What are the odds of meeting up with an escaped convict in your local discount store? And if you did, what are the odds that he had no wish to hurt you, but just asked you and your mom to help him out by letting him lie low at your house for a few days? And if you agreed, what are the odds that he would help fix some things around the house, cook your meals, teach you how to make a pie and hit a baseball...and that he and your divorced mother would fall in love?
Summed up that way, the plot of Joyce Maynard's novel Labor Day doesn't come across as very realistic to me...but a novel is more than just a plot summary, and by relating this rather unlikely tale through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Henry, Maynard makes it feel real. Even if I didn't entirely buy the situation, I was emotionally drawn into it - and I do know from experience that just a few days can change the rest of your life.
Henry looks back at that Labor Day weekend in 1987 from the vantage point of adulthood, but Maynard's evocation of a thirteen-year-old boy is one element of the novel that really rang true to me. He knows where he falls on the middle-school popularity ladder - at the bottom. He knows what he's good at - not very much. He's coping with his parents' divorce and his father's second family, and beginning to realize that his parents are actually people. He's noticing the changes in both his body and his mind; he's becoming a sex-obsessed teenage boy, and that begins to factor into his changing view of his parents too, especially once Frank comes into his and his mother's home. Because the story is told through Henry's first-person narration, we only see what develops between Frank and Adele as Henry sees it, and we only know their perspectives through what they say to him - and yet, that's effective, and enough. We learn - and can infer - enough about these characters that their developing relationship actually does make sense...or at least enough sense that I could (mostly) suspend my disbelief about the circumstances under which it develops.
Labor Day is a short novel and was a fast read for me. I was eager to see where Maynard took these characters, and I'm glad I took the journey with them, even if I did have some issues with how they started off.