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Kindred - Full Discussion

Full Discussion


Ideas for discussion:
1) What would/did you rate Kindred out of 5?

2) What did you think about the relationships between Rufus & Dana and Kevin & Dana? (Reminder: Rufus was her ancestor she kept being sent into the past to rescue, and Kevin is her husband)

3) Do you think Kevin's extended time in the past affected his relationship with Dana? How? Do you feel that was a necessary development in the novel? Why or why not?

4) What did you think about Dana as a character and how she interacted with the others on the plantation?

5) How is Kindred different from other time traveling books you might have read and why?

6) Anything else you want to add?

Stole a couple of questions/inspirations from this club's list here.

Next Discussion:
A Face Like Glass
Monday, January 20th
Through "Half Life"


I had a hard time figuring out how to come up with a question that was related to the really awful stuff that happened to Dana because no one question felt like it could really encompass all of it. This book constantly horrified me with the possibilities of the cruelty of other people, even when they think they are doing the right thing.

When Rufus lied to Alice, told her that he sold their children as punishment for her running away (I think it was another runaway attempt) and she hung herself... I was horrified and heartbroken. Rufus in general was a monster and also a product of his time. Dana did what she could but ultimately nothing she could do could make Rufus into a good person because she just wasn't there enough. And if she HAD been there enough, who's to say she would have survived it? By the end of the novel I had no confidence in her ability to stay alive even with fear for her life sending her back into the present.

I hated when Dana helped Rufus get Alice - I felt on one hand that of course he would do it anyway and nothing would change, but Dana justifying it to herself just because it already happened didn't sit well with me. On the other hand, I'm not sure what options she had since while she had more freedom than Alice she certainly was not free by any stretch of the imagination.

I thought it was really twisted that Rufus ended up seeing Dana as the next best thing after Alice died. I still was surprised when Dana ended up stabbing him to death before her final trip back home.

Other random thoughts -- the idea that Dana could be sent back in time at any moment was frightening, especially when she was with her husband and was worried she wouldn't be able to take him back with her without him touching her (and then of course it turns out she isn't). Him being left in the past for so long made me feel a little sick and scared for both him and Dana, wondering how being in the past for so long would change him.

I loved that Dana immediately considers (after the first time travel) that the incident may happen again, and she prepares herself. It was really smart of her and while on the other hand I feel like yes OBVIOUSLY you prepare for this, it isn't something a lot of other protagonists do (either in books or in tv/movies/etc). I kept thinking about how I might try to prepare given the same situation, and found myself feeling like she might have had an easier time of it if only it hadn't been the 70s. The internet sure makes it easier to research things without leaving the house!

Edited at 2014-01-13 06:35 pm (UTC)
My comment was too long, so posting in two parts!

1) I gave it a 5 out of 5. It kept me hooked with the plot twists and story, and the whole uncertainty of Dana's time travel made the whole thing feel vaguely uneasy the whole time I was reading it. Dana was a great character, and I loved how sensible and practical she was. It's not an easy book to read, or necessarily a fun one, but it was gripping and powerful.

2) Well, for the first few chapters, I didn't even realize Kevin was white. Butler I think is very subtle about that on purpose; I think she wants to paint their relationship initially without the question of race influencing it. I think it was the section where she talks about how their families reacted, maybe, when I finally realized. Their relationship felt very indicative of the time period to me - Dana is a strong, liberated woman with her own career and motivations, who won't do her husband's secretarial work for him, and despite some gentle teasing about asking her to type for him, Kevin seems to accept that from her, and support her own career as a writer.

Rufus, well... at first I felt sorry for him as a kid, being under the influence of two very overbearing parents and a society that basically expects him to treat human beings as cattle. Of course he became just like his father, because that's what he was raised to. The trouble is, we can't know if Dana could have been a stronger influence in his life if she'd been around more often, or if her presence might have disrupted things further. By the end of the book, I thoroughly hated who Rufus had become, though. His lying to first Dana (about her letters) and then Alice was heartbreaking. I really wanted Rufus to have been a better man than he was, to at least have freed the slaves in his will or something.

What scared me was something I remember - I think it was after Dana finds Kevin and brings him home, after his extended stay in the past, when she finds herself comparing him to Rufus, and thinking they are similar. :(

3) Oh, it definitely did. For one thing, you can see it in his attitude when they return to their own time. Kevin is clearly confused and displaced. I think part of it is a healthy dose of self-loathing. I mean, he doesn't talk about his experiences a lot, but I suspect he had to at least make of show of being the same as other white men of the time, and being steeped in something like that has to get in to your brain.

I would say that Kevin's storyline was necessary in the sense that it shows how easily a man can descend into something he hates. Kevin obviously thought of himself as an open-minded, modern man - he married a black woman, after all, and supported racial equality and women's rights. And then to have to be immersed in that kind of society, to become that sort of person with your public face, that has to wear you down. We know he helped runaways and worked to free slaves, and that was probably why he had to move so much during his stay in the past, but he still had to keep up appearances as a white man of the times. He couldn't help but be affected by it, because it challenged everything he thought about himself and his attitudes.
I definitely thought I saw anger and maybe some level of being controlling after Kevin's stay in the past. I honestly don't remember the details, but I felt a bit uneasy about him after he came back. I didn't think he would do anything necessarily, but those 5 years did a number on him. It seemed like he tried to do good while he was there, but there was definitely a marked difference in him before and after. I was not surprised that Dana made an effort to shove him away when she found she was traveling back again.

I also was wondering if their relationship would be affected by the months when she was pretending to be his slave. That part was disturbing to me as well (not that they had any other choice in the matter) but to have to live like that for months and only being able to be yourselves when you are alone? I can't imagine.

Rufus I started out pitying and then slowly grew to really hate him.
(pt 2)

4) I loved how practical Dana was. I can't imagine suddenly being thrust back into a time and place where your race and gender make you completely subject to another's whims, but I feel like Dana handled it in the best way that she knew how. I loved that Dana kept calm, applied logic to her situation, and figured out for herself not only the time and place she was going back to, but the apparent triggers for her time travel. She packed a bag, and did research. She didn't just become a victim of the randomness; she prepared for it.

I also loved her relationship with the other slaves, especially with Sarah and Carrie. Her relationship with Alice was so strange, though, especially given that Dana basically had to make Alice become Rufus's lover. I felt so terrible for Alice. I can understand why she and Dana had such an up and down relationship. They actually seem very similar in personality.

5) Most of the time, time travel is either scientific thing or a magical thing. In Kindred, it's more magical, but never fully explained either way. It has it's own internal logic.

I found it a little odd that she went back in time to save her own ancestor. Although when kid Rufus describes his accident in the river, he says it was like a hole opened up beneath him. I think this hole was probably the hole through time, through which Dana came back to him. I wonder if the time travel itself was the cause of Dana having to save Rufus?

I honestly think after the first couple of times, Rufus put himself in harm's way on purpose to summon Dana because he had grown to love her.
1. I gave this one 5 stars on Goodreads. Not sure if 'enjoyable read' is the best term for it, but it definitely makes you stop and think and kinda challenges your thinking at times which for this book was a good thing. That and the story itself was really engaging with some great characters.

2. Rufus and Dana had one seriously complicated relationship. Rufus didn't quite see her as just a slave, and yet he kinda did. There seemed to be a certain amount of respect there, regardless of how much he looked down on her as he grew older. Meanwhile, Dana clearly hated what he became, but still had great difficulty in killing him in self-defense like she did. She almost did see him as family, though certainly not a particularly well-liked part of the family by any stretch.

There was also that whole responsibility in trying to better him; initially in the hopes of helping him grow up a good man (which obviously didn't work out; while technically better than his dad in some areas, he unfortunately evened it out by being even worse in others), and by the end if I remember just in the hopes of salvaging what little good remained from freeing his kids to trying to convince him to free the others. Can't say I was particularly surprised to learn Rufus never did rewrite his will. Dana was certainly an influence in his life and seemed to do a little good, but it wasn't nearly enough to outdo both his uglier tendencies and the culture he was raised in.

Kevin and Dana seemed to have a pretty great relationship with Kevin mostly being incredibly supportive of the whole thing (though I do understand his growing frustration at her apparent paranoia of the whole time-travel thing).

3. It obviously affected Kevin, both from having to live in that culture and from all the things he had to see, and now Dana's stuck with doubts about how deeply that time might have affected him. Not to mention, he's now technically a few good years older than he used to be while she's only aged about a year or so, and while not perhaps such a big deal with adults as, say, what theoretically happened with the Pevensie children in Narnia, that in itself would certainly affect their relationship in some way.

4. I've read a few books since so I'm having a hard time with in-depth answers but I'll try this one. Like everyone says, Dana was rather practical, and about as strong as a modern woman could realistically be in that situation. As she herself noticed, she's not strong in the same way as the slaves she met (for much the same reason that the people on that old BBC series that put modern people in historic houses/communities often couldn't manage to stick to all the rules of the era, since it just took a whole different mindset from today), but she usually kept her head and did the best she could with her situation.

Her relationships were interesting too as she got to know everyone better and learned all the depth of character that lay behind the well-known 'types.' Her relationship with Alice was... interesting. I understand Dana's thinking in encouraging Alice to go to Rufus, and wow was that a horrible place for Alice to find herself, but at the same time I totally understand Alice's resentment for Dana. :(

5. As much as I like the idea of time-travel, I haven't read/watched as much as I'd like. Um, Doctor Who, Magic Attic series, Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Back to the Future, some Adventures in Odyssey episodes, and I'm sure a few others I'm forgetting. Like pirate_nami points out there, all those are either clearly sci-fi in nature or are decidedly magical. You also tend to have a time-machine of sorts (whether it's a mirror or police box or even some object that enables it), but here it just kind of happens with no explanation of how or why. It seems like magic, yet it could just as easily be some unseen experiment or device running things or even some paranormal/psychic connection. We just don't know, and that's the main thing that makes it so unique.
(Part 2)

6. Can't remember what else I was going to say about the book, but I will say that the very next book I read had several references to the antebellum south. It was modern-set and the story had nothing to do that particular era, and yet it was jarring to go straight from Kindred to these romantic descriptions of an antebellum-era mansion complete with the ruins of slave cabins.
Yeah I have to say that while it stressed me out (the mystery around how she was traveling back in time etc) I kind of liked that we never found out why it was happening. We knew why she had to protect Rufus and that was all we needed to know!

Alice and Dana's relationship was really complicated. I hated that Dana had to encourage Alice to be with him.

One thing that was interesting to me is that for some reason early on I just assumed that Rufus was a good guy and that he actually married Alice and was just some liberal scandal of his time or something. The truth sucked a lot, though I can't believe I didn't guess that beforehand.
I also thought that Rufus and Alice would marry. I thought that was the reason for Dana and Kevin going there, so he could see some model for a happy interracial marriage, but apparently not :(

That would've been quite unrealistic though.
Yeah, when their relationship went bad and he just started raping her because he could and he liked her (wtf, Rufus?!) I was like... oh. I was incredibly naive. :(
1) What would/did you rate Kindred out of 5?
I gave it 4. Otherwise it was really good, but I think the prose and dialogue felt a bit odd at times. Was this maybe one of the author's first novels?

2) What did you think about the relationships between Rufus & Dana and Kevin & Dana?
The relationship between Dana and Rufus was really messed up. I don't understand how she could just keep on forgiving her, although it was necessary both to protect herself and make sure that Hagar has a change to be born. But it was especially painful to read after Rufus started raping Alice. Also, the way Rufus didn't consider either Dana or Alice as individuals but as "two sides of the same person" was really creepy and dehumanizing. Rufus really got what he would've reserved way earlier, but of course the consequences of that to other people were quite horrid.

The relationship between Dana and Kevin was quite sweet, at least before the events of the book. One thing bothered me though: When Kevin wanted Dana to type some manuscripts for him and she kindly refused, and he threw a tantrum. Dude, what the hell?

3) Do you think Kevin's extended time in the past affected his relationship with Dana? How? Do you feel that was a necessary development in the novel? Why or why not?
Of course. I wonder if he ever blamed Dana even though it was in no way her fault, but five years is a long time to think. And it changed him a a person, so obviously that will have some effect on their relationship. This wasn't explored in the book much though, because soon after Dana had to go back, and after that the book ended.

Kevin's stay there offered at least a motivation for Dana to get back (and some moral dilemma). Also it gave an opportunity to develop the relationship between Dana and Rufus, showing how unreliable Rufus is and also how he was jealous of Dana.

4) What did you think about Dana as a character and how she interacted with the others on the plantation?
She was quite down to earth, educated and smart. I think she showed a lot of compassion to the other people there, even to the whites who in no way deserved it.

And what I still don't understand - why there was ever a need for Dana to escape from the plantation? Why couldn't she just go to Tom and say "bye, I'm a free person so I'm leaving now to look for my husband"? They never owned her in any way.

5) How is Kindred different from other time traveling books you might have read and why?
I cannot think of any other time traveling books I would've read (how is that possible!?), but I would assume that often the time travelling is voluntary and doesn't happen just like that.

Edited at 2014-01-15 05:57 pm (UTC)
It wasn't her first book but it was one of her earlier ones - according to wikipedia she had one series at least partially completed before she wrote Kindred in 1979.

It seemed to me that Dana used a lot of restraint her in actions with Rufus because she was waiting for a while for her ancestor to be born, too. I don't remember if she traveled back in time again after her ancestor was born or not?

Kevin was kind of weird - like he obviously felt he was pretty liberal, marrying a black woman and all, but he had a lot of old fashioned ideas too. I can't tell how much of this is the 70s and how much is him being a bit of a jerk (or both -- obviously can't totally excuse jerkiness just because of the times)

I think the biggest worry with Dana leaving the plantation was that she didn't have any papers, so if she were found by white men on her way to find her husband, she couldn't prove she was free and could end up being enslaved "for real". If Kevin came to her then she wouldn't be in that danger. As far as when she actually did try to escape, I guess she just feared Rufus would not let her leave? Not totally sure, I don't think I remember well enough...

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