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Labor Day: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, July 28, 2009
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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
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More About the Author
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
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Where the book really lost me was in the chapters following the climax of the novel. I think way too much was said about the resolution, and the story would have been even more compact and powerful if that section had been cut into a single chapter.
Overall, I'm not sorry I read it, but I think it could have been better with a minimum amount of work.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book was a hook line and sinker for me I read it in a matter of days!! If you watched the movie first you may never pick up the book as its nothing like the book. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Sabrina Johannes
Initially read the book because the movie with Kate Winslet was ok and I was interested in reading a romance at the time. Read morePublished 1 month ago by J. Haynes
The author did a great job telling the story through Henry's eyes. I couldn't put it down. Thirteen is a hard age. Joyce Maynard did a great job capturing the mood of a teenagerPublished 1 month ago by Rosemary Beattie
I had to force myself to finish the story, but I'm glad I did. The final characters were really the only ones I enjoyed reading.Published 2 months ago by Kindle Customer
This story was somehow uplifting even though it is built around sadness. The writing is both fierce and delicate, and the story, as told by the young son gives a view on the world... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Really liked the character development and story. Perfect book to read over a weekend, traveling, or save for Labor Day weekend! The story makes you want to read it to the end.Published 2 months ago by Marna