Sunday, March 2, 2014

#14 [2014/CBR6] "Labor Day" by Joyce Maynard

Somewhere, someone linked to a list of books that were being made into movies this year. On that list was Labor Day (2009) by Joyce Maynard. I didn't know much about it, but I like Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet enough to want to watch it. And If I'm going to watch the movie, I always prefer to read the book first.

I was surprised when I started reading and discovered that the entire book is from the grown perspective of Henry, a thirteen-year-old boy. Henry lives with his mother, Adele, a woman who is divorced, depressed and barely leaves her house. Henry's father has left and created a new family. Henry and Adele's lives are predictable, odd, and boring--until Frank Chambers escapes from jail and talks himself into Henry and Adele's home on Labor Day weekend. We see Adele and Frank's relationship progress through Henry's protective and often turbulent feelings.

There's a lot I liked about this book, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. I was afraid that Frank would be using the family as hostages, so any kind of romance in that situation would have creeped me out. However, even though I was often concerned about Frank's motivation, he never used any kind of force, so I could understand Adele's attraction to him. In addition, seeing this romance grow but being limited to Henry's point of view was a unique way to tell this story.

I also felt that Maynard did a very good job with young Henry. He had to deal with a lot and his emotions were always very real. He was a jumble of hormones, feelings, and wants that were understandable and age appropriate.

One problem I had while reading the book, and this might not be a fair criticism, is that I dreaded the ending. I couldn't imagine how a happy ending could possibly stem from the circumstances, so for much of the book, I was just thinking: Please, don't let that happen. Please, don't let that happen. I'm not going to go into what actually happened, but I did end up caring for the characters and their situation stressed me out.

Perhaps one of my more major complaints with this book is the character of Frank Chambers. POSSIBLE SPOILERS?*? His whole situation seemed implausible, and he seemed too perfect to be real. Besides going to Adele's house when he's desperate and subsequently falling in love with her, he does absolutely nothing wrong. He is the perfect boyfriend, and the perfect father figure to Henry. He can fix anything--at a house with a single woman who never goes shopping, yet happens to have all the tools and equipment he might need. He is perfectly selfless, patient, and understanding. Yet this is a man who was the victim of tragedy and overzealous prosecution. He's a desperate man who's spent the last eighteen years in prison. As much as I loved the idea that poor, sad Henry and Adele could find such a wonderful man who could turn them into a real family, it's hard for me to believe a man like Frank exists--or a man like Frank could ever exist after living in prison for eighteen years.

Although I wouldn't call this a perfect book, it held my attention, and I'm looking forward to watching the movie.

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