Friday, June 18, 2010

Why Father's Day is the Right Time to be Thinking About Lily King's Father of the Rain--And Think About it Again for Our Event on July 14th

There's no question that I owe a thank you card to the greeting card companies for Father's Day. It really does lead to a nice pop in traffic, both for gifts and yes, cards.

You probably think you're going through the motions on a day like this Sunday, but really, it's interesting to contemplate your relationship with your own dad. Are you grateful that it's pretty good (or better yet, spectacular?) Are you regretful of the relationship you might have had? Or did you discover at one point that your dad was just a person who could be as good or as bad as any other person.

What better day than today to contemplate a novel about a complicated father-child relationship. The most popular book in the country right now is Justin Halpern's memoir Sh*t my Dad Says, which may in fact be incredibly funny, but has stood out among the other incredibly funny memoirs of the last few years by having 1) a genius title 2) a modern multi-pronged platform, including a Twitter following of more than 1,000,00 folks. I didn't read it and I'm not likely to, as we are almost always out of it. Happy Father's Day, It Books! Here's Halpern's website, if you haven't looked yet.

The father-daughter relationship can offer no fewer complications than the traditional father-son one, only with sexual tension substituting for rivalry. There've been other books over the years that have explored complicated father-daughter relationships, but Lily King's new novel, Father of the Rain, does a particularly wonderful job mapping this terrain.

Daley Armory's story (it's a novel! it's a novel!) starts with her as a vulnerable child, needy and not necessarily discerning. Her father is alternately charming and infuriating. His life is shaped by old money, bigotry, and in particular, alcoholism.

The story is structured like a play in three acts, focusing on several key moments in Daley's life, moving from her childhood (when her Mom left) to early adulthood (when wife #2 Catherine walks out, leaving her holding the caregiver bag) to a last attempt at reconciliation.

There are lots of disturbing moments along the way—giving up her professorship and her chance at happiness with her boyfriend Jonathan (who, either in spite of or because of her father's racism, is African American) are only part of the shortlist. Badly behaved is putting it mildly.

I was talking to Sue Miller at the Library Literary Lunch, where she told me how much she liked King's writing, and Miller is not alone. King's first novel, The Pleasing Hour, received a Whiting award and was a New York Times notable book of the year. Her second, The English Teacher, was a Publishers Weekly top ten book of the year and a People Magazine four-star critic's choice.

Here's it in a nutshell--Father of the Rain is probably not the best book for your dad, but is certainly a novel that might help you make sense of your own parent-child relationships. If nothing else, it might make you feel better about them. It's a beautiful, deftly-told character study, filled with wise moments and yes, a good amount of drama.

Lily King will be appearing at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee on Wednesday, July 14th, at 7 PM. Details on our event page to come.

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