Noble are seen as dragons by Tabaqui. As you say, what’s the significance?

      2. He is the twin in the hole, I believe, with the leg that got hurt, (Vulture suffers from pain in his legs). Vulture pray and feed on death, is this Vulture like this?, why does Sphinx seem to approve of him?

      3. You don’t think Red as goodhearted? (Maybe not.) Birds fly, right?, do they fly into freedom, or into death?, is death freedom?

      4. I thought that the breaking of the window was important too. Grasshopper was given the nick because he ‘flew’ downstairs, right? He expected retaliation from the seniors for doing that, but elephant told the seniors who broke the window, and they didn’t care. Free from what?, why is only at the longest night when they can talk about the outside?

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