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August's Book
Collectors
by Paul Griner

Bill:
All right, let's play the adjective game with Paul Griner. Collectors by Paul Griner is ________ .

Wilma:
For me, excellent.

Bill:
"Excellent." All right ...

Dava:
A book that gives you the willies.

Bill:
"A book that gives you the willies" -- more than just one adjective, but we will include all of those in our discussion.

Terry:
Peculiar.

Bill:
"Peculiar." And let's go around the table again just for fun. Dava, you said a few minutes ago, "creepy."

Dava:
Uh huh, that's for sure. It's full of characters which -- at least for me -- I can't figure these characters out. I mean completely. And that's what makes it interesting, as Wilma said.

Bill:
What do you think Paul Griner was trying to do with all of this, Wilma?

Wilma:
Oh well, of course I'm not inside the author's head, but I just think this is so well done, and I'm really proud of him as a writer. It's so good. I think it could be a book that could be used in a writer's workshop because he's done everything a good writer is supposed to do. He has excellent characterization -- and the whole point that you didn't understand all of them is deliberate, I think, on his part. He is playing a game with us. That is one of the themes in the book, and I think that is one of the things that the author is doing, also. The characters are slowly and deliberately developed; the plot is interesting; there is suspense; there is a great deal of foreshadowing.

The setting is excellent, and he uses -- such good use of imagery. You know, there are tastes and smells and sights and even textures and so on. And he also has this wonderful theme of the collectors. And this is not the only book I have ever read or movie I have ever seen that had to do with a diabolical collector. But Paul Griner does this very well because he gets very specific about the psychology of a collector and then he uses that as a theme in the book. We learn about the collectors, and several of the characters in the book are collectors. Some of them just "acquire," and the characters that are [true] collectors think that that's a very weak point: people who just acquire material goods.

And then also [there is] the whole theme of games. We have everything from children's games to the games the people are playing among themselves in their relationships, and then we have the vendors playing games with the collectors, and then we have the author playing games with us because he wants to keep us off balance. It's the same way that Steven is keeping Jean off balance.

The author keeps us off balance -- he even starts out with a lovely wedding, and that's not what the book is going to be about at all. But there is an image right in the wedding, and it's about the flower petals that the people have tossed toward the bride and groom. When Jean looks down, she sees -- one of the first images in the book -- a river of crimson petals. Now this is a blood imagery and is not typical of a wedding. Usually if an author were trying to have a lovely scene at the beginning, he would have said something like, you know, "a soft carpet of pink petals" -- that type of thing. But this is a river of crimson petals, so he's playing with us a bit.

Bill:
Uh huh ... and that is the first time we are really introduced to all of the major characters. Jean appears at the wedding. You don't really know at first if it's Jean or Claudia who is actually getting married. Terry, what did you think about the introduction of those characters right at the beginning of the book?

Terry:
The interesting thing, I think, is that Steven also is there. There is a tall dark stranger standing next to Jean and urging her forward, and you don't meet this person again until later. She talks about that -- she did not get on the barge with this stranger. Now whether that is the same stranger or not, it is certainly the same image of a stranger.

Bill:
Uh huh. What do you learn about Jean at the very beginning of the book? What kind of personality is Jean?

Terry:
She's single. That is what I think you learn the most. And she's mean!

[Everyone laughs]

Terry:
When the two characters are there at the reception -- the two unsuccessful suitors -- when she is afraid that one of them might follow her, she notices he's barefoot and so she drops her champagne glass into the grass in her trail in case he tries to follow her up the hill. That's mean. That's ...

Bill:
So we've already established that she is a bit strange, maybe, in some ways ... but I mean that's established pretty early.

Dava:
Well, you think she is a very isolated character, very malicious, that she does not want anybody to be an influence. But I find that later on in the book it's very interesting that many of the things she does have been done by someone before. She's not the first person to collect pens; she says her uncle does that. When Claudia dyes her hair blonde, [Jean] dyes her hair blonde.

Bill:
Who is Claudia? Let's establish that.

Dava:
Claudia is her cousin ...

Bill:
... whose wedding they are attending.

Dava:
... whose wedding she is attending, who was her best friend when she was a child. And it's so strange because she's by herself most of the time, but yet she wants to borrow a bit of someone else. And Steven, who turns out to be, probably, her murderer ... [laughs]

Bill:
A dark character.

Dava:
A dark character. He sends her directions to his place and she sits and traces his handwriting and wants to, you know, adopt that handwriting -- wants hers to be more like that. It's just very strange how she can be a combination of the two, and it's just another point about her you aren't so settled about.

Bill:
What did you think about the sorts of personality traits that you learn about Jean at the very beginning? You learn more about her at the wedding, and she does establish a relationship with Steven, but then there is a period of time ... even though he asks her to go sailing on the boat, which turns out to be another theme in the book -- the sailing part of it ... But then he doesn't call her for a while, and you learn a little bit more about, as Dava said, that she is sort of aloof in many ways but yet she has this longing, almost an obsessive nature about her, wanting to be with Steven. She sort of has ...

Terry:
She's an outcast at the wedding.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Wilma:
She is, because -- one reason she is [is that] Claudia has asked her to the wedding, but it's kind of abrupt. I mean, she hasn't heard from Claudia for years, and there has been a problem in the family about the two girls -- they wanted to separate them when they were young -- and we find out a great deal early on about her, even at the wedding. As you say, she does act ... she is very abrupt with the two men when just a polite smile and walking away would have taken care of the situation of the men approaching her. And then also she drops other clues at that time. We find that she's had many doctors -- you know, there are just a few little things that we find out about. We find out that she and Claudia have played serious games when they were children. I believe it's even on, you know, the first few pages: She talks about their putting lighter fluid on their arms and setting them on fire.

Terry:
Risky games.

Wilma:
They are what?

Terry:
Risky games.

Wilma:
Risky, risky, yeah -- not just games but risky games. I'm more interested, almost, with Claudia, because the first ... Even though most of the book is told from Jean's viewpoint, the first paragraph is Claudia's, so it makes you wonder what part Claudia has had in this. I love that idea, and I think the author has done this very well. We think possibly Claudia is just an innocent bystander, but there are all sorts of clues that would indicate that she is maybe masterminding all of this.

Bill:
You think she set Jean up.

Wilma:
Well, of course this is never specifically told, but there are a number of clues. First of all, the one about the photograph that is taken of Jean and Steven at the wedding, and they are just in profile. She even says, or the author says, "Excuse me that the faces are blotted out because they are backlighted with the sun." And Claudia throws that away. Now ...

Terry:
But only the print.

Wilma:
But only the print; that's right, only the print. And also she dreams about that picture a great many times; and in her dreams, she's taking the picture, which would indicate she is the one in control. And then there is one little symbol in there, and I -- this may be stretching it too far -- but you know, when Steven buys something for Claudia, he buys her a candy jar -- the bottom. And he says the bottom is the most important because it's the base that everything else rests on. And then he says a person should get a gift that she deserves.

Terry:
Right.

Wilma:
And so in other words ... I don't know if that's too far to stretch it or not.

Terry:
I didn't think it was when I finished the book.

Wilma:
Yes.

Terry:
I wanted to go back and retitle it Claudia's Revenge.

Wilma:
Oh, good! That's good.

Terry:
Because when Jean asks Claudia in the hospital, "Why did you invite me to the wedding?" Claudia responds, "I wanted to play again."

Wilma:
Uh huh.

Bill:
Well, let's go back and fill in a few of those details. Dava, this relationship between Jean and Claudia as they were children -- something very intriguing and mysterious and tragic occurs.

Dava:
Well, the real tragedy occurs when Jean persuades Claudia into starting what they believe is just going to be a small fire, or even if it becomes larger it's not going to have [much] effect except for destroying things, but it ends up burning the entire house down and severely injures Claudia's father, Jean's uncle. All of their games are extremely obsessive. They call each other She and Me; they have their own secret language as children. In this book I have actually marked a place that talks about some of the games they played, or one particular one.

"Beyond the divide," the game had been. And this is a game they played where one would pretend to be dead and the other one ... Anyway, it says: "If you moved even once you were punished. They took turns lying still on a board while watching the other scuttle about picking roses, pretending to cook, preening before a mirror, all the while secretly mourning, and the thrill was that you got to watch someone crumble at your loss, to see the devastating process of accumulated grief -- and all for you."

Bill:
So you establish a rather strange childhood relationship ... and then I guess I understand that they were apart for a number of years, and then all of a sudden they weren't really close, even though they were cousins. Then all of a sudden Jean gets this invitation to the wedding and all this starts up again. So you think in some ways Claudia was sort of a part of the plot, if you will?

Wilma:
Oh, yes. And the part that Terry picked out is especially telling, as you indicated, because she says that she invited her because she wanted to play again. She paid no attention whatsoever to Jean at the wedding; nor did she have contact with her until Jean had the accident. And so she didn't want to play with Jean -- she had already set up the game.

Terry:
She even had an opportunity after the accident, after Jean hurt her hand, in the hospital. Claudia comes to see Jean while she is recuperating in the hallway and declines to drive her home.

Wilma:
Oh, that's right!

Terry:
Saying, "Well, I have to work for three more hours," and then Jean sleeps for three more hours and still does not get a ride home.

Wilma:
And Claudia doesn't come back at that point.

Terry:
And it is Claudia who sends Steven, fully briefed, to deal with Jean.

Wilma:
And Steven even says -- and this is another thing, too, because we know he's had contact with Claudia, more than just at the wedding, because when he's setting up those horrible photographs at the end, he says, "Claudia told me she would send pictures of you from the wedding, but I haven't received them yet." So we know that he's had more contact with Claudia than.

Terry:
And it's even a little bit odd, maybe ... I don't know the geography of Boston, but it may be a little bit odd that at the reception he was an overnight guest.

Wilma:
Yes.

Terry:
And yet his place had to be much farther than Jean's.

Bill:
Indeed, he's had some contact with Jean, too, that we later find out -- that not even she is aware of until the later part of the book. But let's go back -- let's return to Steven now, and the dark nature of his personality, and what sort of fellow is he? Is he someone that is sort of your everyday guy that you are going to meet on the street?

Terry:
I am going to interject here that I really didn't get to appreciate this book the first time through because I did not know it was a horror story. I did not know that in a horror story, there is the assumption that something is going to happen. Somebody somewhere is going to get killed, or worse, and there is this foreboding kind of evil presence looming throughout it. And I presume if you read this that way, then you know the ending. The only question is how you are going to get there and who is going to get it. And I didn't have that going through.

Wilma:
Well, that is part of the game the author is playing with us, because he is giving us plenty of information that this is not a soft story. I mean, there is all sorts of blood imagery in it. Their names are -- Steven's last name is Cain; Jean's last name is "Du-prey." So you know ... in other words, if you read -- and I did read back over it just to pick up the foreshadowing, as I guess you did -- there is so much there [that] if you were a really alert reader, you could have picked up on it. And there were things like, her number is one number off from the funeral home.

Terry:
Uh huh.

Wilma:
So she gets calls all the time about caskets. You know, people wanting caskets, or they want some funeral arrangements, and then the idea about the game that they played, about -- you know, about being dead and watching each other mourn -- and then there are all sorts of things ... Steven even says, he talks about, in his collecting "death is always a draw" -- you know, that type of thing.

Terry:
Right.

Wilma:
So there are references to death throughout. It's just that we have been lulled into maybe just thinking this is a relationship story. And that is what I thought. I thought, hey, this is pretty good, you know -- this is kind of how it happens, you know, when the man is kind of a commitment-phobic kind of person and he's holding the woman off; he doesn't want her to get too attached. And it -- I thought it was going to go that way. And I didn't realize it was sinister.

Bill:
But there are some ... there are ... did you think so, Dava? I mean, there are some early indications that, I think -- that it can't be just regular dating.

Wilma:
Well, that's what I said, right?

Bill:
Yeah.

Dava:
Just looking at the inside of the book jacket, it talks about how Jean becomes a victim in this relationship, but you wonder if she deserves it, and I thought that from the very beginning. He breaks her hand on their first date and she is just, like, "Well, you know, maybe he's nervous." I mean, what ...?

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
That's strange.

Dava:
He goes back, and they have the person on the dock who ...

Wilma:
She wants to see him again.

Dava:
Yeah, who tells her to get away from him.

Bill:
She is obsessed by that time.

Dava:
He beats up this man right in front of her and she doesn't care.

Bill:
That was a warning.

Dava:
Yeah.

Wilma:
[Laughs] Yeah.

Dava:
Claudia tells her he comes into the hospital all the time -- that he is Mr. Accident, you know.

Wilma:
That is the whole point, though.

Bill:
She called him that: Mr. Accident.

Dava:
Truth or not, but yeah.

Bill:
And why did she call him that? Because ...

Wilma:
... he causes accidents.

Dava:
Yeah, everyone he knows is in accidents, but ...

Wilma:
But in the end, he causes accidents; but in the end he's killed two people.

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
Well, now, let's be fair there.

Wilma:
Oh, no, they were all accidents. [Laughs]

Bill:
If he had killed two people, he would have been indicted for murder.

Dava:
Well, yeah, OK, so he ...

Bill:
Wife disappeared overboard. OK, and they didn't find her body -- number one. And number two, his ex-fiancé -- now that's strange -- was putting a light bulb in a socket.

Wilma:
And he was holding the ladder.

Bill:
Holding the ladder, left to go over to the phone or do something and was distracted, and she falls off and breaks her neck. So that is two strikes against him right there. But you know, going back to that breaking of the hand there on the dock, and that excruciating pain and all of that that she went through, and then it turns out that he sort of panics in a way because he can't drive a car. Or won't attempt to even help her and all of that. I thought that was a bizarre episode there, because she returns -- what -- weeks later to try to get her car.

Terry:
Six days.

Bill:
The car hasn't been moved at all from its -- just six days?

Terry:
Six days.

Bill:
So I think pretty early on he's established that he's not your normal date.

Terry:
That was another case where, had I known it was supposed to be a horror book, I might have given more leeway or been more likely to suspend my disbelief. If you go through his description of the accident where her hand gets broken, there is no way those two bodies could have been arranged that way to do that -- because he describes her getting in the car, and then after her hand is broken her legs give way out from under her and she decides not to lean on him.

Bill:
I see. You have detected a flaw in the ...

Terry:
As you are reading ...

Bill:
... in the physical nature of ...

Terry:
As you are reading through trying to picture what is going on, if you don't have the gloss of "This is a horror story; we are all just ..." -- this is the point at which the cheerleader decided to go into the darkened locker room.

[Everyone laughs]

Terry:
Everybody knows, screaming not to do this.

Wilma:
Turn on the lights!

Terry:
That's right.

Bill:
Well, doesn't ...

Terry:
This is when Janet Leigh decides to take a shower.

[Everyone laughs]

Terry:
And you know better.

Bill:
Those warning signals ... If there was ever a warning signal ... After all the ones that you have earlier, when the guy on the dock, the mysterious older man who is carrying the groceries to his own boat ... Now she has had a meeting with him earlier, but this time he pretty much says, "Do not go on this boat today."

Wilma:
No. At that point Jean was making the choice.

Bill:
Oh, she is ...?

Wilma:
She knows. Yeah.

Bill:
She is ... yeah.

Wilma:
I mean, in other words, that's not just a warning sign she's ignoring. That is something she is going -- she is taking -- she is going, "OK, I know, but I'm going to get on the boat; I've made a decision to go through with this." And I think that is a real interesting decision. First of all, we know that she is somewhat psychotic; I mean, she has been in hospitals. Certainly everyone mourns her -- that, you know, she seems to be going.

Bill:
After the fire.

Wilma:
After the fire, and other times, too. I mean, she's a psychotic person, so she's not thinking clearly. I mean, any of the rest of us would go, "I don't believe I'm going to get on the boat."

Bill:
[Laughs]

Wilma:
But she's not thinking clearly. Number one, she's psychotic. She wants to complete Steven's collection for him. She is a collector -- she wants to complete that collection for him. And then also we have two incidents to know that she's not satisfied with her life. Number one, she does say [that] her older neighbor ...

Terry:
Uh huh.

Bill:
Olson.

Wilma:
She says she doesn't want to get old like that and live like that. Then the second thing is, she also in her advertising -- and she must be very good at it, from all indications -- but in her advertising career, she has decided she doesn't want to spend time enticing people just to acquire materials that they don't need. So she's dissatisfied with her life. She's emotionally unstable, and she makes the choice to go on that boat, knowing what's going to happen. I mean, it finally hits her totally on the boat, but she didn't have to get on the boat.

Bill:
Don't you think he did an excellent job in his writing with the adjectives and all the descriptive uses that he puts on paper? I could really see them leaving the flea market area and walking up to his house and how dark the house was until they, their eyes became accustomed to the light, and in his home his collection of binoculars he collected. She collected fountain pens, and he collected binoculars, and you mentioned a few minutes ago how she saw what pictures were there on display there.

Wilma:
Well he had ... and again ... oh, this is another theme, too: the theme of three. Steven says, "Three is a perfect number, don't you think?" And he has ...

[Everyone laughs]

Wilma:
And I went back -- actually this is compulsive; you will know this. I have a little gene in me, probably, and Steven, too. We all do. But I went back and counted the references to three in the book, and there are like 15 references.

Bill:
Really!

Wilma:
Yeah.

Bill:
What are some of the others?

Wilma:
Well. Oh, the phone rings three times, she sleeps three hours, the wedding is at three o'clock.

Bill:
Oh, great!

Wilma:
The house she burned down has three chimneys ... and it goes on from there. And these are not just -- I mean, three chimneys in a house, first of all ...

Bill:
Good.

Wilma:
... is a very unusual situation. But anyway, he says three is a perfect number. So he's about to take his third victim. But he was setting up three sets of binoculars and three photographs each, of his wife first, and then his fiancé, and then he's establishing three pictures of Jean. He hasn't gotten his last picture. And I think this is very good, too -- I think his last picture might be that one of her when she was standing in the doorway and the sun was coming down on the doorway and he said, lean back your head; and when she did, her head went into shadows ...

Bill:
Uh huh.

Wilma:
... because she was leaning back past the doorway. So that he is actually taking a picture of a woman without a head. You know, the rest of her body is in the sunlight; her head is in the shadows when she leans back; and he gets a headless image there. And I love that picture. So that may well be his last picture in her set-up.

Bill:
It was her last picture.

[Everyone laughs]

Wilma:
It was her last picture.

Bill:
For sure, we think.

Wilma:
We don't know, because he has a camera on the boat with him.

Bill:
Ah, that's right -- camera on the boat.

Wilma:
But he is trying to get the right picture for that final, that final trilogy.

Bill:
Let's just halt right here and say, is there any doubt -- is there any question -- of what happened at the end of the book?

Wilma:
There might have been until he slammed her head against the boat.

Terry:
Until he ... right.

Wilma:
Is that what you felt, too?

Terry:
Right.

Bill:
Although she was still ... we, I believe she is still alive after that, because she's describing and talking and ...

Wilma:
Oh yeah.

Bill:
And yeah, OK ...

Wilma:
Oh, sure she is -- at that point.

Terry:
But he hadn't done anything overt.

Bill:
No.

Terry:
That absolutely proved he was going to kill her until he just grabbed her head, and boom! That was pretty violent.

Bill:
That was an indication right there that maybe I shouldn't have gone sailing today.

Terry:
That may not have been her first clue, but it was certainly a good one.

Wilma:
And if the author had not put that in, you know, we would have had more of a question. He may well have put that in -- I mean this is a very smart author, so he may know exactly what he is doing every minute, or [else] we might have read back through and thought, there is not enough of an indication. If Steven slams her head against the boat, then I think that will alert the readers that there is no possibility of return here. But he is a good author. I loved this book. Did you notice? I loved it.

Bill:
Did you like this book, Wilma?

Wilma:
I liked it; I liked it.

Bill:
What did you think about his writing as a woman?

Wilma:
I thought he did that really well.

Bill:
He did, didn't he?

Wilma:
Yeah.

Bill:
And I know -- and you can cite some examples where that is not carried off well, and we may have had some examples of that on the bookclub, but certainly in literature there are lots of them -- and where it's also done well. But I thought he did this really well. From a female perspective, what do you think? Wilma said yes. Do you think so, Dava -- that he really carried out a woman's personality? Some of the more intimate things that none of us needed to know but yet he did it and wrote about it and it was very believable and very well done.

Dava:
I was just reading about Jean Dupree; I never thought, this is a man writing it. I never even thought about it, and that is an indication that he did his job.

Bill:
Yeah.

Wilma:
And more of the psyche of a woman too. Sitting there waiting -- she's afraid to leave the phone, afraid that Steven will call the office, you know, while she is out eating lunch. And I mean that's kind of -- that's the type of thing ... Well, Dava and I have never done that, but I've understood ...

Terry:
That may explain why you didn't think it was realistic.

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
Tell us about the book cover -- and we encourage people to buy this and read it if you haven't. Hold that up and show that to the camera and tell people about it, because that in itself is kind of intriguing.

Wilma:
This is an unusual and different book cover. I did not see it in the book store, so I received this one copy, and ... Dava was saying the same thing happened to her -- she thought it had smeared. But it hasn't smeared. It's a perfect type of book cover because we need the running, the water ruining the letters, which I think is very good -- the idea that this might be ink and could have smeared with the water. So I think that this is a good book cover. I even liked the inside.

Terry:
Although ...

Wilma:
You know, without the jacket, it's blue and white, and it indicates, you know, that the theme -- what's that say?

Bill:
His initials.

Wilma:
There it is: Paul Griner.

Bill:
Paul Griner, who is a creative writing professor down at the University of Louisville, and [this is] his second [book], first novel. His first book was a collection of short stories, Follow Me, which I think just reading this interests me enough to want to read him some more. He is working on other things, so hopefully we will read those, too.

Terry:
He does have a story -- I don't know if it's from Follow Me or not -- but he has a story on the web called "Northwood."

Bill:
Hmmmm ...

Wilma:
Hmmmm ...

Terry:
I went and read that. You can read the entire story online.

Bill:
Oh, good.

Terry:
Yeah.

Narrator:
Remember to check out ket.org and learn more about this book and other bookclub selections. Plus, enjoy author interviews and discussion boards. You can join the club any time. The address is ket.org.

Wilma:
Did you think that was a weakness in the novel, or -- see, I thought it was a good trick. But did you feel it was a weakness, that you didn't know?

Terry:
For me it created a lot of stumbling blocks -- things that didn't seem to ring true, because I didn't have the general context of, you know, the deep-bass music in the background. The exchange with the sugar-cube-dog maker ...

[Everyone laughs]

Bill:
We were laughing about that.

Terry:
That was just bizarre. People don't act that way.

Wilma:
Well, ...

Terry:
And so many other places in the book ...

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