On Re-Reading Breakfast with Scot: Third Time’s a Charm

I did just about everything else this weekend I could possibly think of – washing the dishes, emptying the garbage, doing a couple loads of laundry, paying my bills, nothing was too tedious – well, okay, vacuuming was too tedious, but I did everything else – before finally settling down to face the one absolutely must-do weekend task: to re-read Michael Downing’s Breakfast with Scot before our very first book club discussion on Wednesday evening at Dunshee House.

  This will be my third reading. You’d think reading it twice would be enough. I’ve got five pages of notes, for heaven’s sake. But too much rides on this first selection – I’m about to host in the month of January four eighty-minute Wednesday evening discussions about this book, and every scene and nuance needs to be fresh in my mind. Not just the facts – I’ve got those. The operating values, both literary and real life, the themes, the underlying concerns. What is Michael Downing trying to do to me with this novel? It’s a complex comic novel, operating on many levels. I want to help open up those levels to new readers. I want to be able to ask good questions.

The first time I read it, I just zipped through to see if it was a quality read, and it passed with flying colors. The second reading was for notes, for memory-joggers – I listed all the characters, their traits and their page references, I outlined the chapters, it’s all there, a skeleton of the novel for discussion. I can easily locate any scene in the story from my summaries.

  Then about six weeks ago I saw the film adaptation of Breakfast with Scot during it’s one-week engagement here in Seattle. The movie version chose to make a few surprising alterations, kept many elements, cast the story perfectly, and went with one theme – gender fears – over the others, theatrically heightening it. It was a much-better-than-usual adaptation, with many elements to admire, many choices worth discussing.

But now it’s time for one more reading – a refresher more than anything, but in particular searching out themes for discussion, for four evening conversations. With this book I’m going to convince the skeptics and doubters that book conversations can go on for hours and hours, given the right book and a little guided direction.

I’m approaching the halfway point, the reading has been effortless, and to my amazement, frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Can this novel be getting funnier the more I read it? The task of the weekend is turning out to be its saving grace. Downing’s light touch is astonishing, the language deft and just dry enough.

And the creation of the character Scot is perpetually a joy, a literary stroke of genius that infuses the entire novel with a quietly daring, in-your-face charm just like Scot’s shiny yellow and green neck scarf. The issues raised by a “girlie boy” are those that have shaped our consciousness of gender for our entire lives, and worth probing. For all its comedy, the novel is tackling that very stereotypic code of masculine behavior that hammered me into who I am today. This is a rich and thrilling vein for discussion. Who knows where it will lead?

I already felt confident that one evening would be devoted to the role of gender fears in the novel. On another evening I wanted to discuss parenting – both how Sam and Ed do the substitute job of parenting, and how other characters in the novel do, too, Joan and Greg Koester, Mrs Morita, the dreadful Burlingtons across the street, and others. The novel is about unconventional family in a big way.

And now, I’ve found a third topic. Partner interaction. Ed and Sam have countless relationship moments throughout the story. Differing opinions, conflicting traits, opposing solutions, what they admire about each other, what exasperates them about each other, their different attitudes toward Scot, toward almost everything. I can’t help but wonder – since we see this entire story through Ed’s point of view – how the same story would be told by Sam? And how much that would tell us about their relationship!

Enough blogging for today. Time to let the cat in, get comfortable in my favorite armchair, let Buddy curl up in my lap, grab my copy of Breakfast with Scot, and get back to – um, work.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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