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Labor Day

by Joyce Maynard
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Product Details

  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • Publishing date: 28/07/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780061843402
  • ISBN: 0061843407


Book Description

With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.

In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, acclaimed author Joyce Maynard weaves a beautiful, poignant tale of love, sex, adolescence, and devastating treachery as seen through the eyes of a young teenage boy—and the man he later becomes—looking back at an unexpected encounter that begins one single long, hot, life-altering weekend.

The Obsessions Behind Labor Day: An Essay by Joyce Maynard

I always tell students, when I teach writing, to locate their obsessions, and look to them when they’re searching for the story they should be telling. When a writer attaches her work to the engine of what she cares about most passionately (even irrationally, perhaps) the work will be infused with a similar passion, I believe. And come into being most organically.

This new novel of mine--though it’s a product of my imagination, not my experience--contains elements of so many of my deepest obsessions. I think that’s why I wrote it so easily and swiftly--almost as if I were transcribing a story being dictated to me from inside my brain.

Anyone who has read my work for a while can recognize a few obvious connections to my history, starting with the experience of having been, for many years, a single parent of sons (also a daughter) living in a small town not unlike the imaginary town in which I located the novel. I like to think I have a somewhat more stable and grounded hold on reality and life in the world than Adele (and I am, if anything, the opposite of agoraphobic). But I share a number of her attributes: For starters, there’s a hugely romantic nature and a love of dancing (though not her abilities on the dance floor; that part is the stuff of fantasy.) On a deeper level, though, I understand well the sorrow and regret a woman feels when the dream of family life as she envisioned it has left her. My sons--though I like to think they would weigh in with more positive feelings about their growing up years than negative ones--could certainly identify with the feelings Henry has, of undue responsibility for his mother. (Henry’s innocent gift, to Adele, of the Husband-for-a-Day coupon was inspired by a similar gift presented to me one Christmas by my son Charlie, when he was around nine or ten.)

I am always interested--no, fascinated--by children’s perceptions of the adults in their world. The mysterious subject of sex, the first discovery of one’s own sexuality, and the disquieting experience-- for a child of divorced parents in particular--of witnessing a parent’s sexuality even as they embark on their own sexual lives. Complicated enough, when a child is contemplating the idea of his parents together--but the experience for a young person (a boy in particular) of seeing his mother with some other man is one I have thought about for a long time. (Ever since my son Willy--then age seven--responded to my going out on a date for the first time, after separating from his father, by taking a kitchen knife and plunging it directly into the crotch of a cardboard effigy of the country singer Randy Travis that I had propped up in our front hall . . . Willy is now 24 by the way. A very healthy person who displays no signs of being a psychopath.)

Back to the obsession list. My experience of having gone through a painful custody battle many years ago--and the horrifying experience of being evaluated as a mother by a guardian ad litem--is in there. My history as a teenage girl with eating disorders also surfaced in this story, along with the guilt I carry about a betrayal I committed--at around that time in life--of a classmate’s trust in me, when around age fourteen--an event that formed the basis for the first story I ever published in a magazine (Seventeen), somewhere around 1970 . . .

Another experience that found its way into this novel (and one I also wrote about, in non-fiction form, a few years back) was a kind of fantasy love affair I found myself in, when I was myself a young and very lonely single mother, living in a small New Hampshire town with my three young children, and I got a letter (first one, then a hundred more) from a man in prison, who seemed to know and understand me better than anyone else. (I eventually learned--when it appeared he was getting out of prison and coming to visit my children and me--that this man was a double murderer. I first told the story at The Moth in New York, and later wrote it in an essay that appeared in Vogue, and in a collection published a few years back, called Mr. Wrong.)

I will add here, that this is the third time in which I have chosen, for the central character of a novel of mine, a character who is thirteen years old. This is clearly an age that means a lot to me, and though I haven’t been thirteen for many decades, I still feel very connected to that time of life.

One odd little obsession that I included in the novel, with particular pleasure, concerns pie. Ever since the death of my mother, nineteen years ago, I have set myself the task of teaching pie-making to anyone I encounter who expresses frustration with making good crust--and the numbers of my past students have long since entered the triple digits. (I have also often run large gatherings of pie students at my home, to raise money for my political candidate. Always a Democrat . . .) I could talk a lot about what this pie exercise means to me--certainly it has to do with my mother, but also with honoring the old ways of doing things by hand, and paying attention to instinct (more than a recipe). And I have to add, I love it that I was able to include, in a work of fiction, instructions for making a pie crust that really will result in a good pie, if followed.

The final obsession I will mention here--and it is the one that inspired my first novel, Baby Love, twenty-eight years ago--is babies. Although I am very different from Adele in many ways, the way she feels about having a baby is how I felt all my life. And what Frank says concerning the importance of paying attention to babies--and later, his thoughts are echoed by Henry, when he becomes a parent of a daughter--is everything I believe, myself. I have never met a baby I didn’t like, or a crying baby I didn’t feel I could bring to a state of calm. I just like babies a whole lot, and loved writing about that part here.

I want to add: I did not intentionally set out to address any of these topics. They just came out, because they’re all the things that interest me most. No doubt this is why I loved writing this novel and wrote it so fast. (I could not stop writing.) I wanted to read it.

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  • Captivating and Unpredictable Storyline
    From Amazon

    Summertime is nearing an end. Thirteen-year-old Henry hasn't done much but watch television. He lives with his mother Adele who, since the divorce from his father, very rarely wants to leave the house. Her heart has been broken for some time, nearly everything she once lived for is now gone. They live off of Campbells soup and TV dinners. However, one day they forced to leave the house and trek to the local discount store. Henry is approached by an injured man who asks for help. Henry & Adele's lives are forever changed. For the next several days, Henry learns things he'd never learned before: how to play catch, how to play baseball, and most importantly, he learns a lesson about love. He also learns that it's important not to judge someone based on their past, but instead an individual should be judged by who they are now, and what they can provide in the future. Labor Day is told from the viewpoint of Henry, a young boy on the cusp of young adulthood. He's still young, a bit naive about girls, and very sensitive emotionally. The six days he spends with this stranger play a key role in his emotional and mental development. It is not until he's an adult that he really begins to comprehend just how important this weekend was. He gains an insight on life that many don't discover in an entire lifetime. Maynard does a stunning job portraying Henry's character; she's able to so accurately describe the attitudes and emotions of a teenage boy. One couldn't help but sympathize with Henry's character. We were all teens once; we experienced similar "growing pains." The secondary characters Adele and Frank are just as aptly detailed. Initially, Adele's character annoyed the heck out of me. She seemed to have given up on life, completely forgetting that she had a son, a reason to live. It wasn't until I read a bit more about her that I realized the cause of her pain. Frank is an interesting character. He has a pretty rough history and realistically one should have disdain for a man of his character. But I couldn't help but love him for what he gave to Adele and Henry. The relationship this trio shares is initially perplexing, but ultimately rewarding. The storyline is captivating and unpredictable. While reading this book my initial thought was "What!?" but by the end it was replaced with a "Wow!" I was caught off guard by how much I enjoyed this book; I fell in love with this odd little "family" and Maynard's descriptive, flowing prose. I highly recommend this one; it would make the perfect beach or lazy summer day read.

  • Love Joyce Maynard
    From Amazon

    Not sure why anyone would blame Joyce Maynard for being seduced at 18 by a man (Jerry Salinger) in his fifties!! And her parents allowed her to move in with him. She was let down and betrayed by the adults who should have cared for her. Just because he wrote a great novel? That said, I love her books and this one was no exception - engrossing, and quite a different story. Henry's voice was so real, so authentic, she really got it right. I highly recommend it.

  • Catcher in the Rye Updated? Naw--better!
    From Amazon

    Its easy not to like Joyce Maynard if you know about her "Almost Famous" youth, but the girl can write! What a great book! Henry is a charming, but all-too-real 13 year old child with a depressed divorced mother and a dad with a whole new family. When Frank hustles/muscles/walks into their lives, in the hands of a lesser writer, it could devolve to a treacly Hallmark movie, but it doesn't. Let's hope that when they make a movie out of this, they don't schmaltz it up! This is a great read--not a stay-up-all-night read, necessarily, but a very lovely summer afternoon's treat. If you think you know what's going to happen, you don't, but what happens follows inexorably from the characters. I had uncharacteristic tears in my eyes at the end.

  • Tough Being A Kid
    From Amazon

    This book, told from the perspective of a 13 year old boy, has several quirky characters not least of which is his mother. If you concede the premise that a young boy and his mother would pick up a strange man at the local discount store then the rest of the story may make sense. I just wonder how much Maynard was influenced by Salinger in her creation of this coming of age story of this young man. I also found that the introduction of the Eleanor character was a cop out and relieved Henry of really having to make a choice.

  • Passionate and Compassionate
    From Amazon

    I can't wait to share this book with my friends. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of Joyce Maynard's writing. I felt so many emotions, from fear to absolute joy! A wonderful and beautifully written book, and especially so from a woman writing about a young boy approaching puberty. Loved it!

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