Kipling Book Club
The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas
Discussion rating 5/5
It is the 1930s, and hard times have hit Harveyville, Kansas, where the crops are burning up, and there's not a job to be found. For Queenie Bean, a young farm wife, a highlight of each week is the gathering of the Persian Pickle Club, a group of local ladies dedicated to improving their minds, exchanging gossip, and putting their quilting skills to good use. When a new member of the club stirs up a dark secret, the women must band together to support and protect one another.
We compared the similarities and differences between our bookclub and the quilting club. The proclaimed aim to read books or to sew quilts is not the true focus of groups. The real need is being together and sharing experiences, thoughts, and feelings, and most importantly to claim association with a group. In life, we define ourselves by our relationships and to the groups we belong to. Besides our not being active with our hands, the major difference between the Pickle women and us is our technical advances in networking. We network in so many ways, extra-curricular activities, phones, and the internet. But in the 1930s, the Pickle women did not have such extensive networking options. Their weekly "social" meetings provided the main survival network. Church services appeared not as frequent, nor as a free forum for exchange of ideas. The Pickle women didn't frequent the town for social reasons, just necessities.
We talked about the differences between men and women to meet emotional needs. Men tend to discuss sports, businesses such as farming, or the weather. The accepted stereotype is that men have been trained to deny their emotional needs. But one member suggested that men have always had their emotional needs met, first by their mothers, then by their wives. Men haven't had to express their emotional needs because wives and mother watch them, and read their body language. Unfortunately by doing so, women have deprived men of the opportunities or "need" to learn how to express themselves. Recent surveys showed married men are happier than are single men. Unfortunately, we didn't have that survey handy for age breakdowns.
How do you keep secrets in a small town? The best way is to not even discuss the secret. In that way the secret can't be overhead by "outside" people like husbands who drift in and out of the quilting room, or overhear through an open window. The Pickle women had it ingrained to not even talk about it, ever, not even to each other, to prevent "slips". The quilting club's involvement maintained a strict cap on Ben Crook's murder. While the rest sewed, one woman read. This effectively prevented any discussion of the volatile past. The author illustrated the danger of being overheard with Queenie and Velma's discussion on Velma's illicit affair with a married man. Queenie's husband just happened to come to the house, stand hidden outside the open door and listened to the conversation before finally making his entrance.
Each woman's decision to admit guilt, that "I did it," helped to make blame impossible. The Persian Pickle Club community showed a united front in first getting rid of the evidence, then uniting when the secret was partially revealed.
The question arose on whether a past member of the group, Ruby, had been involved in the murder and cover-up. It was tantalizing to speculate on who actually killed Ben Crook.
Queenie admitted guilt at the very end, but so had all the others, previously. One member argued that the bond between Rita and Queenie over the stalled car and near rape might make Queenie's admittance of guilt authentic. But others argued that Queenie's bond with the Pickle ladies superseded her bond with Rita.
Another person wondered if the timing of Crook's murder coincided with Queenie's pregnancy. If Queenie got hurt during the struggle, she may have suffered a miscarriage as a consequence of the injury and stress.
We don't believe the husbands were involved in the coverup. For one reason, Crook was buried close to the surface leading us to believe the female sex had buried him. Second, when Blue Massies told Queenie and her husband Grover about hearing of Crook's body being buried in a drifter camp, Grover wanted Blue to go to the police. Grover emphasized the importance to truthfulness and rightness with such matters. If Grover had known about the Crook cover-up, his need to tell all to the sheriff would have prevailed and destroyed the women, and their families. Back then, women who killed were monsters. Self-defense wouldn't hold. How can there be self-defense with one man against numerous women? We had thought it was one woman who had killed him. But it could have been two or three!
The Pickle women permitted some lies, based on motivation. When Forest Ann tried to lie about her affair with Doc Sipes, the lie was waved imperiously aside. Only motivation made a lie acceptable, such as the one with Ben Crook's death. When the Pickle women set an adoption plan in motion for an unwed woman, the plan was fairly typical of the time. People didn't know the parents of the child or where the child's parents came from. The motivation behind this lie was also acceptable with the Pickle women.
We explored different superstitions in the book. Although different superstitions exist to today, superstitions help us to understand our world and "foretell" a bit of the future.
We discussed how the Pickle women and we deal with challenges or disappointments. Sometimes we need someone to shake us up. A good example in the book is when Mrs. Judd came to take Queenie back to the weekly quilting meetings. There had been enough time according to Mrs. Judd, and perhaps a joint decision with Queenie's husband. Mrs. Judd had been well meaning though she could have been misdirected.
We discussed the purpose of the stalled car. The "episode" serves two purposes, a motivating factor for Rita to continue her search to uncover the murderer's identity. The second purpose is to foreshadow a plausible explanation to the murderer's identity - being a drifter. Without the car "problems" and near rape, over time, the community would have focused more intently on the "local" murderer's identity, putting the Pickle women at risk.
Different levels of social stratification were evident. This emphasis helped to shift the blame for the murder. The ruling class always blames the disadvantaged. Although Zepha Massies, a hill person, loved quilting and demonstrated great skill, Queenie never even considered inviting Zepha to the Persian Pickle Club. In one way, Zepha would have been more appropriate club member than Rita! Rita had the status and family connections but no quilting skills or desire. Zepha had the quilting skills and desire but no status to gain admittance to the club. There were pretty serious social attitudes for an insider and outsider. Some of the insider/outside attitude still exists in small towns. Newcomers, being in higher numbers today, often form clubs of their own to meet their emotional needs, often with "long-time outsiders".
The book may be slow off the start but is needed for us to identity the women, their characters and social situations. The second half of the book picks up dramatically. This is a good discussion book allowing a "permissible" divergence into personal emotional experiences!