Sunday, July 10, 2011

Father of the Rain by Lily King

A grown daughter tries to save her alcoholic father

Once again, this book made me wonder about the distinction between genre fiction and literary fiction. This particular novel was a compelling read, hard to put down. (I read it at the beach no less). The story stirred my emotions. And yet – the plot took some facile unmotivated twists, nudging it, I think, towards genre fiction. An undeserved happy ending. An unrealistically sympathetic husband.

Father of the Rain falls into Roxana Robinson territory – repressed WASP porn, I guess. The main conflict (the loved one must confront the addict) follows that of Robinson’s Cost. Yet the decisions made by the mother in Cost are inevitable and devastating and believable. Here the decisions made by the daughter (who is not in the same power position as the mother) don’t seem completely motivated – she throws her professional and romantic life away, much too quickly, without reservations, to save someone who clearly can’t be saved.

It’s about Daley Amory, sensitive shy girl with a real prick of a father who drinks too much and is sexually inappropriate (that is almost the most interesting part of the novel because he never crosses the line – he just does whatever he wants to do). The father, Gardiner, is presented as a privileged man out of touch with the new diverse society – but he doesn’t feel quite real, although he’s full of evil energy and speaks his mind. He can’t accept the fact that the world has changed.

The novel is divided into three parts.  Childhood is the first section, which I like, and then the time when Daley is about to embark on her adult life, which is the meat of the book, and then the conclusion where she’s got her shit together and all the fairytale elements apart from Dad are there.

Nice clean prose. The scenes were very effective, especially the scene when Daley visits her father after her parents' separation only to find another woman and family moved in her house. We also get a glimpse of the rest of this seaside town, and the other WASPy characters who live there and grow older with have successful lives or not. There’s even a lot of debate as to whether Gardiner is truly a drunk or not. Are you one if everyone else at the country club is stumbling around?

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