Evenings at Five: A Novel and Five New Stories by Gail GodwinEvenings at Five: A Novel and Five New Stories by Gail Godwin

Evenings at Five: A Novel and Five New Stories

byGail Godwin

Paperback | March 30, 2004

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Every evening at five o’clock, Christina and Rudy began the ritual commonly known as Happy Hour, sharing drinks along with a love of language and music (she is an author, he a composer, after all), a delight in intense conversation, a fascination with popes, and nearly thirty years of life together. Now, seven months after Rudy’s unexpected death, Christina reflects on their vibrant bond—with all its quirks, habits, and unguarded moments—as well as her passionate sorrow and her attempts to reposition herself and her new place in the very real world they shared.
Gail Godwin is the three-time National Book Award nominee and bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed novels, including A Mother and Two Daughters, Violet Clay, Father Melancholy’s Daughter, Evensong, and The Good Husband. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant for fiction and libret...
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Title:Evenings at Five: A Novel and Five New StoriesFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:320 pages, 8.02 × 5.17 × 0.72 inShipping dimensions:8.02 × 5.17 × 0.72 inPublished:March 30, 2004Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345461037

ISBN - 13:9780345461032

Reviews

Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not worth the time Really, where do I start? The fact that this book even got published is a modern miracle. It is a short story that is horribly written, does not contain a single word with which I had to consult my dictionary, has large print, *DRAWINGS!* (sigh), and didn't really go anywhere or make any sense. I cannot say anything further than: do not waste your time!
Date published: 2006-03-10

Read from the Book

Five o’clock sharp. “Ponctualité est la politesse des rois”: Rudy quoting his late father, a factory owner (textiles) in Vienna before the Nazis came. The Pope’s phone call, followed by the grinding of the ice, a growling, workmanlike sound, a lot like Rudy’s own sound, compliments of the GE model Rudy had picked out fourteen years ago when they built this house. Gr-runnch, gr-runnch, grr-rr-runnch. (“And look! It even has this tray you pull down to mix the drinks.” Rudy retained the enthusiasms of childhood.) He built Christina’s drink with loving precision after the Pope’s call. Rudy did the high Polish voice, overlaid with an Italian accent: “Thees is John Paul. My cheeldren, eet is cocktail time.”Or sometimes Christina’s study phone would not ring. Rudy simply emerged from his studio below and called brusquely up to her in his basso profundo: “Hello? The Pope just called. Are you ready for a drink?”The ominous rolled r’s on the “ready” and “drink”: if you’re not, you’d better be. I won’t be here forever, you know.The cavalier slosh of Bombay Sapphire (Rudy never measured) over the ice shards. The fssst as he loosened the seltzer cap and added the self-respecting splash that made her able to call it a gin and soda. Then, marching over to the sink: “I need Ralph.” Ralph was their best serrated knife. The thinly cut slice of lime oozed fresh juice. Rudy cut well; he cut his own music paper, and he had been cutting Christina’s hair exactly as she liked it for twenty-eight years. And in summer, a sprig of mint from the garden, a hairy, pungent variety given to them by the wife of a pianist who had recorded Rudy’s music. Sometimes Rudy joined Christina in the gin and soda. Her financial man from Buffalo had given them two twelve-ounce tumblers with old-fashioned ticker tapes etched into the surfaces. She always kept them in the freezer, so they would frost up as soon as they hit the air.Other times Rudy would say, “I need a Scotch tonight.” That went into a different glass, a lovely cordial shape etched with grapes, given to him by the daughter of a pasha who had invited him to her houseboat parties in Cairo back in ’42 and called him Harpo because his assignment in the Royal Air Force had been playing piano and harp to keep up troop morale. “I need a Scotch tonight” could mean either that his work had gone extremely well or that some unwelcome aspect of reality (his music publisher sending back sloppily edited orchestra parts, being put on hold by his health insurance provider, being put on hold by anyone at all) had undermined his creative momentum.“Thees is Il Papa calling from the Vatican. Cheeldren, eet is cocktail time.”Christina was a cradle Episcopalian who had gone to a Catholic school run by a French order of nuns in North Carolina. Rudy was a nonpracticing Jew who had gone to a Catholic Gymnasium in Vienna until age fourteen, when the Nazis came. Rudy always liked to tell how there were two Jews and one Protestant in his class at the Gymnasium, “and the Protestant had the worst of it by far.” So Rudy and Christina shared an affectionate fascination with Popes, especially this one, with his hulking masculine shoulders before they began to stoop, and his nonstop traveling, and all the languages.What did I think, that we had forever? Christina asked herself, sipping the gin and soda she now made for herself. Often Rudy had interrupted himself in midsentence to explode at her: “You’re not listening!”What was I listening to? The ups and downs of my own day’s momentum. We were both “ah-tists,” as the real estate lady who sold us our first house pronounced it. She herself had been married to an ah-tist. Her husband’s novel had been runner-up for the Pulitzer, she told us, the year Anthony Adverse won. Her name was Odette, as in Swann’s downfall. Rudy was fifty-two and I was thirty-nine and neither of us knew, until Odette carefully explained it to us, that you could buy a house without having all the money to pay for it up front.Christina would arrange herself on the black leather sofa they had splurged on in their midlife prosperity (a combined windfall of a bequest from Rudy’s late uncle in Lugano, with whom Rudy had played chess, and a lucrative two-book contract for Christina, in those bygone days when there were enough competing publishers to run up the auction bid) and which the Siamese cats had ruined within six months. She would cross her ankles on the Turkish cushions on top of the burled-wood coffee table and train her myopic gaze on Rudy’s long craggy face and crest of white hair floating reassuringly from his Stickley armchair on the other side of the fireplace. An editor had once told Rudy he looked like “a happy Beckett.” Christina felt rich in her bounty: the workday was over and she had this powerful companion pulsing his attention at her, and her whole drink to go. They raised their cocktail glasses to each other.

Bookclub Guide

1. Let’s start with the very first sentence inEvenings at Five: “Five o’clock sharp.” Do youhear a bell tolling? What does this one sentencetell you about what you’re about to read? Thephrase is repeated on page 29. How do you reactto hearing it again? Five o’clock is associated witha ritual in Christina’s house. A ritual—originallymeaning a prescribed religious ceremony—hastaken on the meaning of a regular household activity.Is there such a thing as a household religion—and if so, what composes it?2. Are stronger memories associated with ritualsthan with other events? What kinds of experiencesmake the strongest memories? Whatkinds of sensations and associations does Godwinlatch on to as Christina evokes the cocktailhour?3. Are rituals necessary in helping us avoidfeeling vulnerable in lives easily dominated byour own weaknesses? How does Christina userituals to counter her ritual alcohol drinking?4. Some memories are “graven on the heart”(page 16) and others strike familiar chords. Chapter1 ends with Rudy answering Christina’s question,“What are you thinking?” by telling her, “Iwasn’t thinking. I was hearing music.” DoesChristina attain this kind of sensitivity in a way?Is what she hears on page 17 a kind of music?To a certain way of hearing, is everything music,including Rudy’s answering machine message(pages 38–39), to which Christina applies theGregorian term melisma (an ornamental phrasingof a word or syllable)? The last chapter, “Coda,”reminds us that Godwin has composed a sonata inEvenings at Five. In what ways can you sense orhear a sonata in the novel?5. Godwin says that, after writing the first fivepages of Evenings, she had tricked herself into anew way of writing. What is that new way? Toget a handle on this, look at the kinds of sentencesshe writes and at how one sentence connectsto the next.6. By the end of chapter 2 of Evenings,you realize that Christina is talking with Rudy,who has died. Is such a conversation helpful,or does it cause you to worry about Christina?Your opinion will determine what you thinkChristina’s fate will be in this story. See Rudy’sposthumous conversation with Christina onpages 97–98.7. Look at how Godwin ends each chapter inEvenings. Write down the ending sentences orkey clauses in succession on a piece of paper andsee how they tell the story.8. What do you know about different grievingceremonies? Christina undergoes a few. Whatshould the purpose of such services be? Are theyeffective? What do you think of the ceremoniesthat Christina experiences? What is the art ofcondolence letters?9. What kind of a record of a person’s life isleft after his death? What kind of a story doesan appointment book tell? Evenings provides aremarkably comprehensive account of the differentkinds of things that linger or last afterdeath—including junk mail. What are thosethings? What is Godwin’s strongest case for eternallife? Keep in mind her opinions on page 58.10. In a .ctional world, memorable impressionsare symbols, key events are omens, andcoincidences are fate. In our lives, is there suchmeaning? What is the meaning of Christina’stemporary semiblindness? What about the sightingof the bear?11. On page 57, Christina discovers how muchshe misses Rudy’s awful moments. Are there anypersonality traits people exhibit that are not lovable—perhaps shallowness, conformity, or lackof personality? Does this relate to Christina’suneasiness with the paltriness of most confessedsins in “Possible Sins”?12. Godwin opens up a lot of space in hernovel for Gil Mallow. Mallow is the child of amother who had given birth to him because, at.rst, she hadn’t known she was pregnant, and,then, used her pregnant condition for her art.Eventually, she rejected pregnancy-inspired formsand artistically aborted the idea of Gil. Why isMallow such an important person in Godwin’sand Christina’s universes? How much are you affectedby the heartbreaking episodes in Evenings?Christina sobs, cries, and hoots with laughter atvarious points. At the end of chapter 3, she says,“My heart is broken.” As dream analysts say afterhearing about agonizing dreams, what were thefeelings you had witnessing the episodes?13. What percentage of your life do you thinkis dominated by memories rather than your engagementwith present needs? How much do you wish to stay connected with the past? Why?Is it useful to have talismans, such as Rudy’smetronome, or passwords, such as the oneChristina holds on to in “Possible Sins”? Whatrole does Bud play throughout Evenings? Do catshave some special supernatural connection?14. Godwin’s novels always include the namesof books that characters are reading or to whichthey are referring. They provide a subtext to thestory. If you’re ambitious, make a list of the bookreferences in Evenings, .nd out what they’reabout, and see what they say about the novel.15. What does Christina mean when she says(on page 113), “I have to make the crossover betweenimage and presence”? She then says, “I,the visual one, now have to rely on sounds.” Arevisuals associated with image, and sounds withpresence?16. You have an opportunity, now that Godwinis including her Christina stories with Evenings at Five, to witness the growth of a major work. How do the stories connect toEvenings? What major themes are developing?Where are the gaps? What additional storieswould you like to see?17. At the end of “Possible Sins,” Father Weirsuggests using a favorite food as a password forspiritual communication rather than a memorablepiece of wisdom. What information do youuse for private passwords in e-mail accounts or aspersonal information to con.rm your identitywith credit-card companies? What really sticks inyour mind?18. What fairy tale does “Largesse” evoke? Domodern women have to create a body of storiesto counter the messages of traditional fairy tales?19. Both “Largesse” and “Old LovegoodGirls” involve fellow airplane passengers whoplay roles in ushering Christina into her story.Are each of the Christina stories a mythologicaljourney? If so, what insight or dividend doesChristina retrieve from each descent?20. How does Godwin struggle with the ideaof the ingénue? In her interview, she says thatshe had never been an ingénue. Yet in “OldLovegood Girls,” she acknowledges an attractionto the old Southern way of life and theimportance of such a concept to her father. Atthe heart of this issue are Christina’s views ongoodness, expressed in her essay for MissPetrie. Does Christina’s belief in goodness,even though it’s a revision of the traditionalmodel, indicate an attachment to the old ideal?Or does Christina reject the ideal as a productof the “market for brides”? How do you thinkGodwin views marriage?21. In “Waltzing with the Black Crayon,”Kurt Vonnegut issues some rules for writing. Doyou agree with them? Do you have a list ofrules?22. In what ways is “Mother and DaughterGhosts, A Memoir” a ghost story? Why doesthe term ghost apply to the daughter as well asthe mother?23. What is it that causes Godwin to slip intothe role that attaches to her at the conference in“Mother and Daughter”? Was Godwinlooking for a way out of what had been developingat the conference? What might have beenand what were her ways out?24. What do Godwin’s and her mother’simagination exercises say about them at the momentthey compose them?25. “Mother and Daughter” contains a powerfulrevelation—the mother’s admission ofwhat she had witnessed and redressed at her father’sfuneral. It comes under the heading “the worst thing that had ever happened in her life.”What function does revelation play in Godwin’sreaction? What kinds of questions elicit revelations?“What is the worst thing?” is one. Anotherkind of revelation leads off “Waltzingwith the Black Crayon.” What are the differentkinds of revelation?

Editorial Reviews

“With deep truth and immediacy, Gail Godwin illuminates an indivisible marriage—its experience, passion, thought, and wit; and its sundering into loss, longing, and remembrance. For such closeness, there should be a word beyond love.”—SHIRLEY HAZZARD“With words alone, Gail Godwin has created an important piece of music about a love which death can only increase and deepen. Yes, and Frances Halsband’s illustrations are a haunting countermelody.”—KURT VONNEGUT “Evenings at Five reads like a novel, but it’s a fictionalization of a real event. Gail Godwin uses all the weapons of art to deal with her own all-too-real grief, and the result is a rigorous exercise in restraint, control, irony, memory.”—The Washington Post Book World“A LITTLE MASTERPIECE . . .DEXTEROUS, STRONGLY FELT, MULTI-LEVEL WRITING.”—Asheville Citizen-Times “[A] heartrending book . . . Brilliantly webbed scenes fill its pages . . . Godwin writes with enormous clarity and unvarnished prose. She writes, in other words, not to approach the truth but to forcefully ascertain it.”—Book magazine“Possibly her truest book . . . There is a quiet dignity here that pulls you into the two people’s lives. . . . Full of wicked humor and sage and subtle advice, laced with achingly familiar refrains of love and loss, Evenings at Five could well restore a bereaved man’s or woman’s sense of self.”—The Roanoke Times“An exquisite portrait of a thirty-year relationship . . . There is a depth and intensity within that many large tomes never capture. . . . Just as Christina ultimately knows she has to move on, one assumes Godwin needed to write Evenings at Five to move on and work on another outstanding novel.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel“QUIRKY, WRY, AND SURPRISINGLY POWERFUL . . . with a delight in words and the ways people use and abuse them that is typical of this urbane author.”—Publishers Weekly “If asked to list my ten favorite American fiction writers, Gail Godwin would be among them. In this, her latest . . . she evokes in a short book the long married life of two artists. Evenings at Five is a strong tale of love-after-death.”—NED ROREM“The New York Times bestselling author of Evensong has scored again. . . . The novel, which can be read in one sitting, is an excellent showcase of Godwin’s talent. Those not already Godwin fans are apt to be converted.”—The Sunday Oklahoman “Gail Godwin has written a book about the heaviest matters of loss, grief, and loneliness with a touch so light that I was as often deeply amused by it as I was deeply moved.”—FREDERICK BUECHNER“The most balanced heart-rending book you ever read on the nature of loss, loneliness, and grief.”—Desert News“INTIMATE AND TOUCHING.”—Kirkus Reviews“A fierce evocation of what—at some time or another—everyone is bound to endure. . . . An amazing little volume that contains an explosive emotional wallop.”—ROBB FORMAN DEW“An unflinching account of love, loss, grief, and the struggle toward consolation. It should touch every reader with its emotional power.”—ELIZABETH SPENCER“No one does the nitty-gritty of soul-searching like Gail Godwin. . . . [She] is one of the few contemporary novelists willing to tackle the ticklish (to modern writers) topic of religion in real life. In a novel inspired by her own experience, she does it again, beautifully.”—BookPage“Godwin accomplishes more in this smart, arch, and charming little illustrated novel than many of her peers do in far heftier volumes.”—Booklist