Here are the students’ literature circle materials for this week’s book club meeting on Thea Lim’s novel An Ocean of Minutes (pp. 142-197). The first round is available here, the second round here, and the third round here.
Summarizer: Eva Trakhtman
- Polly receives a “No Results Found” answer from the Demographics Center. Polly is pitied by her neighbors, but she continues to go through her workdays, finding small distractions in crossword puzzles.
- Baird gets progressively more worried about quarterly reviews and makes sure that Polly follows her necessary break-times. Polly finds out that Baird didn’t save Leonard because he didn’t want to, not because TimeRaiser is homophobic.
- Baird is very restless and nervous during quarterly reviews. He is like this because the two of them are behind schedule, and also (most importantly) the stolen yearbook with Elvis Presley (and Leonard) is laying right next to the logs. Cassie (one of the reviewers) goes to get the logs and brushes past the yearbook. The review ends and Baird and Polly are unsure of whether Cassie saw the yearbook.
- After that traumatic event Polly starts crying, and she finally tells Baird that she is actually searching for Frank and not a cousin. Baird is surprisingly empathetic; he tells Polly that she should go to the Strand to get more information about who left Galveston in the past years.
- Polly goes to the Strand and convinces herself that selling her body to strangers is something that she can do to get money for information. She is immediately cornered by two men and led to a bar. When the men start showing her unwanted affection, she realizes she can’t go through with her scheme. This is when Baird, who is sitting drunk at the end of the bar, swoops in and saves her (by cracking bottles on the men’s heads). Returning the favor, Polly saves Baird from the bouncer and leads him outside, he starts crying here and asking Polly to forgive him before he is picked up by a cab.
- The next day at work Polly is not allowed back at work, she is stripped of her 0-1 status and is made an H-1 for allegedly stealing the Elvis Presley yearbook (Baird framed Polly!).
- Polly works an H-1 job manufacturing bathroom tiles, she lives in horrible conditions and has to shower in the Pit. Polly is miserable and snaps at a woman who collects inspirational sayings and who tries to share them with Polly. The next day to make up for her “bratty” behavior, Polly gives some of her carrots to the woman, whose name is Cookie, helps her clean the Pit, and informs her of the Demographics Center.
- Polly is approached by Norberto who offers her a place at his apartment, he asks her to pretend to be his wife (because she apparently looks like her) so that he can get cash-benefits from the government. He says he’ll do this in exchange for information about Frank. Polly rejects this offer. Early the next morning she is woken up by Cookie and some other ladies who lead her to an abandoned house a distance away and say that they can clean it up and move in together. Polly agrees to do this. On their way back to their complex, Polly sees Norberto following her. He catches up to her and tells her that Frank is still alive and is currently in Buffalo, New York. Polly agrees to marry Norberto as long as she doesn’t have to pay any more rent.
Discussion Director: Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp
- How does the (beginning) of the chapter demonstrate changes in Polly’s character, specifically when it comes to the Frank situation?
- How did Polly’s attitude towards other characters differ from her interactions with them in previous chapters (Sandy and Misty, Baird, etc)?
- On page 158, Polly tells Baird that she can’t simply leave her job because she’s bonded, only for Baird to respond with “What’s ‘bonded?’” Did you take this more as Baird using sarcastic ignorance to compel her to look for Frank, or did this cause some suspicion about the amount of information TimeRaiser gives to the bosses of Journeymen?
- What are your thoughts on Polly’s decision to go to prison instead of battle Baird in court? What motivated her to do this, and would you have done the same?
- What new big similarities did this section introduce between TimeRaiser and real-world systems?
For my final question, I noticed in Polly’s description of prison that it ultimately seemed like she was just put in isolation with worse living conditions while ultimately still needing to work for TimeRaiser. This reminded me of the prison labor we have today, as many prisons don’t pay their inmates for the work they do at all (this includes Texas, where this prison is). TimeRaiser’s prisons operate similarly, even making Polly take money out of her life fund to buy tools that allow her to do the tasks she’s been assigned. In addition, prisons in Texas threaten their inmates with solitary confinement if they don’t do their work which reminded me of the fact that Polly had to work in a windowless, repurposed freezer.
Lit Connector: Shelby Edison
- On page 177, Polly’s bunkmate has a book of inspirational quotes that she reads out. This reminded me of Mr. Brown, the teacher in the book Wonder, and the inspirational quotes that he gives to his class.
- On page 153, Polly has a discussion where she explains that she is in her 20s, but the people she is talking to say that because she time traveled, she is really in her 40s. This reminded me of the debate that I’d have when I was little over how old you were if your birthday was on a leap year.
- Polly signing as a distraction on page 154 remined me of a scene in the musical Hello, Dolly, where Dolly creates an elaborate song to distract one character from noticing another one.
- On page 169, Polly and Frank spend time together in a pillow fort and talk about the future. This reminded me of the ending scene from the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
In the film, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy sit in front of Pemberley, having a picnic outing together. In Ocean of Minutes, Frank has collected a bunch of flowers when Polly returns, and they sit together, being extremely romantic. While the exact scenes don’t mirror each other exactly, but they had very similar energies. Both scenes have the two lovers sitting together alone and talking about how much they love each other, which is pretty intimate. In my head, I also imagined these scenes to be similar in how they looked.
Illustrator: Eli Johns-Krull
In this section, Polly, after visiting the Strand with Baird, loses her job with him and with it her position as an O-1. Now a H-1, Polly must leave her previous accommodations and move into the storage container H-1 housing she previously pitied as she saw from afar. Polly struggles with this through the section, including refusing to shower for fear of the shame of being seen by a passing group of O-1s and reacting with anger when Cookie, a fellow O-1, attempts to connect with her. Polly’s fall from grace in this section shows a major change in her status, significantly limiting the little power she had before and increasing her time with TimeRaiser by almost a year. This image of storage container housing connected the best of the images I found to this idea, as being forced into these new accommodations represents the breadth and severity of this change for Polly, as well as providing her something to run away from in addition to the hope to see Frank she’s running towards. Polly is made desperate by this housing, desperate enough to first agree to work with other H-1s on a dilapidated house away from the storage containers, before ultimately agreeing to marry Norberto and move in with him to escape the reality of what living as an H-1 truly means.
Do you agree with Polly’s decision to marry Norberto out of convenience? Why or why not? How do you think this will affect Polly’s ability to reconnect with Frank if/when she finds him?
Literary Luminary: Maja Neal
- “Just as the invention of air travel had made it easy to go, but no easier to leave, the invention of time travel made time easy to pass, but no easier to endure.”
- “In her heart, the past was not another time, but another place that still existed. It was just that she had taken a wrong turn.”
- “She had lost the luxury of rage.”
- “But the cold was not the true problem with the shower pit. The problem was that Polly had seen the pit from outside,”
Polly says this in regards to the H-1 shower pit that she and her coworkers used to look down on with pity and shame. Now that she’s an H-1, she’s experiencing not only physical discomfort but guilt. She feels awful when she realizes every woman in the pit is just like her, asking “how did I get here?” This feeling is especially significant when juxtaposed with Polly’s former use of O-1 status as a safety net and a mental pillar. Polly’s “problem” is that she knows what the higher-up working class lives like, and was proud enough to think she would always stay in that position of (very) relative luxury; now, having had her status suddenly stolen, she’s thrown for an emotional loop that results in her arrogance and short temper with some other H-1s.
Literary Terms Expert: Lauren Sternenberg
“This was the happiness of touch, and in that instant she was like a plant standing up, as water makes clay into mud.” (142)
-This is a simile, but it also seems like a direct prelude to Polly’s “letting go” of Frank and latching fully on to the world she’s in now. With Misty being an opposite to Polly’s innate dislike/disappointment in not seeing or meeting Frank, the exhaustion she feels is apparent. She decides to begin looking forward here, in this moment, and like the simile suggests, her letting go of what could be impossible is making her stunted progress—the clay—morph into something she can reap a life from—the mud. On the opposite end, when Polly learns from Norberto about Frank’s inquiries, her life is once again dried up—signified in her decision to leave the women and Cookie’s offer to stay with them in a damp apartment.
“On sober days, Polly and Baird worked together like cogs in a clock, exchanging wrenches and pliers instead of words, a language in tools.” (146)
“To their left, west, there lay the Strand, an avenue of old-timey buildings, tram tracks, and cobbled pavement, like the movie set for an old western with honky-tonk pianos.” (158-159)
“Polly imagined fantastical things at the end of the trail: an underground city run by self-subsisting runways; a hidden port with ships going anywhere but here; a storage locker packed with all the things she missed—peanut butter, orange juice, porkchops, television. She tried to stop these wild fantasies so she would not be let down.” (190)