Labor Day– A Review Just in Time

I went from being excited about this book, to feeling neutral, to feeling hopeful that it might have a good ending, to having to force myself to finish it.

I was eager to read this book because I’d found out about Joyce Maynard and wanted to try her, then it was made into a movie and I happen to love Kate Winslet so I finally picked up the book in anticipation of watching the movie later. After finally finishing it, I can neither recommend the book nor do I actually want to see the movie.

Stylistically, there wasn’t anything that really stood out in the book. A few times I found the prose quite admirable, other times I was left unimpressed. Personally, I felt that writing from the point of view of Henry, a 13-year old boy observing his troubled mother, was a huge mistake. Joyce Maynard somehow lacked the skill to take her readers into a convincing thirteen year old boy’s mind. Boys are horny, yes; boys need father figures, yes; but I found even those simplistic thoughts weren’t conveyed well. If you want some great writing about a boy and his mother, told from the child’s point of view, I’d recommend I Know This Much is True, which has great insight on the relationship between teenage sons and their mothers.

Aside from the approach, however, I had bigger gripes with the plot and characters. First of all, Frank was an extremely static character. He was far too perfect (for lack of better word)– he seemed almost like an archetypal character– the hardened convict with the heart of gold, wrongfully imprisoned, of course. As a person, he seemed unreal and Maynard dumped all the qualities that we find ideal in a man as well as a all-too cliché backstory. He’s an orphan, loving grandson, master pie baker, excellent plumber and pitcher, and he’s a brave soldier who served in Vietnam; naîve, believing he knocked up a girl so he does the honorable thing and marries her, he takes it on himself to take care of the child. He feels like a forced character designed purposefully with all the elements that evoke empathy.

I could not buy into Frank’s character, which meant that I really couldn’t buy into the story either, particularly through Henry’s narration. Henry, too, felt unreal. How is it that he went, within a matter of days, from watching his mother tied up, to admiring Frank, to feeling threatened by him, to betraying them, to feeling sincere remorse, to a completely normal adult life?

I’m sorry, Joyce Maynard; I just couldn’t enjoy this book. I tried. Points for an interesting premise and a daring approach but I couldn’t give it more than 2 out of 5 stars.


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