Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books About Young Children Left with a Relative, Part One: Our Book Club Discusses Simon Van Booy's "Father's Day"

I had been feeling remiss for not reading Simon Van Booy's Father's Day, a novel that had three great readings at Boswell, plus we did sell hundreds of The Illusions of Separateness, plus there was a Boswell reference in his last short story collection, Tales of Accidental Genius. So when the hardcover opportunity came and went, I realized that this would be a great slot for our In-Store Lit Group. I hate to repeat, but the group so much liked The Illusion of Separateness, that I thought we'd do a return engagement.

Of course, who doesn't love The Illusion of Separateness*? I was sort of shocked to see that demand for Illusion trails Van Booy's an earlier short story collection, Love Begins in Winter, as well as his first novel, Everything Beautiful Began After, which I still have to read. We're also looking forward to his first kids book, Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things, which comes out in October.

But I digress, as always. Father's Day is the story of Harvey, a young girl growing up on Long Island, who is sent to the care of her uncle Jason when her parents die in a freak accident. Now I should just say that Jason doesn't really want to take care of Harvey, and most social service agencies wouldn't go through the effort of placing her with him, but there's something special that Wanda sees, in Jason, and jumps through a number of hurdles to make it happen.

Jason and his brother Steve (Harvey's dad) were abused by their father, and it's left him, as one of my old friends used to say, tortured. Jason is, to his reckoning, damaged goods, and absolutely not the person who should be raising a little girl. But he takes this on, because in the end, he is not the person he thinks he is. He is, in fact, good.

This is sort of Van Booy's philosophy in a nutshell - we all have the potential for goodness, and even greatness. It's a delicate line to walk, and I think were Van Booy to explode in popularity, he would get the kind of backlash that follows writers that flirt with inspiration. I think it's Van Booy's writing skills and quirkiness that allow him to skirt the haters for now, plus his relative obscurity.

Father's Day jumps around in time a bit, most notably when Harvey is in her twenties. She's working for an animation studio in Paris, and Jason comes to visit, and Harvey decides to give him a series of gifts that unlock some memories, and also provide some revelations. Even though our book club talked about them at length, it's hard for me to talk about them without giving too much away, but there's also something to be said that giving away spoilers actually helps garner more readers.

Did the book club like the book? I think we had one naysayer and everyone else just sighed fondly. Several folks questioned Harvey's motivations for moving so far away from Jason and others simply found the name Harvey confusing. Since I've knew at least one woman named Harvey, it wasn't an issue to me. I have yet to meet a female David or Jeffrey, but I'm sure they are out there.

Father's Day has the kind of connective tissue that made so many people like The Illusion of Separateness. It's a more intimate story, so on one hand, it doesn't have the scope, but on the other hand, it feels more instinctively like a novel, and less like linked stories with a purpose. I know that the market for this book is not tapped. I would love to send out 100 copies to people of influence who I thought would like it. But I have other fish to fry, so this writeup will have to suffice.

I also thought that the Long Island and Queens detail rang true to me. Apparantly Mr. Van Booy picked up a lot of this local color during a stint as a restaurant reviewer. You've got to listen to this book club discussion with Arsen Kashkashian of Boulder Book Store on KGNU Boulder Public Radio, as it's filled with interesting details.

Is your book club planning to talk about Father's Day? HarperCollins has a sheet of discussion questions.

On Monday, August 7, 7 pm, we'll be discussing Noah Hawley's Before the Fall, Edgar Award winner for best novel. It also just won best novel at Thrillerfest, presented by ITW. Best first novel went to Nick Petrie's The Drifter!

On Tuesday, September 5, 7 pm, we'll be Nicole Dennis-Benn's Here Comes the Sun. It's back to school time, as this one's a little more dense than our last two. It was shortlisted for the John Leonard First Novel prize, presented by the National Book Critics Circle, and won a Lambda Literary Award.

*This is rhetorical. No need to write back if you disagree. I know that people disagreee about books.

No comments: