Book Review: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard



Title: Labor Day

Author: Joyce Maynard

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (Harper Collins Imprint)

Publication date: August 3, 2010

Paperback: 272 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? It was on my radar due to the promotion of the upcoming film release by the BFI, and then I was sent a copy by the lovely team at Harper Collins – result!

Where to read this book: Somewhere quiet.

Refreshments: I am never averse to wanting pie, being born and bred in the North of England, therefore in true keeping with this story a peach pie should be your perfect accompaniment to this book, homemade of course. However, if you find yourself reading this out of peach season any pie will suffice. To drink perhaps a root beer float (whatever that is coca cola & ice cream?!!) or just fresh coffee – that might be less stressful and confusing for those of us not au fait with American tastes!


Set to be a record hot Labor Day weekend in the small town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, socially awkward, 13 year old Henry and his lonely and fragile mother Adele make a decision that will change their lives forever. After a chance meeting with a bleeding stranger at the local supermarket Henry and his mother offer him a lift and refuge in their home. Soon they discover Frank is a murder convict, escaped from prison after leaping from a hospital window, strangely this information and the subsequent news footage covering his escape don’t set any alarm bells ringing. Instead they settle into a pseudo family picture of domestic bliss. Frank teaches Henry how to play baseball, bake peach pies and fills the gap left by his part time dad, who has a new family and lives elsewhere. To Adele, Frank becomes a lover and husband figure, someone to depend on and someone who she gets swept away by. However, Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart. This is an eerily captivating story of love, adolescence, and betrayal.

Our narrator is an older Frank looking back on the experience that changed his life. The observational style and purity of his adolescent eyes at the time lend a rather chilling quality to the story, told almost like a diary. His honest accounts of his adolescent yearnings and the way he had to alone deal with his sexual desires, and the subsequent results of this are at times shocking and refreshingly frank. The fact he lacks any real strong role model or parental guidance is heart breaking in its brutality. As are the burdens and responsibilities he feels he needs to bear, in terms of supporting his mother, only to be left even more isolated and lonely with the appearance of Frank.

In addition, the drawn out detail of the Labor Day weekend and the events that take place almost make you forget that only a few hours of one day had occurred. At times when reading I got the feeling that days had passed only to be brought back with a careless remark about the percolating of the morning coffee. In reality the story only deals with six days of these peoples’ lives.

I found Frank an exceptionally menacing character. The finer details of his behaviours; the silk scarves, the knife that he retains once he’s finished cooking, keep you on edge throughout the story. As a reader you never know whether something bad will occur, in a way it’s a bit like reading a psycho-thriller but an extremely sedate and matter of fact one.

This novel has evoked comparisons with 13 year old Briony Tallis from Ian McEwan’s story, Atonement and Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. After having read both of these there are definite similarities but Maynard’s novel, for me, was a lot more chilling and methodical in the detailing and weaving together of the lives of her three central characters.

Now the book has been adapted for cinema starring Kate Winslet (one of my favourites) and Josh Brolin and is being played during the British Film Festival thereafter to be released theatrically worldwide. This is definitely a production I look forward to seeing and one which I hope they manage to capture the eerie and disturbing atmosphere of the exceptionally well written story.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10


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