At last we are on Peace!*
I, like Brandon, have never read Peace before—something I have thought of as the biggest gap in my Wolfe knowledge for some time, which is one reason I've been eager to get to it. I had actually planned to read the entire thing and make this my reread, but gang aft agley, as Brandon quoted in one of the episodes.
That said, I may use the June break to press on and read the entire thing, circle back, and reread. Because so far this novel strikes me as what a Bostonian might call "wicked Wolfe", using the definition I once heard of "wicked" in a Boston accent from a local comedian: wicked is anything raised to the 10th power (wicked good, wicked big, etc). This is wicked Wolfe.
What I mean is that most Wolfe works give you a first-read plot to follow. The first chapter (or, since they're shorter, the first 1/5 of) Book of the New Sun gives you a lot of sheer narrative pleasure; so does the opening of Fifth Head of Cerberus, Long Sun, Short Sun, and all the rest of the ones I have read. This one is just... weird. I mean, it's good weird: there are so many fabulous bits (the Christmas scene! The Banshee story! The imagined SF races! The mansion with the museum rooms!) that it's a pleasure to read. But it's a confusing pleasure. I have no idea where he's going. Now, we expect Wolfe to pull the rug out from under us, so we think we know where he's going but it turns out we're wrong: but having the rug there, the false notion of what's going on, is actually important for the first read. Here, Wolfe has given us no rug at all. (I take it this is more or less the same point that Daniel Falch was making in the last day or two.)
So I feel even more at sea than usual with Wolfe. Which means that I have almost nothing to offer of my own. I liked a lot of what Glenn & Brandon had to say about the chapter—as usual, their close reading skills are superb, marred only but the occasional flight of what I have to suspect is overreading—but I don't really know if I think they're right, because I have nothing to fit it into. Honestly, the single most grounding thing about the novel is the one spoiler that Glenn said he told Brandon, and that it seems almost everybody knows before they read it, but which I won't mention uncoded just in case anyone here has not heard it (rot13: Jrre vf qrnq.)
It is, so far, fundamentally stranger than any Wolfe book I've read before—and that's saying something! But it makes it hard to talk, or think, about.
All that said, a few crumbs I would offer:
• G & B were talking about how the tree woke up Weer (in the context of the hammering of the pegs in the coffin waking up Hannah), and that made me wonder whether Wolfe is making some sort of "if a tree falls by a house and no one is awake to hear it, does it make a noise?" joke here.
• I was impressed by Glenn's detective work in noting that Ludwig's Napoleon came out in 1926 and the novel therefore had to be set such that Weer was 5 or 6 around then... but I was not convinced, because all we have on it is that "I knew the cause, having read it a year or so before—I believe in Ludwig’s biography of him." Which is to say, this is something which Weer says he believes he got from there, and is a fact which Ludwig doesn't mention, and which is wrong anyway. So it could very easily be that Weer is misremembering that he had just read Ludwig, and in fact it wasn't published yet when he said this. (After all, he didn't get this pseudo fact from there, which points out that he might be wrong!) So while this evidence is not useless, I would take it pretty lightly without other confirmation, and would have no problems setting it aside if there is evidence for another (probably earlier) date.
• Finally, regarding this passage—just one of the amazing passages that are all over this chapter, often in asides (as this is) or metaphors or tossed off, that make the entire thing wonderful even if it is fundamentally deeply confusing—which Glenn & Brandon read in the Discussion episode:
...and it may have been magic, for I believe America is the land of magic, and that we, we now past Americans, were once the magical people of it, waiting now to stand to some unguessable generation of the future as the nameless pre-Mycenaean tribes did to the Greeks, ready, at a word, each of us now, to flit piping through groves ungrown, our women ready to haunt as lamioe the rose-red ruins of Chicago and Indianapolis when they are little more than earthen mounds, when the heads of the trees are higher than the hundred-and-twenty-fifth floor...
G&B point out, correctly, that this is a marvelous image, with some future people thinking of us in this way, and with it interacting with our knowing that we are not this way. But they don't point out that this is also how we remember the Native Americans (and, even more so, how people remembered them in the 1970s): and that like the future people being wrong about us, we were wrong about the Native Americans, as magical lamioes piping through woods. And perhaps Wolfe is pointing out by analogy that, just as we know that the imagined future will be wrong in thinking this of us, we ought to know that we are wrong thinking it of Native Americans. After all, whose civilization is now (in many places, not all obviously) "little more than earthen mounds"? The very word "mound" makes me think of the mound builders. On this reading, Wolfe mentions the pre-Mycenaean Greeks as a distraction, to get us from seeing the most obvious (and thus intended) parallel: the pre-American Americans.
But is Wolfe doing this? There are certainly a lot of Native Americans lurking on the edges of this story (the adult games at the party, the people Hannah goes to meet, etc). But again, I am so at sea that I don't really know how much to make of this— or of any of the fabulous readings that G & B have to offer.
Peace is fabulous — well written, mysterious, filled with little gems of story and language. But I have no fucking idea where Wolfe is going, and don't even have a false guess to guide myself by. I am as at sea in this text as Weer is in his huge, forgotten mansion and his seemingly-unwilled jumping about in his memories.
I can't wait (and may not wait!) for Chapter 2.
PS: I forgot that I wanted to say, as someone who heard both the Operation Ares and The Fifth Head of Cerberus episodes, that I really like the new(ish) format of breaking up the recaps if need be, but saving the discussion until the end of the chapter. I think that that nails it!
* I have thus far missed "Silhouette", "Thag" and "Tracking Song", which I definitely want to get to, especially that last. But when I sat down to catch up a bit, I decided that I'd rather go with Peace for now, so as to stay on top of it. I will definitely get back to those three eventually.
One thought about the first chapter (page) that has me scratching my head... is Weer's home the former property of the judge, as the tree had been planted by the judge's daughter? I'm bothered by this to some extent, even though I can find nothing to support why this might be of importance.
I'm enjoying your take on this one (brand new listener, BTW), and am looking forward to subsequent discussions with avid interest!
That's OK, I made the "if a tree falls..." joke on Twitter a few weeks ago, when we started reading and discussing this book. I am unashamed of my terrible jokes. This is a skill Glenn will have to work on, so he's ready with jokes for his kid.
Really enjoying Peace. Read it all the way through once and am now trying to read along by chapters. I have the 2011 e-book, with an afterword by Neil Gaiman.
@stephenfrug, I should mention I was sorely tempted to make an "If a tree falls" joke but restrained myself from doing so because it would have led me down a rabbit trail regarding George Berkeley that I did not have time to go down. I'm sure there's a way to tie in Berkeley's philosophical thrusts about observation and order into this novel.
@stephenfrug , you never learn how to podcast about a Wolfe book -- just the Wolfe book you are currently podcasting about. But we like this format, too -- it's what we've been using for those novellas as well, and in some ways Peace feels more like a collection of overlapping novellas than The Fifth Head of Cerberus did.
Fantastic observation on native Americans in this chapter Stephen. I myself have re-read the first chapter multiple times in the book to make sense of what is going, and I know the spoiler, which you pointed out, but I don't believe it as of now, except for the fact you are right on regarding, who will hear the tree falling if there is no one in the house.
From what I have read so far, I am on a thin line between the fact either Weer is able to memory travel, or he is a lonely man who is trying to find the answers to his existing condition in the past.
I would like to be able to say I am unspoiled about this book, which was true when I started chapter 1, but I spoiled it for myself looking up where it appears in Wolfe's bibliography. I thought it was mentioned that this was the first story he wrote, I may have miss heard that, and was interested in what a reader of the 1970's would have read of Wolfe when they got to this.
This post does a great job of expressing my thoughts on chapter 1. It does it better than my own post on this.
I regret not getting this in book format. I have come to realize that the convenience of the ebook experience is much less useful than the tactile experience of a physical copy. When I started listening to the Gene Wolfe podcast I bought paperback copies of any Gene Wolfe book with the word Sun in the title from my local used book store, figuring I would get to them eventually. They didn't seem that lengthy compared to say the Dune series. When I started reading one it is in 9 point font, unlike my Dune copy which is in 12 point font. Being confronted with that wall of small text changes the reading experience.