Joyce Maynard's wistful new novel, the story of a love affair between a shy woman and an escaped convict, as told by the woman's 13-year-old son, is a sweet, swift read that will leave you feeling good -- unless you think about it too deeply.
"Labor Day" is about the power of love and sacrifice, and about how what appears to be the right thing can be the wrong thing, and vice versa.
Henry, the "loser" adolescent narrator, spends a lot of time trying to console his mother, Adele, a beautiful, introverted woman mired in grief over a series of miscarriages and her husband's exit. One Labor Day weekend, the two give a ride to a mysterious, bleeding man in their New Hampshire town. The man, Frank, is an escaped convict accused of killing his wife and son. He claims their deaths were tragic accidents and his conviction was the result of others' lies.
Frank and Adele fall in love, and Frank teaches Henry to play baseball and to cook. "Our finding each other ... was the first true piece of good luck in any of our lives in a long time," Henry says. All is blissful -- except when people come by and Frank has to hide.
Henry soon resents Frank's hold on his mother. Opportunities arise to turn him in, and -- well, suffice it to say their insular world is hard to sustain. The reader becomes fond of all three characters, especially Frank, who is endlessly kind. But he's also hard to picture. In fact, the whole story is hard to swallow.
Another problem: Henry's voice comes across not as that of a boy, but as that of a middle-aged woman ... much like Joyce Maynard. Still, this is a sweet, romantic story, and if you're in a wistful mood, it will sit well with you.