Father of the Rain
By Lily King
One thing I've mused about in a couple of different reviews is that sometimes it takes a while for a book to get going. In those instances, being patient can really pay off as by sticking it out the end makes up for the slow beginning. "Father of the Rain" doesn't quite fall into this category, but almost.
The story starts off in Massachusetts in '73 or '74, during the Watergate scandal. This is used as a backdrop to the dissolution of Daley Amory's parents' marriage. Daley is 11 at the time and her father is like Archie Bunker, only with more alcohol. He's not (usually) physically abusive, but his recklessness and insensitivity emotionally abuse Daley, her older brother Garvey, and in particular their mom.
Mom finally moves across town with Daley while Daley's father shacks up with another woman named Catherine. She too is recently divorced, has three kids, and likes to drink. It's a match made in Heaven...or somewhere a lot hotter.
This first part of the story bored me. It all seemed so cliche, like something taken out of a Judy Blume novel or an After School special about coping with divorce and drinking. Even the idea of using Watergate as a backdrop is a cliche. (For instance, I used this in a short story 5 years ago--if you have a Kindle you can read it as part of my collection "The Carnival Papers." It also took place in Massachusetts.)
The second part of the story picks up more momentum. In that, Daley is 29 and an aspiring professor at Berkeley. She's dating a black philosophy professor named Jonathan. But then she gets an urgent call that brings her back home, where her father has lost another wife.
Daley attempts--quixotically everyone thinks--to get her father on the wagon. She hopes to not only get him sober, but in the process to repair the shattered bond between them.
I'm not sure why exactly the first part of the book didn't work for me and the second part did. It might have to do that as an adult I can relate a lot easier to Daley's struggles as an adult than as a child. Especially since unlike 50% of people my parents didn't divorce--and didn't drink either--so none of that really hits home for me. Whereas an adult trying to reconnect with a parent is something I can understand better.
The writing is sound. I don't really see any benefit from using present tense instead of the more traditional past tense, but it doesn't really hurt the story either. It's solid literary writing, but nothing beautiful or particularly memorable.
Anyway, I enjoyed the last 2/3 of this book and other people will probably enjoy 3/3 of it. Then others will enjoy 0/3 too. Still, it's worth a look.
That is all.
(PS: The author also lost points with me for making Michigan outside of Ann Arbor sound like Mississippi in the '50s. We ain't all a bunch of slack-jawed yokels out here in the sticks.)