Marchetta is a writer who understands the beauty in the breakdown. This book would not have been so simultaneously hopeful and heartbreaking to read if she didn't. It's 2007. Two years have passed since Tom's beloved Uncle Joe was killed on his way to work in London. Tom's father has always been a drinker, but he completely falls off the wagon after Joe's death. Tom's mother walks out in an attempt to shield his younger sister from the chaos. Tom refuses to go. Eventually, his father walks out on him, too. Tom escapes quietly into an numbed state of drug and alcohol use to cope. I blame him, but it's a sympathetic blaming. Some emotions feel better on snooze.
His Aunt Georgie has other problems. Due to seemingly being the only family member able to hold her crap together (bless the Georgies of the world), she flies up to London to retrieve Joe's body, if possible. Her ex accompanies her. The one who cheated on her five years earlier. And got another woman pregnant. Now, two years later, Georgie is also pregnant with his baby. Honestly, I don't how she did it, because straight up, I would be like, "Please, for the love God, hand me a drink."
Like I said, I can sympathize with Tom.
I am not sure if I can adequately articulate my emotions about this one. I know on the surface it would be so easy to say that the events in The Piper's Son are about a family dealing with grief from a death. It would be incredibly easy to say that. However, the death, to me, seemed more of a reckoning, a gathering on the Finch-Mackee timeline for things unsaid, resentments unacknowledged, and demons unconquered. The death of Tom's Uncle Joe was the keystone of a family's implosion and magnified issues that were already present. Instead of the family coming together, the fine fracture lines cracked apart and separated individuals. Tom was both abandoned and chose to be on his own. Georgie closed in her grief and shame and anger over her baby brother's death and her unplanned pregnancy.
No one I've read can quite balance grief and humor like Marchetta can . . . Our Tom is still the snarky layabout that he was in Saving Francesca, but while you only got a whisper of his pain there, here it is full blown, as are his quips and timing. At times, I hated him, and at others, I kept praying that he would reach out to someone, anyone, because it was evident that he wanted and needed that. Georgie is one of the 'realest' characters I've ever read. She carries guilt the way she carries her child: it hangs low on her and takes up the center of her being. Marchetta really nails the difficult journey of self-love and forgiveness of others through Georgie.
I didn't just smile; I laughed out loud in public (several times, I might add). A couple pages later, I'd tear up. I love this family - I know a bit about how some families need to get a little blood on the floor so everyone can walk away feeling loved and forgiven. It's a cathartic process you only appreciate if you grow up with it. Their humor, their loyalty and their ability to feel deeply had me hoping the entire book that everyone would find their way back to each other.
For those of you wondering if you need to read Saving Francesca to understand this book, no, it's not necessary. The Mackee's story stands on it's own, although Saving Francesca is a book I highly recommend to you, as well (review coming 03.14.11). I am not sure if I am really doing this book justice, but suffice to say, I didn't love it; I breathed it in and lived it. It's the subtle difference between standing outside a story and being a witness in it, and Marchetta's writing is the type that makes you feel like you walking down the street with Tom or talking men with Georgie. In the end, this is the story of how love can rip family apart and bring them back together, of how keeping connections with others alive and hungry nourishes and protects your own life. The Piper's Son is a beautiful story of love and redemption, of going home again, and how some things have to shatter so you can put them right again.