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Town Father: Or, Where Graceful Girls Abound Kindle Edition
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On the whole I enjoyed Town Father, which is a big deal because I’m not normally into historical fiction or feminist literature. I wanted to give the book 5 stars, but there were a few distracting places where I thought Brennan’s own voice popped in, standing out against the background of the story. For example, Henry (or rather Brennan) opines about the political state of the country and where it’s headed, and later on he says something about men and the earth and belligerence.
Still, it’s brilliantly written book. With Henry in the position of the (literal) town father, there has to be sex scenes, and plenty of them, but Brennan handles them without the details coming across as gratuitous or titillating, just intimate and respectful. Likewise, Brennan pens violent scenes with heartache rather than made-for-TV gore. (He’s SUCH a good writer, folks!) The ending was extremely satisfying. Brennan’s writing is so good with deep character development, precise and fresh word choices, and clever layers of meaning that I was wholly captivated. Four-point-five stars!
The story itself is very straightforward. A guy is asked to come to a town of nothing but women to take over the duties slowly revealed to be the sire for a new generation of residents. Okay enough said. The reader can now expect a bunch of machinations around relationships, right? Wrong. The reader has no idea what is to unfold and here is the best part. The reader has to stay with the story because it is told so damn well that the outcomes are not the point. The point is the journey to get to the outcomes.
The town is a utopia, and the protagonist is living the dream of every male on the planet. The dream does come with some complications which Mr. Brennan masterfully weaves into the story. The reader becomes increasingly concerned about the health and welfare of not just the residents but the very town itself. We end up caring what happens to this little piece of heaven, and this then exemplifies the genius of the writing.
The story is one that will be enjoyed by all readers no matter the genre preference. I give the book five stars and anything less would not be an honest reflection of my appraisal. (envious or no)
On the surface, Town Father is a polite, delightful story of a utopian experiment: the establishment of a town of 300 women, who are all “serviced” by one very dedicated and moral gentleman. It sounds almost whimsical, except from the very beginning of the novel, the reader develops sympathy for the gentleman which leads quickly to a desire to protect him. Henry O’Farrell is a kind, dutiful man who suffered a broken heart due to the fact that his beloved’s father thought him a man of few prospects. His pain is such that he suffers from stuttering and asthmatic attacks whenever in the company of a beautiful woman. So imagine how he might fare among 300 beautiful women.
Without telling you the whole story, suffice to say that Brennan neatly lays out a plot that contrives to have Mr. O’Farrell innocently move from Philadephia to the foothills of the Sierras in California, thinking his mission in his new employment to be simply the clerk of a new town called Hestia. He is completely unaware of the intent of the six women who govern Hestia. Once all is made clear, he struggles against the seeming immorality of it, but it’s too late. He is smitten with all of Hestia, as is, by that point, the reader herself.
Hestia is idyllic, with every citizen contributing to the growth and well-being of the community, using the best of her talents and skill. And so does Henry contribute, heretofore unaware of his soon-to-be apparent talents and skill in getting women pregnant. But still, Henry is an ideal Town Father in that he believes in his mission (as comically as that is presented at times) and he sympathizes with the community’s concern about male influences: “[…] they are so right about humans of the male persuasion in this world. It is—sad to say—a Darwinian place, this earth and country we hand down to our children, where the strong and belligerent win every time.”
But can such a utopia truly last? There are tensions between Hestia and the nearest town, where the men look upon Henry with suspicion and disdain. Outsiders intrude, quickly discerning the town’s secrets, and for a time Henry leaves, believing that his presence will only make things worse. There are no easy resolutions as the outside world presses in, but the women of Hestia, and, eventually again, Henry, persevere. Though in this review, I’m focused on Henry, each of the major female characters—Avis, Maisie, Tilly, Willow, Callipoe, Lucien, Paige to name a few—left deep impressions on me. You would think with such a large cast of characters, the reader would get lost, forget who is who. But much like Henry, who learns to recognize each visitor to his bed even in the dark, the reader learns to tell Tilly from Paige, Avis from Lucien.
I had the good fortune to read the second half of the book in one sitting, a relief since a number of the plot twists turn there. Initially this novel seemed to be turning into nonfiction since in the first half, Hestia runs smoothly and grows by leaps and bounds thanks to Henry’s service. But darker times come and they don’t go away easily. Hestia and Henry are tested, and during that second half, I was often on the edge of my seat (actually, couch), eager to find out what would happen next.
I will say the ending surprised me, ending on more of a philosophical note than a cliffhanger or plot twist: “The culmination of life may as well be this moment, he thought.” But I want things to end well for Henry and for Hestia. I’m not sure I can fully believe that without Henry, the town will be able to keep the outside world out. But that I could believe at all that one man, even the right man, could enable a community of women to prosper points to the power of Brennan’s writing.
I highly recommend Town Father. If you want just a delightful romp through what could be everyman’s dream, it’s the book for you. But if you want that romp to test your sense of the world, of humanity, and of morality (oh, the irony of a thief and possible murderer referring to Henry as immoral), then this book is also for you.