God Save the Child; Robert B. Parker’s SPENSER Online Book Club

I picked up my copy (large print edition) at the local library yesterday. I am looking forward to hearing everyone’s comments on this book in about three weeks on the 27th.

I have read this one within the last year so I was not expecting to read things that might surprise me, but right on the first page he describes the mother’s legs as “… very slim, the kind women admire and men don’t.” I had forgotten that little well phrased observation that demonstrates how much the world has changed since this book was written, but perfectly captured the attitudes of the age in which it was written.

The book is dedicated to Parker’s own mother and father. The entire book makes me wonder how unconventional his relationship with his parents might have been. We know the relationship he had with his wife Joan was quite unconventional.

A bump to keep this in front of people’s eyes.

Who else has their copy in hand or has read this particular book recently?

In hand

Excellent news!
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the 27th.

Another bump to keep this before the eyes of the forum.
I look forward to hearing the thoughts of everyone on the 27th or shortly thereafter.

I am about a third to a half of the way through this book, but thinking about going back and starting again and taking notes this time around as CairoCarol suggested in a previous thread. I have already forgotten several little gems I meant to mention but now only vaguely recall. I have noticed it is paced faster than I recall from reading it previously.

I’m in.

I downloaded the book to my Kindle. In disclosure, I know I’ve read it before, because I read all the early ones back in the 1980’s and I’ve read the later ones sporadically, although I haven’t read one in about 10 years.
For some reason, the only one I remember specifically in terms of storyline is Taming a Seahorse, but I do remember all the characters featured in the series.

You will keep us on our toes; I have noticed your brilliance in various threads.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

I finished reading this book just last night for the second time in a year.

I will lay back and let other posters have their say; I tend to dominate the conversation in many threads- especially these Parker ones. Please share your observations and insights! I am eager to hear what each of you thought of this book. I will only say that it hits many familiar themes.

I have never read any of the Parker threads on the board. Frankly, I don’t spend a lot of time in the Cafe Society forum, as I’m not much into TV or movies or podcasts or internet videos.

But I read a lot.

Parker spends a lot of time on description. This is something that has been known to turn me off, especially when the thing being described in detail is a wooded path or mountain meadow. But that is not the case with this book, and I loved the endless descriptions of 1970’s fashions and decor.

I would be interested in knowing the ages of the people participating in this discussion. I’m 63, I was a teenager when the book was written.

The book is VERY 1970’s and is reflective of the attitudes of the times.
While society at that time was more prejudiced with regards to race, religion and sexual orientation, it was more open in other ways.

Everyone knew who drank way too much and who slept around and who had a temper and knocked around their wife and kids, and there wasn’t any sort of concerted effort to fix them. It was just who they were, and most people accepted it - they didn’t like it, but they accepted it, as long as everyone could retain an outward appearance of prosperity and propriety.

I think superficiality is both specific to the characters and indicative of the times. Like when, towards the end, they find Kevin Bartlett living with Vic Harroway and Marge Bartlett’s first reaction is “he’s an attractive man and this is a nice place.”

Good observations Ann. For the record, I was born in 1960 and three months (to the day) from today I will turn 61 years of age.

I remember those days well and agree wholeheartedly with your views. Matching the established ‘norm’ was a most important focus of the specific society in which I was raised. Where I was raised was a cookie cutter suburb on the East side of the greater Phoenix area before there were professional sports teams (well the SUNS may have existed by then, but if they did they gave game tickets away for free so the place didn’t seem so empty). My family went from struggling to get a new business up and running – to being somewhat affluent in our lower middleclass surroundings so memories are confused and contradictory, but for sure you put on your public face once outside the front door and everyone dressed alike and listened to the same music and had the same haircuts in the 60’s but in the 70’s cracks began to appear in our suburban utopia. Many families had older children who brought home ideas radical to the shelter we thought of as normal.

I am curious in which ways you found society more open back then? They surely accepted daytime drinking, and a man’s house was HIS castle. But we were discouraged to even think about options outside of our “American dream realized” reality. Teachers could only discuss communes or mind expanding experiences to demonstrate how they always lead to destruction. In fact, wholesome suburban Smithfield is pretty ideal compared to the inner city college setting of the previous book. Vic Harroway may be an immoral character delivering to the town’s collective vices – but he dresses well and can comport himself in a polite manner (although he never does in the book). Of course Smithfield would prefer him to the college radicals in their ratty clothes from The Godwulf Manuscript.

The superficial construct you mention Marge Bartlett viewing the world through is kind of remarkable. Who know what she was picturing, but learning Kevin is being kept in a nice clean environment rather than a dungeon is all it takes to satisfy her. (It might not ever occur to Marge that Kevin was not old enough to give consent and that a sexual predator was using him because he was well dressed, attractive, and clean. But she also surely saw Kevin as a possession, as chattel that belonged to her husband and herself.

I believe the whole point of the book is to accurately depict Parker’s own mother whom he had very complex feelings about. It seems Parker’s constant (in later books) reference to the Romantic age gives us insight into a part of the pain this book was written to address. The mother is attractive (but not as attractive as she believes – in chapter one she is proud of her very thin legs but Spenser thinks they are too thin) but she is not virtuous. She drinks too much and is a flirt with all men and according to Dolly goes beyond that on at least some occasion. Her friends admire her sense of style but she overplays her sexuality and it becomes a character flaw rather than an attribute. But all that to say that you are correct – that was just the time in which the story was set, but it was also just Marge Bartlett being her self-absorbed self. It seems like toward the end of the book he gave Roger and Margery a begrudging respect for what they were able deliver to the situation which was (eventually) a love that was self sacrificial. Up until them they only demonstrated a love that was - - well not conditional, but just a by-product of their own lives. In later books Spenser was cherished by his caregivers (**) but Kevin (and presumably Parker) felt like a tolerated accident of Marge and Rog’s marriage.

Taking this further, I believe Spenser is an idealized version of manhood; a two fisted man of action who doesn’t take shit off anyone, but also a poet with knowledge of the world, wisdom, and compassion. And I believe Parker wishes his women to all be as ideal as Spenser is. Like Susan Silverman, beautiful, wise, adventurous and capable – but with a respectable morality that informs all other aspects of her being. Parker shows quite a bit of tolerance for all human differences, but he is never particularly kind to mothers in my observations.

So much for keeping my yap shut. Okay, NOW I will remain silent and let others speak.

I don’t know if “open” was the right choice of words, but society seemed more accepting of certain things. Not in a good way, not a welcoming acceptance, but an acceptance tied to resignation.
They were accepting of the alkies and wife-beaters because…what else could you be? Rehab wasn’t a thing back then, there were no family services and victims services and abuse hotlines.
I coukd elaborate more, but I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion too far away from the book

I think it’s interesting that you see Marge Bartlett as a reflection of Parker’s mother. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, I saw her almost as a caricature of a certain type of newly awakened 1970’s woman. All the arts classes and therapists and sexual experimentation, attempts to “find” herself, to see herself as something more than a wife and mother.

When the parents were first introduced and described , my first thought was “My God, it’s Bob and Midge from That ‘70’s Show.

Then there was the murder, the dead body in the living room - which seemed to be not that much of a big deal - certainly nothing that would require them to cancel the dinner party scheduled in that living room for the same night.

Part of that is literary understatement, I think -IIRC, there is a tendency in the novels to downplay the crimes that Spenser isn’t hired to solve. And I guess the rest comes down to the historical differences in forensic science.

That’s all I’ve got at the moment, more later

I have a massively long reply for Ann_Hedonia that will have to be edited down, but I still want others to be able to participate. Does anyone else have some insights or observations they would like to share? Or perhaps comments upon Ann_Hedonia’s excellent posts? Before I can edit down my response and make any reply, I will need to read the collected works of Betty Friedan, Marabel Morgan, and Phyllis Schlafly.

I did forget to add this (**) comment in my last reply. In future books it becomes Canon that Spenser’s mother died in child birth and he was raised by his father and maternal uncles who were all boxers and had a construction business together. The four of them lived together and were the entire family unit; the father and uncles all must have been pretty aware of topics ranging from women’s issues to racial equality, and even into religious and social freedoms seeing how Spenser turned out. In this book however, Spenser’s mother managed to survive the pains of child birth and would occasionally serve him an Americanized version of Asian dish (or Asian sounding dish). I will try to find the passage later on, but the backstory is not locked down by the time of this book.

Another thing that I am looking forward to in future books is Spenser having an equal whom he can sometimes rely upon (and to be fair – must sometimes go up against) to handle his bodyguard duties while he is out detecting.

Searching previous Whatcha Readin’ threads, I see that I read this exactly three years ago.

At the time I wrote:

…I’m enjoying Robert Parker’s second Spenser novel, God Save the Child (1974). The Boston private eye is hired by a small-town Massachusetts couple with a troubled marriage to find their missing teenage son. It looks like a kidnapping, but Spenser - whose wit and irreverence are very funny - isn’t convinced. [And later]: Finished it and liked it. The descriptions of Seventies decor and clothes haven’t dated well, but the plot was interesting and Spenser’s smart-assed approach to detective work carries you along nicely.

Hmm. You may be right - I don’t know enough about Parker’s upbringing to know one way or another - but I have to say I never had the sense that that was a major motivator for his writing.

Agreed. “Middle-class, married white women trying to deal with feminism on their own terms” is definitely a recurring theme in the early Spenser novels.

I’ve changed my mind about one of my earlier observations. I think that when Marge Bartlett found her son was living with Vic Holloway, it never crossed her mind that they might have a sexual relationship. I think she probably had such a 1970’s stereotypical preconception of homosexuality that she never considered that the muscular “manly man” Holloway might be gay.

I’m not sure what to make of Spenser thinking that he could “break” Kevin and Holloway’s relationship by beating up Holloway. While I do think that Kevin saw Holloway as his protector, I find it hard to buy into the idea that the relationship would be shattered if Holloway lost one fight - especially since he barely lost the fight…now if Holloway had ran away, maybe…