Book Review: Labor Day

zz533c3244Labor Day

Joyce Maynard

William Morrow (A HarperCollins Imprint)

244 pages

I just want to preface this review by saying that I am a huge fan of Joyce Maynard.  At Home in the World, her controversial memoir about her love affair with reclusive author JD Salinger when she was a young girl, is one of my favorite books ever.  Definitely one of the best, if not the best, memoir I have ever read.  Her novel To Die For, which many of you may be familiar with from the film adaption starring Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix, is also a wonderful read.  So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that she had a new book out.

Henry is a thirteen year-old-boy dealing not only with the normal, everyday issues of puberty and peer pressure, but also having to take care of his mother, who is a loving, – woman who, at the same time, is detached and reclusive.  She treats Henry more as a confidant than a son, and the lines drawn between most mothers and sons is more blurred in this case.  Henry’s mother, Adele, rarely leaves the house, so Henry is forced to spend his days in the house with her, just the two of them, save for Saturday nights when he attends dinner with his dad and his dad’s new family at Friendly’s.

All this changes on the cusp of Labor Day weekend when Adele is forced to leave the house to take Henry to Pricemart.  While in Pricemart shopping, Henry is approached by a man named Frank who appears injured and is seeping blood.  Frank asks to get a ride with Henry and Adele, a request that is extended to him staying in their home.  It is at this time that Adele and Henry discover that Frank is actually an escapee from a local prison.  He confesses to this that he escaped from the hospital by jumping out of the window after having an appendectomy.  Most people, at that time, would turn him out at the very least, if not call the authorities, but Adele doesn’t seem too worried that she is letting a prison escapee live with her and her adolescent son, even once she learns why he was imprisoned in the first place.

Henry forms a deep bond with Frank almost immediately, while Frank and Adele form a romantic bond just as quickly.  But Henry is torn between his acceptance of Frank, who treats with much more love, patience and respect than Henry’s own father, and resenting Frank for stealing his mother away.  Meanwhile, the reader becomes sort of confused as to the character of Frank.  He’s an escaped felon, after all, and although there are extenuating circumstances regarding the crime he committed, it is impossible for the reader to know whether picture-28726or not to trust Frank.  It was an odd premise for the so-called hero of the book to be someone accused of such a heinous crime.  Regardless, Frank turned out to be a very likeable character.  It was hard to find fault with him.

Meanwhile, Adele’s actions were something I couldn’t help but admonish.  Here is a mother who puts her son at risk by allowing a convicted felon into her home.  As her relationship with Frank blossoms (very rapidly) it seems as though she puts Henry on the back burner.  On the other hand, she has yearned for love and passion for years and it finally appears before her.  It would be devastating for her turn that away.

Everybody talks about this crazy, wild passion, he said.  That’s how it goes, in the songs.  Your mother was like that.  She was in love with love.  She couldn’t do anything partway.  She felt everything so deeply, it was like the world was too much for her.  Any time she’d hear a story about some kid who had cancer, or an old man whose wife died, or his dog even, it was like something happened to her.  It was like she was missing the outer layer of skin that allows people to get through the day without bleeding all the time.  The world got to be too much for her.

Meanwhile, you have the manipulative Eleanor, a thirteen year-old girl Henry meets in the library who hastily goes to work manipulating Henry.  henry is so caught up in the physical changes he’s going through and the sexual aspect of being a teenage boy that is beginning to overtake him, coupled with the fact that he is desperate for companionship with someone his own age.  He falls for Eleanor’s theories hook, line and sinker.  I kept wanting to scream at him DON’T LISTEN!

Labor Day surpassed my highest expectations.  The emotions I felt while reading it were the most physical reactions I’ve had to a book in a loooong time.  I literally felt a pain in my gut while reading some of the passages, especially those towards the end.  If you have yet to read anything by Maynard, I strongly urge you to.  She’s not worth missing!

More reviews:

Book Club Girl

Presenting Lenore

Lesley’s Book Nook

Booking Mama

5 Responses

  1. I haven’t read anything by Maynard, but this book sounds really weird. I’m not sure if I’d want to start with it. What would you suggest as a good one to start with?

    • I think Labor Day would actually be a great one to start with, but if you’re not sure, I would suggest At Home in the World. That was my first introduction to Maynard and I enjoyed it immensely.

  2. A few of my co-workers recently read and enjoyed this book as well. I didn’t know that the author had a relationship with Salinger, or that she wrote To Die For. This sounds like a bit of a disturbing read, but your review has me intrigued.

  3. What an unusual premise for a book. I don’t know if it’d be for me but I’m definitely curious about her other book At Home in the World – now that sounds intriguing!

  4. We’ve toyed with this one for my face to face book club but got scared off by another review. May just have to rethink it!

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