28 January 2014

Review of Labor Day

Title:  Labor Day
Author:  Joyce Maynard
Published:  William Morrow Publishers, 2009
Where I Got It:  Bought on my Kindle

I am a sucker for books that are being made into movies with actors or actresses that I really like.  Ever since I first saw the press for Labor Day starring Kate Winslet, I've been interested in the book.  I read a couple of summaries, but they didn't really do a good job because I didn't immediately want to buy it.  I thought that maybe I just wasn't truly interested in the story, so it was on the backburner.  Then I saw a preview for another book to movie adaptation that looked interesting (though I am decidedly neutral towards the actor in it).  As I was investigating that book, I saw that one of the recommended books was Labor Day and it was only $4, so I bought it.

I was at my grandparents' over the weekend.  I go up there to spend time with them and relax.  We spend a lot of time in the sun room watching TV, so I always bring a book to read.  I don't usually make a ton of progress for any of a number of reasons.  Honestly, I didn't expect to read a whole lot of Labor Day, but I decided to start it because it seemed more along with my mood than the books I had brought.  Worth a try, right?

I finished it in less than 24 hours.  

It seems rare that a book can so completely suck me in that I just speed through it, but that's exactly what I did.

Goodreads Summary:  With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.

In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, acclaimed author Joyce Maynard weaves a beautiful, poignant tale of love, sex, adolescence, and devastating treachery as seen through the eyes of a young teenage boy—and the man he later becomes—looking back at an unexpected encounter that begins one single long, hot, life-altering weekend.

That really does a pretty good job of summing up the plot of the novel.

My thoughts:  I loved this writing style!  It was kind of gritty and raw and emotional and real.  It's the kind of writing style that I wish I had been able to cultivate in my days as a creative writing student.  (Maybe it has to do with the topic...)  Maynard creates an excellent sense of place and rendering of the characters.  Yes, there are how many stories about a single parent, who has a secret that makes them a bit off, living in a kind of run down house with their kid and then life changes.  But this one was different.  It was real.  The characters were vibrant and alive.  The narration really put you in the place of the novel.

Lately, I've been dealing with feelings that life isn't turning out like I had anticipated that it would.  I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be living in Stillwater with my boyfriend nearly eight years after I first moved here.  I didn't think that I would be this old and working a temporary job that I don't like.  I didn't think that I would have read as few of the great books as I have (that still bothers me, no matter how much I try to tell myself that it doesn't matter).  So many other things have not gone according to my pre-grad school plan.  But occasionally I remember that this is a life.  It's different and not what I had imagined, yes, but it's something that I am willing to work to maintain because it's that important to me.

I think that that is why I loved this story so much.  

Life doesn't always go the way you plan for it to, but it works itself out in ways that you can't really even imagine.  And that's OK.  Probably better, even, because who wants such a simple and bland life?  You eventually learn, like Henry, that there is more to life (and adult relationships) than fleeting connections and sex.  True and deep human connections come along so rarely that when they do, you have to hold on and fight for them and sometimes wait patiently (or impatiently).  You do things for the person you love that you wouldn't do for anyone else and that's what makes that love special and worth having.

There's that Hemingway quote--"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen."  This novel closes with a passage that reminds me of this:
What she will register, at least, will be the fact that she is not alone.  And it has been my experience that when you do this--slow down, pay attention, follow the simple instincts of love--a person is likely to respond favorably.  It is generally true of babies, and most other people too, perhaps.  Also dogs.  Hamsters even.  And people so damaged by life in the world that there might seem no hope for them, only there may be.
It's the millions of little things that make up and sustain relationships--not the big things.

Anyway, read it.  

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I had mixed feelings about this one when it came out and passed on it but you've convinced me that I need to read it - especially if I can find it for $4!