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Joyce Maynard’s Labor Day is an end of summer “don’t miss” treat

Posted By Karen Young On September 5, 2009 @ 10:51 pm In Arts & Culture,Literary Corner | 3 Comments

IMG_1340.JPG copyBY BJ NATHAN HEGEDUS

The dog days of summer will soon be behind us.  Shelves are once again filled with reams of lined paper and three ring binders.  Storefront windows are replacing shorts and t-shirts with blazers and boots.

On the look out for one last great read before you hit the ground running?   Joyce Maynard’s new novel Labor Day is the answer.  Achingly funny, tragic and suspenseful, this haunting and poignant book is a treat to crack open.

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It’s hard to sort out life’s nuances when one is on the cusp of adolescence. Even more so for thirteen- year- old Henry who lives with his mother Adele and is all too painfully aware of her fragile nature and eccentric ways.

The summer of 1987 has so far been a boring and uneventful one for Henry, filled wit long hot days where the biggest event has been mastering the game of Solitaire. Adele does not venture out much since Henry’s dad left them and remarried. Now days she makes purchases from mail-order catalogs and stockpiles vast quantities of Campbell’s soup and frozen dinners on rare trips to the grocery store. Henry tries with youthful earnestness to understand.” It hadn’t been losing my father that broke my mother’s heart, if that was what had taken place, as it appeared.  It was losing love itself.“

But Henry has grown quite a bit this summer and needs new pants. With just a few days before the start of school, Adele agrees that there is no way around a trip to Pricemart where they can pick up some hamster food as well.

Enter the mysterious stranger Frank, whom Henry first encounters in the magazine aisle. He is bleeding and vague about where he has come from. Soon enough he’s seated in Adele’s car, offering to fix some things around her house in exchange for a place to stay. “I knew right then, things were about to change.  We were heading into Space Mountain now, into a dark place where the ground might give way, and you wouldn’t be able to tell anymore where this car was taking you. We might come back.  We might not.”  Frank’s presence in their lives over the course of the long weekend that follows is about to change things in both small and great ways.

Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard channels thirteen flawlessly. Her ability to tell this profound tale through Henry, as he tries to make sense of the events that are unfolding around him is a testament to her gift as a brilliant writer.  Henry, with all his hopes and dreams is desperate to cling to the status quo yet equally longing for the possibilities of what could be. Through his eyes, we ache for both Adele and Frank, the tragic events in their lives having caused one to withdraw and give up, the other to leap and take action.

Life changes in a blink of an eye.  Do we go left or right?  Say yes or no?  Sit and watch or dance?  Fate brings these three people together the impact it has, altering their futures forever.

Labor Day is both a coming-of-age story and a love story- a tale of profound loss, redemption and soul searching that is not to be missed.

BJ Nathan Hegedus has been a Valley Village resident for over twenty years, often writing about life near the intersection of the 134 and the 101. She is currently at work on a collection of stories about growing up in N.Y.C.

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