Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Labor Day

Yes, the title is apropos, isn't it? Once again I've been eyeballing this novel because of the gorgeous cover art and because I've read much about the author Joyce Maynard, but had never read her work. (great interview with the author on Amazon!) I'm listening to this book and admittedly, I've been lax in my walking lately because of the ferocious heat and my new found love of my pilates video.

This novel is disturbing in a deep, visceral way that makes one recall the Stockholm Syndrome that afflicted Patty Hearst and that was handled so well in literature by Ann Patchett in Bel Canto. It's psychologically fascinating to me how easy it is to come under the spell of a person who treats us with whatever it is we're missing in life and how certain personality types are adept at sussing that out right away.

Escaped convict Frank is one of these types, deftly singling out 13 year old Henry and his mother Adele as they make one of their infrequent trips to the Pricemart in a small town in New Hampshire. Adele suffers from a worsening case of agoraphobia and relies overmuch on her young son to be her lifeline to the "real" world. Divorced and incapable of leaving home to hold any kind of meaningful work, Adele lives in a somnolent dream world, reminiscing about her past as a woman who loved to dance and style and get out in the world.

Frank has injured himself in a plunge out of a hospital window and needs to lay low over the Labor Day weekend, convincing Henry and Adele to take him home with them. Once there, Frank begins to open new worlds for both young Henry, whose self-esteem is at an all-time low, and for Adele with whom he falls in love.

Slowly, over the course of the weekend, the author unveils Frank's story, how he came to be imprisoned and plotted to make his escape, so that empathy for him is not only plausible but acceptable. This allows the reader to understand how both Henry and Adele begin to see Frank's entry into their lives as a saving grace. There's little that Frank can't do, his cooking that he learned from his grandmother, teaching Henry how to throw a ball, household chores that have gone undone for years take shape in his hands.

But the most eventful transformation is the one in Adele as she blossoms under Frank's  love and care and the renewed power of sexual fulfillment. The problem is that Henry, at 13, is also beginning to feel the power of puberty, and we can all remember how creepy we used to think it was that our parents actually "did it!" Henry is no exception and the mixed feelings of sexual jealousy, being on the outside looking in as his mom and Frank become more and more intoxicated with each other, skew his thinking to the point where he contemplates the ultimate betrayal.

This is an incredible novel that would be great fodder for book groups. The pace builds so slowly that the heart pounding worry about what's going to happen next sneaks up on readers almost without warning. As you're reading you have this constant feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I recommend it!

Meanwhile, Swamplandia has proven to be a delightful place to hang out for a week and my review for LJ just kind of wrote itself.  Sometimes they come so easy and other times not so much. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it but I love the challenge. Off to work guys, have a great holiday weekend.


Anonymous said...

I read Labor Day months ago and just loved it!

Sallyb said...

hey anonymous! When are you heading out for vacation?