Currently we're reading and discussing Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff. Since it's via the internet, our book club discussion consists of us posting our responses to the novel and to some of the questions Jennifer has posed. Before you read any further, know that my post contains SPOILERS! If you don't want to know what happens in the novel, don't read any more of this post!! I will also say up front that this novel isn't among my favorites but that my opinion is just that: mine. In fact, my opinion differs with other members of our team. If you think you might be interested in reading the book, be sure to visit the reviews posted here to see what other readers thought. And, if you read along with us, we'd love for you to join the discussion!
Remember: my answers contain plot spoilers! Here's my thoughts in response to Jennifer's questions...
Honey, Lily's mom, represents a clear picture of how many deal with loss in her refusal to even speak the name of her son that she lost in the war. One element I found interesting in the novel is the theme of loss. We see how the war touched nearly the lives of nearly everyone, from Lily's childhood sweetheart who will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair to those like Lily's family and Jake whose loved ones were killed.
If you mean love as in a sentimental, sappy, passionate emotion then yes, I think commitment and duty is more important. If you mean love in terms of a promise to remain true and steadfast until death do us part and duty as a mechanical, empty fulfillment of an obligation, then no I would say love is more important. In fact, one of my frustrations with the novel is not only all the melodrama but that Lily would so freely abandon all sense of commitment. Sure, she was lonely. Loneliness is understandable and certainly sympathetic. I disliked the sense of inevitability surrounding Jake and Lily's relationship.
I think it was born of loneliness (see my answer above). As for whether or not it was genuine and would have lasted, I want to say no, mainly because I disagree with the premise of unexpectedly finding one's "true love" that renders the commitment to marriage as irrelevant and constraining. Also, their "love" really only lasted a couple of days, a tiny pocket of time indeed--how then could they "know" each other so well and so thoroughly? I have to admit, I chuckled a little at Jake's surprise at Lily's art. "Until now, he thought he knew her entirely." After only a day?
It is a war story and interestingly enough that is what I liked most about the story. My generation and those after me are largely untouched by war, at least not to the extent of my grandparents' generation, the "greatest generation" of World War II.
I liked her boldness in doing so in full view and I also liked how she sought to protect the reputation of both herself and the soldier.
Denial is an emotion I understand, particularly in view of such a tragic loss. Healthy, not so much. I think being able to commiserate in their grief would have strengthened the relationship between Lily and Honey and would have helped Lily understand her own loneliness during Paul's deployment.
I could sense his mixture of patriotism and grief when he reminded Lily of the great sacrifice so many had made. "Not because it was easy or because it felt right, not because of love. They did it out of a sense of selflessness, out of a sense of duty." Though I would argue that genuine love is selflessness, I appreciate his point and his plea with Lily to honor her commitment to Paul though I probably would have been a little less dismissive of the affair and the fact that she had spent the night with Jake.
We see that her relationship with Jake and the loss of Paul motivates Lily to move beyond her life in Toccoa, going to art school for example, traveling the world, meeting and marrying a wonderful man, raising a daughter. One wonders if she would have discovered such a life if the events of that summer in 1945 hadn't occurred.
While I found the novel's sweet sentimentality a little frustrating (what can I say, I'm a curmudgeon I suppose!), Lily and Jake's affair irresponsible, and the intimate scene wholly unnecessary, I did think its picture of small town life in the South to be spot on and exactly how I picture my grandparents and parents' lives during that time.
Click here to see reviews of Fireworks Over Toccoa and here to see what others thought in response to these same questions.