I really enjoyed Labor Day, by Joyce Maynard. Living alone with his neurotic mother, Henry longs to be normal, yet protect his mother, Adele. Their lives change forever on the Thursday before Labor Day, on a trip to the discount store. Frank ‘needs a hand.’
Frank, it turns out, is an escaped convict. But not just any escaped convict. Unjustly imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit (and a murder he didn’t mean to commit), he longs for a normal family life. And for one weekend, with a neurotic, damaged woman and her nerdy son, he finds it.
Told from Henry’s point of view, all the characters are sympathetic. Henry finds himself liking Frank almost despite himself, and learns more about himself than he ever knew. And even though Henry is the source of Frank’s betrayal and return to prison, it is to Henry that Frank reaches out decades later, on the eve of his release, to find out if Adele still cares.
Labor Day is a very intense book. I found myself holding my breath as I turned the page, hoping that Frank, Adele, and Henry will be able to elude the police, and Henry’s father, and escape across the border to Canada. Alas, it was not to be, although the ending that results is as satisfying as the imagined escape.
After the book was over, I found myself wondering what the chances are that an encounter with an escaped convict would really be so heartwarming. Labor Day is so well-written that I never questioned its basic premise while reading, but afterwards I started to question it. I seriously doubt that most of us would come away so well after meeting an escaped convict.
But despite that minor implausibility, Labor Day is a well-crafted gem of a book.
Five out of five stars.