Sappho’s Sisters

We are a Twin Cities based group of women who are mostly either teachers or scientists (or both), and we’ve taken our name from the ancient Greek writer, poet. We’ve been together, in a changing incarnation, for fifteen years. We are teachers of English, French, biology, Spanish, and ELL. We are locals and transplants, mothers and grandmothers, athletes and knitters.  One quality about our group that is unique is that we are all willing to look at a story/character/theme and discuss things that are difficult or challenging—maybe even sometimes uncomfortable. It reflects big trust among the members of this group. We relate to a famous quote ascribed to Sappho and her teaching: “If you are squeamish, don’t poke the beach rubble” (she lived on an island). That is something our group is metaphorically not afraid to do! We have very open and courageous discussions, no matter what the book is about.


The time-line of Time Stamp was extremely captivating! Characters in the past moved forward, characters in the present evolved from events in the past. As these lines intersected, a unique moment was created, in which the reader could experience an epiphany about the events and characters. Some of the most profound moments occur for the reader at these intersections. This book may become a classic because of this amazing structure and the way the reader is actually involved in the unraveling of the story. There are books that project into the future, books that look back in the past, but few, if any, that do so simultaneously AND create a third reality that happens as the reader puts the pieces of the puzzle together in her own mind. The plot structure is amazing, artful, poignant and dramatic and engaging.

In terms of the book’s becoming a classic, there is also its insight into marriage. You’re crazy about each other. You get married. Then you have your whole life to work it out. We think this collaboration will work, but it’s hard. Time Stamp portrays this complexity, and yet makes it so accessible. Scenes between Reeve and her husband through-out really resonate with all readers who are married. That people can love so purely, but still have conflict all through their married life is important. This is the reality of marriage—who gets their needs met, who sacrifices for whom, and what we give to others, while losing ground ourselves. It is a universal challenge.

I loved the way the book was like peeling back layers of an onion. Because part of the story is working backward in time, the reader frequently glimpses things that don’t seem that significant but end up being important, or explicable. Everyone agreed that this was a really unique and wonderful way to tell a story—with the climax earlier in Maddie’s life than where the book begins her story.

I loved the themes the book held for me, too. Emily’s writing is so beautiful. She holds up the imperfections of our relationships and preserves their loveliness despite them. There are themes of aging, as well as generational norms that are constantly changing.  It’s interesting to wonder what would have happened to Reeve and Will’s marriage in a different lifetime.

I thought the time aspect of the story was brilliant. As Emily said in reply to a question, connections in a family are this continuous thing. The father had a whole long life before the daughter was born, then their lives overlap for a little while, and then the daughter has a life after he is gone. And her life is nonetheless affected by what happened to him early on.

I liked how she took little pieces from one part of the book that became important later on. I always like it when an author does that. Everything is important.

I also appreciated how she doesn’t tell you everything—doesn’t explain everything—but it makes sense gradually.

I thought Emily was writing about my life. There were so many pieces to it that came back to me. One of the many, many was when she was describing Paris. I thought she had certainly lived in Paris, to know a city I know so well. And here she was only there for one day!

Emily was so clear with her words. Her writing is so beautiful. The words she chose brought me to the place and emotions of the moment.

The time piece was such an adventure for me. Effortless to read, but I learned so much about history. 

Reeve’s inability to compromise meant that she could never really be happy. This was a conclusion we reached in our discussion. It was a powerful observation for all of us. 

The timeline is so unique and it worked! The way that the relationships grew and how they affected one another.  You see people’s effects on one another going back and moving forward, because of the way Emily structured the book.

Quotes and Scenes

• Emily also captures the habits and gestures of the individual that are both quirky and very intimate. I found myself relating so much to the questions and insecurities both Maddie and her father Will carry with them. I also found the love relationship between Maddie and Guy very moving. There is a love scene between them that might be the most beautiful I have ever read. —p. 110  I found myself wishing my own marriage were more like theirs and less like Will and Reeve’s. I could relate to the latter’s differences of fundamental opinion.

• One of dozens of very vivid reflections comes from Will late in his life (as Will is close to the climax in his understanding both his relationship to his wife and to his daughter, and after a physical fall): “Age had raced with him and caught even. The idea, he thought, would not have come to him just then if he hadn’t slipped on the hall stairs on the way down and taken a sharp blow on the railing which left his shoulder painful and stiffening. It was not really the injury itself or even the awkwardness which caused it that made him feel old. Instead he seemed old to himself because of the sense of helplessness he’d had in the instant his feet went out from under him seemed a fear he had never known. It was as if the very fact of aging had imposed a need for wariness on him, had split him into two discrete beings, the one physical and the other mental that operated independently of one another and were neither sure of control. Or it was as if his body were growing a stranger to him, that his spirit and mind were entrapped in it and destined to change…” —p. 196

With a father with Parkinson’s, I found this description so apt.

When Maddie and Guy are going to his grandmother’s, he says: “She won’t hunt this time, but my grandmother does everything. One day she’ll wake up fragile….  There’s just her for her generation and me for mine. That’s it. We’ve lost the flank and the bridge .”—p. 97

It’s that realization you have, like I did recently, that there’s nobody left in your parents’ generation.

I really loved the paragraph at the bottom of page 117 and top of page 118.  Will returns to the house, where his painting studio is. It’s the moment he realized that “he had stopped painting and would never start again—that painting lived in him only in the way he saw the world.” I love how Emily spelled that out in the paragraph that ended with “like a body that remembers an amputated limb because it has nerves that start but don’t go anywhere.” I feel like I can relate to that with things that I’ve done in my life.

I also like the paragraph on page 69 when Will is with his father. His father says, “Will, the forest is one of maybe half a dozen kinds of places in the world where a man can stoke himself up for whatever is coming.”

Those are two of the paragraphs in the book that really spoke to me.

Click here for Time Stamp Q&A.


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