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A Remarkable Novel
on 25 January 2014
The narrator of this story is 13 year old Henry, a self-confessed 'loser' who lives with his long-divorced mother, Adele, now an emotionally fragile, depressive and who has become a virtual recluse in the house. She guards a secret that later explains this. A few days before Labor Day, Henry persuades her to go on one of her infrequent trips to the supermarket. Henry browses through a magazine when a tall gaunt man, clearly bleeding, sees Henry as trustworthy and asks for his help, culminating in his mother, Henry and the man who introduces himself as Frank, driving back to their home for reasons known only to them. Once home, Frank Chambers freely admits he is an escaped prisoner, having jumped from a second floor window in the hospital wing following his appendix removal. The media state he is a murderer, dangerous and possibly armed. He asks to stay for a while as the police have an extensive search in operation. Adele and Henry agree with some consternation.
Frank, in a few days, changes the lives of Adele and Henry. It is difficult to distinguish the captor from the captive. Frank is honest, decent, practical and surprisingly likeable. Adele is transformed into a different person, full of life and energy, careful about her appearance, a beauty, picking up on her old passion for dancing, with Frank. Henry has never seen his mother so happy. Frank teaches Henry how to throw a baseball (he is useless at sport), how to make pastry and pies.
Isolated from the outside world, Frank's story emerges. Brought up by his grandmother on a farm, he returned from a 2 year stint in Vietnam to be coerced into a marriage that was doomed to fail and then wrongly accused of murdering his wife and child. He now seemed like a guest we had invited over, but all three of us knew how he came to be there. Frank seemed relaxed, calm and overjoyed, part of a family, now having fallen in love with Adele. They begin to explore the possibilities of a future together however improbable.
Henry had much responsibility thrown onto his young shoulders. Keeping Frank's location secret confused him. He had not known him for more than a few days, he was an escaped convict on a murder charge and despite his mother's happiness, his priority was to take care of her. He also had to cope with his own emerging sexuality. He also had involvement with his father and step-family with Saturday 'family feasts' in restaurants. How Henry loathed them. Henry becomes unsettled and makes choices, some good, some bad (the malicious Eleanor).
Joyce Maynard writes beautifully and fluently with an easy-flowing characteristic style. The characters are well-drawn and the atmospheric exuberance concealing the underlying tension of harbouring a convict comes across convincingly. Accepting the improbability of the latter, this is an enjoyable and entertaining book. Remarkable and unusual in it's content. It is poignant, moving, with love, sex, grief, heartbreak and devastating treachery. An excellent, unforgettable read.