Sunday, August 30, 2009

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard


Joyce Maynard is one of those authors I almost forget about since she does not crank out books as often as many more commercial writers. Perhaps most famous for her precocious New York Times Magazine article "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life" published in 1972, as well as her romantic relationship with J. D. Salinger detailed in her memoir At Home in the World (Picador, 1998), I've always admired her work and think of her as a spunky, eccentric spokeswoman for those of us who came of age in the 1960s and 70s. She has mellowed with age, divorce and parenthood. Reading her latest novel, Labor Day (William Morrow, 2009), I felt she really hit her stride. This is a book I want to press into most every one's hands.

The suspense begins early, which surprised me since Maynard does not usually deal in suspense. On the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, thirteen year-old Henry and his divorced, solitary mother Adele meet a man named Frank at the PriceMart. They give him a ride in their car. Something about him isn't quite right. In fact, he is bleeding. In fact, he is an escaped convict. He goes home with Henry and Adele and holds them hostage.

But the funny thing is, they (and we the readers) begin to like Frank. He's not such a bad guy after all. He bakes a mean pie. He teaches Henry a few baseball tricks. His delight in the small things of life beyond prison is contagious. Soon Frank and Adele are making eyes at each other. Both she and Henry are ripe for allowing a man into their lives. Within a few short days, the three become family. Unlikely, I know, but irresistible. There are close calls and dangerous moments, as well as plenty of character development. Read it to see how it all turns out. Labor Day is a quick, compelling read.

For a read-alike, I recall reading and enjoying The Toothache Tree (St. Martins, 1989) by Jack Galloway, about a 15 year-old boy who is kidnapped and held hostage in East Texas by a man who turns out to be a much-needed father figure and friend.

Among other connotations, Labor Day signals the end of summer if you live someplace where there are actually four seasons. Here in Houston, we make do with Summer and Not-Summer. We are still in Not-Summer, and will be for weeks. But for all who have labored and deserve a holiday, whether in temperate or tropical zones, may your Labor Day be restfull and filled with plenty of good books to read.

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