Labor Day by Joyce Maynard is a coming of age novel, told by thirteen-year old Henry Wheeler. Henry is a likeable character who suffers from the usual teenager’s worries; dealing with his changing body, a growing interest in sex and being terrible at sports. On top of being a teenager though, his family life is difficult. Henry’s parents are separated, he lives with his depressed mother, Adele, Henry suffers through regular Saturday night dinners with his father, stepmother and their blended family.
Adele is a character who I instantly wanted to protect. She is a bohemian, who was madly in love with Henry’s father before a series of miscarriages destroyed her emotional balance. Henry loves his mother dearly, but is unable to help her regain her happiness and confidence.
The story starts with Adele and Henry visiting the shops to buy Henry school clothes, when a man asked Henry for his assistance. The man, who was bleeding, asked Henry if he would ask his mother if she would take him someplace. Neither Henry nor Adele thought it strange when he suggested he go home with them and do some odd jobs around their house. I would have been screaming for Security at this point, even if the bleeding stranger asking had been a Hollywood movie star in the form of Josh Brolin, but Adele and Henry took him home with them.
Once home, the man, who introduced himself as Frank, explained to Adele and Henry that he had escaped from prison and hurt himself jumping out of a second-story hospital window after having his appendix removed. (I haven’t seen the movie, but suspect there are opportunities for Josh Brolin to take his shirt off because of the appendix wound).
Adele, Henry and Frank go about their day, with Frank taking care of odd jobs around the house until a newsflash comes on the television. Adele and Henry learn that Frank had been serving a twenty-year sentence for the murder of his wife and child. Frank tells them that it didn’t happen the way the television newsflash told his story, but he then ties Adele to a chair, explaining to Henry that he won’t go to the police because he doesn’t want his mother to be harmed.
At no point does the reader ever think Adele will be harmed by Frank, he ties her up in the most gentle, considerate way imaginable, then feeds her while Henry watches. (Sigh. I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I believe there is tying up involved. I very much doubt the characters in that novel are fed while tied up, poor things).
Over the next few days, Frank teaches Henry all sorts of practical things, like how to catch a ball and how to make a peach pie, as well as building his confidence during their conversations. Frank continues to do odd jobs which Adele has been unable to manage and most importantly, he makes them into a family.
Labor Day is actually a love story, as well as Henry’s coming of age story. Frank is gentle and kind and sweet and considerate and he has abs and clearly I can’t wait to see this movie to see how his character (and abs) are portrayed. I’ve never seen Josh Brolin in anything, but after reading this story I think I’m a little bit in love with this character, despite him being a convicted murderer. Adele is played by Kate Winslet, and I’ve enjoyed all of the movies I’ve watched her in, so I have high hopes of this movie.
Anyway, while I don’t think that Labor Day is great literature, I really enjoyed it and had a little cry at the appropriate times. There was a sweetness about the main characters that was enormously appealing and I expect to read more books by Joyce Maynard in the future.