Labor Day by Joyce Maynard – Book Review

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

I picked this one up for my popsugar prompt – a book that revolves around a holiday other than Christmas. This one revolved around a Labor Day weekend. And I am very happy that my selection was perfect. Something happens during the Labor Day weekend in this book that changes the life of all the protagonists.

Adele, a depressed single mother, lives in a cozy home, far away from the society, with her only son Henry, who is the narrator of this book. Adele seems forever under moaning and her agoraphobia makes it impossible for her to leave the house, which in turn means her introvert son also has to stay home and eat frozen food or play with his pet hamster, Joe, with no social contact whatsoever. Adolescence, however, is harsh and starts taking a toll on him slowly. On one Labor Day weekend Friday, a 13-yr old Henry successfully pursuades his mother to take him to the convenience store. The back-to-school stuff has to be bought and Henry wants to look at the latest issues of Playboy. It is here that he runs into Frank Chambers, a man bleeding from his head, and with a broken bleeding ankle, who asks him for help. He talks to Adele and very unusually Adele decides to help the man out. Henry and she drive him home where she says the man can stay awhile. What is Frank’s past? How did he get to the convenience store all bleeding? What happens next to Adele and Henry and their lives? This forms the rest part of the story.

I started with a fluctuating 1 and 2 star feeling. By the middle of the book it was a toss between 2 and 3. And by the end I was willing to give it a 3.5. I cannot call it gripping or a page turner but nonetheless the reader would definitely want to know what happens next.

I found the non-usage of quotes for dialogues, a complete put off. When a writer uses a technique like this, they should (I think) either use lesser pronouns or lesser dialogues. Here both are high in number and the chaotic writing requires a re-read to understand who said what to whom and why. In two or three places I was so utterly confused, I only realized what had happened THEN, when the end approached. Had I not been a dedicated ‘finish the book’ person, I would have abandoned it midway. And that is a huge risk that the author has taken. Another book which had used this technique was Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But Atwood pulled it off beautifully owing to her poetic prose. Her metaphorical nuances. It might be wrong of me to compare two authors and their writing styles like this. But if you keep me as a reader base for both, then Atwood takes away the cake by miles and miles.

Maynard has kept the story subtle. There is no excess portrayal of emotions, even while a tragedy is being discussed. There is excess portrayal of sexual fantasies of a 13-yr old though which could easily border on disgusting for a few. It goes on for passages after passages, although the language isn’t gross, it doesn’t appeal so much and I did not end up relating to it much. Maybe because I have never been a 13-yr old boy.

But Maynard redeems herself by the end. She makes it a happy romantic story and her narrative of hope over despair works really well. It did form a lump in my throat after I finished the book.

While reading some trivia about Joyce Maynard, I came across an article which spoke about her controversial memoir “At Home in the World” which spoke about her relationship with the “Catcher in the Rye” man, J. D. Salinger. That seems to be a better book by her. If anyone has read it, would appreciate a feedback!

‘Labor Day’ has also been turned into a movie with Kate Winslet playing Adele and Josh Brolin playing Frank Chambers. A lot of viewers have expresed anguish over the Oscar voters ignoring this ‘poignant’ movie. Makes me wonder if for a change the movie would be better than the book. I will put it in my “To Watch” list and find out later.

As of now, if you think you’d be put off by “no quotes” style of writing, you can avoid the book. But if you think you can manage that and read a coming-of-age story of a family, then I won’t say no for this one.

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