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Labor Day: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 28, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061843407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061843402
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (847 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

From Publishers Weekly

In her sixth novel, Maynard (To Die For) tells the story of a long weekend and its repercussions through the eyes of a then 13-year-old boy, Henry, who lives with his divorced mother, Adele. On Labor Day weekend, Henry manages to coax his mother, who rarely goes out, into a trip to PriceMart, where they run into Frank, who intimidates them into giving him a ride. Frank, it turns out, is an escaped convict looking for a place to hide. He holds Adele and Henry hostage in their home, an experience that changes all of them forever, whether it's Frank tying Adele to the kitchen chair with her silk scarves and lovingly feeding her or teaching the awkward, unathletic Henry how to throw a baseball. The bizarre situation encompasses Henry's budding adolescence, the awakening of his sexuality and his fear of being abandoned by his mother and Frank, who are falling in love and planning to run away together. Maynard's prose is beautiful and her characters winningly complicated, with no neat tie-ups in the end. A sometimes painful tale, but captivating and surprisingly moving. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

I've been a writer all my life. Over those years, I've worked as a newspaper reporter, columnist, radio commentator (I was Liberal-of-the-Day on CBS radio at the age of 19, on a show called Spectrum) . For eight years, I published a syndicated column about my life called "Domestic Affairs", but when my life got increasingly complicated (I got divorced) and my children grew to the age where it was no longer a good idea to write about them, I ended the column and turned to writing fiction. One of my novels, To Die For, was made into a terrific movie, directed by Gus van Sant , in which I can be seen in the role of Nicole Kidman's lawyer.

My memoir, At Home in the World, published in 1998, engendered a fair amount of controversy at the time of its publication --still does, in some quarters, because I chose to write about events in my life that involved a famous and revered older author, J.D. Salinger, who had decreed that I should never speak of him. This past September a new edition of At Home in the World was brought out, with a new introduction (and for the first time, I recorded the audio book of that one.) It's a story I hope will speak to many , but particularly to women.

In recent years, I've published four more novels--The Usual Rules , The Cloud Chamber, Labor Day, The Good Daughters and my latest, After Her. (A number of my older books , including a collection of my newspaper columns and my first novel, Baby Love, are available on e-book now too), as well as a number of essays that can be found in various collections. (Read over the titles--aging, divorce, anorexia, miscarriage, disastrous midlife dating--and you may get a picture of my life, I suppose, though a number of the more cheerful aspects --more enjoyable to live through, but less good as material--would be missing.

Labor Day has been made into a film, directed by Jason Reitman , and starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. If you like the novel, I think you'll be happy with the film. I certainly am.

You can learn more about my work, and my tour schedule (also my writing workshops on Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala) on my website, www.joycemaynard.com

Customer Reviews

Very Quick read, well written, great characters.
vincent palaia
I think the movie will likely be better than the book in this case, which is a very rare thing for me to say.
K. Howes
I enjoyed reading this book from first to the last page!
CassieDB

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Tamela Mccann TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Over the space of a Labor Day weekend in 1987, thirteen year old Henry's life is forever changed when he and his mother meet fugitive Frank Chambers. In an odd encounter, Frank approaches Henry and judging him trustworthy, asks Henry and his mother Adele to take him home with them, and for reasons known only to them, they do. During the next few days, Frank ingratiates himself into their lives, teaching Henry to play baseball and bake a pie, and falling in love with the quirky, depressive Adele. The three live within the cocoon of the world they create as the rest of the community searches for Frank, an escaped murderer. As the days pass, Frank's bitter story emerges; wrongly accused of murdering his wife and child, he took the first chance he got to escape, and with his gentle ways and care, he slowly brings Adele back to life and helps Henry confront his confusion over a mostly uninvolved father and a helpless mother.

Written in Maynard's trademark spare style, this odd set-up somehow works its magic and pulls you in. Told from Henry's point of view, we experience all the longings of a young teen with too much responsibility. Henry is somewhat of a social outcast; his mother has burdened him with her inability to function outside her home so that he is her only lifeline to the world. Frank, a Viet Nam vet, somehow makes the three into a family in a short period of time, knowing it won't last but grasping at whatever freedom he can achieve, both from his past and his present. Henry makes both good and bad choices here; both typical and atypical, Henry's a main character filled with confusion, at the mercy of parents too concerned with themselves to worry much about him.
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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Gayla M. Collins VINE VOICE on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read "The Usual Rules" by Joyce Maynard years ago and just loved it. I thought then what a gift this author had for teen-age voices. Now in, "Labor Day" her prowess shines brightly and poignantly.

Henry, our 13 year old narrator, shares a most remarkable story of a Labor Day weekend. His fragile, sensitive, and deeply troubled mother, Adele and he accept an escaped convict into their minute, reclusive lives. Harboring, Frank, deepens Henry's insight into the world that exists outside four walls. Improbability may conjure, but irony plays their lives like a fine violin. Adele, Frank and Henry are all imprisoned by grief, loss, tragedy and heartbreak, but within each other find elusive freedom to hope. To try again. To explore possibilities. I will not share more as you need to read this book to interpret your own understanding of human nature and all it's idiosyncrasies.

Beautifully written descriptions, profound understanding of the human condition, irony, and a flowing story makes this a book I must recommend. I know long after this book resides on my shelves, I will remember Henry and all a thirteen year old had to teach this aging skeptic.

Lovely job, Ms. Maynard.

Gayla Collins
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Evangeline Kessler on January 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Not a particular fan of Joyce Maynard, but I downloaded this book because I thought I might like to go see the film, and it is my experience that films often play fast and loose with the story line. So.... I read this book in a little under 24 hours. Could not put it down. Loved that the narrator of the story was the 13-year-old son. Loved the whole good-hearted, misunderstood escaped convict story line. Loved the gentle reawakening of the damaged and hurt woman/mother. Just read it. It is worth every minute. In my top 100 for sure.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Goldengate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read this book 2 months ago and have taken some time to write this review... I wanted to let it settle, linger in my mind a bit. The author captures the point of view / narrative of a 13-year old perfectly. The story, bittersweet and sad, is very readable and definitely a page turner. Along with "The Help", this is one of the books that I've thought about quite a bit since I put it down, and plan to re-read it.

The story is engrossing; and better yet - completely unpredictable. I don't want to write too much and spoil it, but suffice it to say that the activities of one Labor Day weekend affected both young Henry and his mother for the rest of their lives. This is one of the best books I've read this year.

Definitely recommended.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Eliza Bennet VINE VOICE on July 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Six days in the life of a thirteen-year-old boy, over Labor Day, profoundly affect his life, and the life of his family. Telling the story through the protagonist, Henry, author Joyce Maynard nails the angst and desires of a young teen, and aptly describes his emotions as he deals with change within his troubled and wounded family. The other characters in this slender book are drawn just as sympathetically. Poignant, touching, even bittersweet, this novel is a powerful lesson on love and loss. From the haunting image on the cover, to the last six words, I was captivated. There will be no dust on this moving book, as I'm sharing it with my friends and family.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Cathe Fein Olson VINE VOICE on July 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Henry is a misfit 13-year-old who lives with his depressed and slightly mentally unstable mother. On a rare shopping trip to Pricemart, they are approached by a injured man (a prison escapee) who talks them into taking him home. Both mother and son quickly become attached to him.

While that scenario may seem a bit far-fetched, the book was really very good. The characters and their emotions were real and believable and the story was very sad and touching. I enjoyed it very much.
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