Friday, November 27, 2009

Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard

It's a brutally hot Labor Day weekend in New Hampshire. Henry, the 13-year-old narrator of the book, has convinced his mother to take him to the discount store for some new school clothes; the fact that this trip is highly unusual is one of the early clues that his mother has some serious problems that circumscribe Henry's life.

In the store, Henry is approached by a man who is bleeding from the head and leg. The man asks Frank and then his mother Adele to take him home with them. Somewhat inexplicably, they do. Soon, they learn that Frank is an escaped convict; the first night in their home, he ties up Adele (with silk scarves) so, if necessary, she can say she was coerced and pass a lie detector test.

As the long weekend progresses, both Adele and Henry fall in love with Frank--Adele in the expected way, Henry in the way of a boy who needs a male anchor. Frank shows him how to make a peach pie and how to throw a baseball--and relieves him of the burden of making Adele happy. Meanwhile, as Frank gradually reveals his story to Adele and Henry, Henry also reveals his family's backstory to the reader, and we begin to understand his mother's pain.

Meanwhile, Henry meets a girl on a foray to the library to get books on the Maritime Provinces, where Frank and Adele are considering escaping to. Unsure whether they plan to take him with them, Henry is feeling resentful and tells the girl about Frank...and we begin to anticipate the story's climax although not, perhaps, the happier ending that comes in the denouement.

While the premise is somewhat unbelievable (who would take a bleeding man home from Pricemart and how is that he is exactly the man to bring Adele out of her shell and help Henry come of age?), Henry's voice is a winning one. Maynard portrays him as a combination of the innocent and the damaged old soul--a believable mix for a child who has been raised as he has. Certainly, a book group could find much to discuss in this book.

Favorite passage:
No doubt Richard's father, like my mother, had once held his infant son in his arms, looked into the eyes of his child's mother, and believed they would move into the future together with love. The fact that they didn't was a weight each of us carried, as every child does, probably, whose parents no longer live under the same roof. Wherever it is you make your home, there is always this other place, this other person, calling to you. Come to me. Come back.

1 comment:

  1. I have also posted a review of this novel at -