Here are the students’ literature circle materials for this week’s book club meeting on Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp. 100-141). The first round is available here, and the second round is here.
Summarizer: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp
We begin the section with a flashback to May of 1979, being introduced to Frank’s family. We learn that his father left his mother for a time, and then came back, which caused her to develop somewhat of an obsession with happy endings. Through this obsession, she invites Polly’s aunt Donna to her wedding anniversary with the hope of setting Donna up with Frank’s uncle, Teddy. For fear of disappointing Mrs. Marino and despite knowing Donna would have little interest in having a matchmaker, Polly allows this plan to take shape without telling Frank the truth until the day of. At their party, Frank fakes fatal everywhere-pain as an attempt to get Donna to drive Frank “to the hospital,” but Donna has found her own way to ward off Teddy, so Frank and the crowd recover. Mr. Marino proclaims his love for Mrs. Marino, and they smooch it up, and Frank marches Polly to the bathroom to do the same.
We cut back to the future, as Polly watches in awe of the Journeymen that stay incredibly productive. While doing some work with Misty, sorrow washes over her as she remembers Frank and she begins to run downstairs with Misty trailing behind her, until she sees the girl with the red hair explaining that her boss got her a hair dryer for doing some extra work for him, and Polly wonders if Baird could take her to meet Frank.
As she considers ways she could bribe Baird (without finding many), she is flagged down by Norberto, who first questions her about the contact form before revealing that he does not have it, and that it may not even exist. As she becomes frustrated, Norberto tells her that he did find something: a form that proves Frank came looking for Polly while she was still in transit. For the first time, she breaks down into tears in front of someone.
Overcome with confidence that Frank is still searching for her, she approaches Baird and makes a deal with him; she’ll take back his not-suspicious book, and he will wait at the rendezvous point for Polly’s “cousin,” both plans taking place on Saturday. Disguised as a window washer, Polly makes her way to the office and pretends to clean a table as she steals the book, making it back to the hotel with no problems. Upon her success, Baird takes the book and finally heads to the beach. When he returns alone, Polly questions him, but he assures her that there was absolutely no sign of Frank. In somewhat of an attempt to cheer her up, Baird shows Polly the book, which contains not only a yearbook photo of Elvis Presley, but Baird’s boyfriend, Leonard. With disappointment once again, Polly heads back up to her room, and goes to sleep, just like every other night.
The next chapter begins, Polly notices that she’s passed by TimeRaiser’s Demographic Center, and finally stops inside to put in a search for Donna and/or Frank, only to realize that the price is much higher than her life fund allows for. The woman at the desk tells her she can borrow it off, and swipes her card to see if it goes through. It does, and with no way to turn back, Polly is forced to put in a search for Donna, for whom she finds nothing because Donna doesn’t work for TimeRaiser. Instead, she writes a letter to Donna at her last known address.
With only one Saturday left in September, Polly snuck out of the Hotel Galvez down to the beach in order to search for Frank herself. As night approaches, she finds a good post to watch the doc workers and the road from, and she eventually sights some guards, one of which she’s seen before, talking to a man who pulled into the parking lot. From behind, she can’t see him, so she begins to run up to the group before he grabs a duffel bag from the guards, and she realizes it is definitely not Frank. Still, she visits the docks at dates she considers significant, eventually latching onto hope that Frank will come to the hotel on the night of a Mel Gibson movie. When he doesn’t, she finally realizes that it’s only been her all along.
The section ends with a leap back into the past, witnessing one large, swift overview of seemingly everything Polly and Frank would do together, the regularities and varieties of their lives with each other.
Discussion Director: Shelby Edison
- On page 107, Lim utilizes comedy to tell a story about Frank and Polly’s relationship. This is the scene where Frank tells Polly to say he needs to go to the hospital, then promptly fakes an illness. How does Lim’s use of comedy in this flashback add to the overall book? For example, does it provide a much-needed respite from Polly’s distress in the TimeRaiser world or does it help to characterize Frank and Polly’s relationship outside of illness?
My answer: I really enjoyed this bit of comedy that Lim included. I think that it was much needed after Polly’s disappointments so far. It definitely gave me the chance to laugh and rekindled an interest to carry on in the novel, apart from all of Polly’s sadness. This comedic scene portrays Polly as someone whose character trait is not just being sad. It also develops Frank as such a fun character, who really cares for Polly. Though he doesn’t appear in any scenes in 1998, which is a bulk of the book, these flashbacks, especially comedic ones, make me feel like he is in the entire story because we have learned so much about him.
- Lim makes a pop-culture reference of our world – the Elvis Presley high school yearbook. How does referencing a piece of pop culture that exists in our world ground us in the new world in Ocean of Minutes?
- “It was the first movie made since the founding of America, and Mel Gibson has traveled from 1983 Hollywood to make it.” This sentence appears on page 137. Page 120 introduces the concept of time crime. How does a more casual approach to time travel that is less rigid than the system that Polly is a part of change your perception of time travel in the TimeRaiser world?
- Page 100 explains the family dynamic in Frank’s family, told by Polly’s point of view and she uncovers the affair the occurred between Mr, Marino and another woman and the family tensions surrounding this episode. How would the reader’s perception of the Marino family have been different if it was told from Frank’s perspective? Did you want a more inside view of the family, or did you like Polly’s account as a outsider?
- The chapter starting on page 139 is one paragraph and filled with descriptions of Polly and Frank’s relationship, but for the most part, little to no plot. Why do you think that Lim chose to include this chapter in the book? How does the singular paragraph styling of the chapter enhance the prose within it?
Lit Connector: Eli Johns-Krull
- “‘Big-’ Frank glances at Polly- ‘hair?’ Polly rolls her eyes” (101) connected to John Oliver’s “torso” joke in his segment on the Miss America Pageant (Last Week Tonight With John Oliver).
- “Yet she was invisible to them, because she was where she belonged, with the rags and bucket” (122). Polly’s ability to get away with stealing the envelope because her work makes her invisible to those around her reminded me of the first episode of Sherlock, wherein they make it a point that the serial killer got away with several murders because his job made him invisible.I don’t watch Sherlock, but I have seen the first episode on two occasions. I vividly remember that the writers put it in dialogue that the reason the taxi cab driver got away with murdering people for so long without the suspicion of either the police or Sherlock himself was because, as a cab driver, he’s a virtually invisible (or, at least, unmemorable) presence to the people around him. Polly being able to get away with stealing the envelope out of the office because she’s viewed as a maid, and a Journeyman (probably with the assumption she’s H-1) at that, which makes her presence go unnoticed and unremembered (so far, at least) reminded me heavily of this idea. Though their crimes are on very different scales, I thought it was an interesting parallel that both writers make it a point that it is the character’s position (and, with that, their class) that makes the characters invisible, instead of a specific effort on their part.
- The interaction around Polly’s LifeFund at the Demographics Center (specifically the fact that she paid before she was ready/could actively make the decision to) on page 129 reminded me of pay-to-win phone games, specifically the TheOdd1sOut video about games that charge you without your knowledge/full consent.
- On 133 Polly talks about the protagonist of The Time Machine travelling to the end of time, which reminded me of the part in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the crew travels to the restaurant at the end of the universe.
Illustrator: Maja Neal
This is, of course, Elvis’s (and Leonard’s!) high school yearbook. One very cool bit of information I came across while looking for images is that there is, in fact, a Ruleman directly next to Elvis in the book – it’s just a girl and her name is Shirley. But I thought it was very fun of Lim to pop that name out for realism purposes. This book is also the item Polly steals from the central hotel office to use to pay Baird, who, in exchange, goes and waits at 25th street for Frank. He’s ultimately unsuccessful and Polly feels a bit used, but when Baird becomes harsh about the fact that he’ll never see Leonard again and needs anything of his he can hang on to, Polly starts to understand. This was a particularly memorable moment in the book for a lot of us, based on who I talked to, not only because of Elvis but because it was a moment demonstrating Baird’s weakness about Leonard, which perhaps represents a person that Polly is still very much able to become if she never finds Frank.
Question: Does Polly truly see herself in Baird (as evidenced by the bottom of 127) ? That is to say, do you think she still believes deep down that Frank’s coming, or not?
Literary Luminary: Lauren Sternenberg
- “Mrs. Marino has a monstrous longing to see love conquer everything, to eviscerate all memory of the year all failed. And Donna is in its path. But asking Frank to tell his mother to stop would be like asking him to make her tell of all those midnights when she couldn’t bear her marriage bed, and so she sat at her kitchen table, peeling apples while noiseless tears slicked her cheeks.” (page 104)
- “Polly cannot sacrifice Donna to Mrs. Marino, because Donna would never be anyone’s sacrifice, anyone’s white-gowned blonde, screaming demurely.” (page 105)
- “Safety kept receding: it didn’t arrive, as she thought it would, when she returned to the laboring zone, where the hotel’s innards were exposed like a dollhouse, and workers stepped like storks from post to post, across an unpoured floor, sun hats under hard hats to keep skin from burning.” (page 122)
- I chose this quote to focus on because it clearly displays the memories of Frank are becoming farther away as Polly adjusts to this new world. Her safety was Frank, and now that he’s gone—at least for now—she feels as if the last bit of stability she had is receding. Of course, during this quote, Polly has just grabbed a valuable item for Baird at the risk of embarrassment, so the direct meaning is not clearly tied to Frank. Implicitly, though, the hotel’s innards could represent Polly’s thoughts, and the longer she goes without reassurance from Frank, the more frayed her hopes are becoming. Also, this language is beautifully descriptive and indicative of Polly’s current state.
- “The Demographics Center was in a battered strip mall that sat on the highest shoulder of the seawall, defenseless against the bleachy sun and sprays of sand, in a no-man’s-land between hotels. The windows were filthy with sea salt and mud, and Polly passed it by more than once before she realized it was her destination.” (page 128)
- “All she could remember was the moment when the time machine breaks and the traveler is hurled forward into futurity. He sees a trillion sunrises and sunsets, until everything goes red. He is at the end of time. There is nothing but ashy beach and giant, slithering crabs with palpitating mouths and pale, jerking antennae. He remembered the sounds of his world, birdsong and teatime, and he thinks, All that is over.” (page 133)
Literary Terms Expert: Eva Trakhtman
“On a sea of strange, she needed him to be her twin, so from very little evidence, she compelled a story for him that mimicked her own.” (p.113)
“The man and woman looked nothing like the others who peopled the site, who were small and sun-worn, with cagey posture.” (p.120)
“The waiting was like ice on a stripped nerve.” (p.123)
“Before, she’d watched ships stop short where the waters surrendered their depths, and trawlers rush to receive their merchandise – like a giant trapped in a crevasse as tiny beasts flooded to strip its bones.” (p.124)
This takes place while Polly is busy refurnishing the same chair and is staring out a window, scheming up a way to sneak back down to the 25th street and finally meet Frank. I think, this quote is first of all, very gory and beautiful and I love the image of a trapped giant. I believe that this quote can be used as a direct reflection of the way in which Polly and other time travelers are exploited by TimeRaiser and are affected by this new time in general. So far, we have seen Polly arriving in 1998 (docking) and then become overwhelmed by this new world that is so mystical and eerie to her, and in which she knows she still has to find Frank (her docking is voluntary). Right after she utters this observation, Polly says that she no longer sees that image in the docking ships because she knows that is the location where she will meet Frank. I think it’s interesting to see, as well, how quickly her mind on a topic can change when it is invaded by thoughts about Frank.
“She could hear her neighbors making noises as one organism: a gasp, a pause, then laughter.” (p.138)
“It was she who had invented his vast, urgent movements. In the end, there was only Polly.” (p. 138)