In a special post in honor of Father's Day, Well Read columnist Robert Weibezahl shares memories of his own father and his Top 10 books featuring father-and-son relationships.
Along with my name and my rueful skepticism, I acquired from my father a love of reading. He was an avid reader, and to my enduring envy, a natural speed reader who could devour a book quickly without sacrificing an iota of comprehension. His taste in reading was different from what mine would become, more escapist than literary. My childhood memories are of him reading sea stories (he was a dedicated boatman himself), spy thrillers (my childhood years aligned exactly with the ascendency of James Bond), and brawny Westerns. Yet it is not what he read that left its mark on me, it is the fact that he read. I took on the habit without questioning its source, just as, say, a son invariably roots for the same team as his father without stopping to consider the virtues of its rivals.
Family lore recalls how when my father was young he could remain completely engrossed in a book even while fishing. My grandfather would be irked when his inattentive son would still manage to catch all the fish. A more personal memory for me: riding bicycles with my father and sister to the public library on a warm summer’s evening to check out books. My father, a talented woodworker, also built many of the bookcases that still house my own personal collection.
As my father declined from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, he was no longer able to retain what he read long enough to enjoy a book. I know that was just one of many frustrations his condition brought with it. This is my first Father’s Day since my dad left us last December and, inevitably, I have been thinking a lot about him, and about fathers and sons in general. There are countless books that center on this most primal of relationships, of course, from such 19th-century classics as Turgenev’s Fathers and Son and Dickens’ Dombey and Son (a lot of Dickens, like much of Shakespeare, is about fathers and sons) to Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road.
Compiling my own short list of memorable books about fathers and sons took me to those aforementioned bookcases. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 that have in some way provoked or moved me as a reader. Admittedly, many of the father-son connections in them are problematic (there’s no drama without conflict, after all), but all are illuminating:
All My Sons by Arthur Miller. Miller, of course, wrote searingly about fathers and sons in Death of a Salesman. This tragedy, written two years earlier, offers an emotionally brutal appraisal of the American Dream.
Atticus by Ron Hansen. Its title a nod to one of the most famous and faultless fathers in literature, this elegiac tale of redemption tells of a Colorado rancher who travels to Mexico to retrieve the body of his estranged son, who has purportedly committed suicide.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Though not the central relationships in the book, the father-son pairings—between Charles Ryder and his emotionally remote father and Sebastian Flyte and the sinning Lord Marchmain—add texture to the story and no small measure of insight into these two young men’s inner conflicts.
Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks. This monumental, fictionalized version of the life of the mythic abolitionist John Brown is told by his son Owen, who survives the raid at Harpers Ferry with equal measures of anger and guilt.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Structured loosely around the first family of Genesis, Steinbeck’s powerful work is a timeless portrait of the conflicts between father and sons and brothers.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. An extended letter from a 76-year-old preacher to his 7-year-old son, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel explores the struggles, faith, and conflicts encountered by four generations of men in the Ames family.
The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt. One of the most eloquent “coming out” novels; Leavitt creates some surprising family dynamics with sensitivity and insight.
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. The story of a slightly deranged father who uproots his family and moves to the jungle is told with affecting admiration and confusion by his 14-year-old son.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carols Ruiz Zafón. A young boy is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his widowed bookseller father, launching an intriguing metaphysical mystery about familial identity and our connections with the past.
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar. After losing their son, Frank Benton and his wife move to a small coastal village in India, where the grieving father takes the son of their servants under his wing with heartbreaking consequences.
Courtney Maum's debut novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You asks a heart-wrenching question: Can you fall back in love with your spouse?
Seven years have passed since Richard Haddon, a well-known British artist, met his stunning French wife, Anne. The passion and fierce devotion the couple shared has faded, and when Anne learns of her husband's affair with an American, she kicks him out of their home, leaving Richard to discover the full weight of his mistakes.
Maum's portrayal of a modern marriage on the rocks is honest and touching, with plenty of wit to spare.
Watch the trailer below:
What do you think, readers?
Yesterday the winner of the 2014
Orange Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction was announced, and it was a bit of a dark horse: debut author Eimear McBride's modernist masterpiece, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing.
The Irish author, who is 38, snagged the prize despite a highly competitive shortlist that included Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Donna Tartt, as well as the acclaimed debut Burial Rites.
Published in the Commonwealth last year, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is a challenging stream-of-consciouness narrative, told from the perspective of a young girl, that proved a tough sell: McBride spent most of a decade shopping it around before finding a home with Norwich's Galley Beggar Press. But its vital, visceral voice—one UK reviewer called the book "an instant classic"—proved impossible for the judges to ignore.
In her announcement, judge chair Helen Fraser called the book, “An amazing and ambitious first novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy. This is an extraordinary new voice—this novel will move and astonish the reader.”
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing will be published in the U.S. in September by Coffee House Press. Will you read it?
Loosely based on the love triangle between famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, her husband and her lover, Lily King's Euphoria creates its own lush world within the 1930s Territory of New Guinea.
Besot by feelings of futility and loneliness, Andrew Bankson is rudderless as he plods through his research with the Kiona tribe on the Sepik river. However, a chance meeting with the newly famous anthropologist Nell Stone and her brash husband, Fen, ignites in him a sense of urgency and passion he thought he had lost. Desperate to keep his enthusiasm alive, and equally desperate for companions, he sets the couple up down river with a unique tribe, the Tam, in which the power belongs to the females. Bankson is drawn to the couple with a need he is powerless to fight, and that need quickly narrows in on Nell. It becomes apparent that his anthropological focus has shifted from the tribe he came to study to the strange couple that has landed downriver.
The air of impending doom rolls through the pages of Euphoria like a thunderhead, and when the storm breaks, everyone is irrevocably changed. King convincingly captures the hyper-focused reality of the three anthropologists: their work, their longings and the increasingly intense and intimate relationship between the trio. Each is driven by their own obsession: Nell wants knowledge, Fen wants power and Bankson wants Nell. These three desires cannot exist harmoniously for long, and the consequences are dire.
Fen asked to drive the boat so I slowed and we wobbily swapped places. He opened up the throttle and we were off— fast.
'Fen!' Nell screeched, but she was half laughing. She turned around to face us and her knees brushed my shins. 'I can't watch. Tell me when we're about to crash.' Her hair, no longer plaited, blew toward me. The fever and loose hair, dark brown with threads of copper and gold, had brought an illusion of great health to her face.
If the Tam weren't a good fit, they would go to Australia. This was my last chance to get it right. And I could tell she was skeptical. But Teket had been many times to the Tam to visit his cousin there, and even if everything he told me were only half true, I figured it should satisfy this pair of picky anthropologists. 'I should have brought you here straightaway.' I said, not entirely meaning to say it aloud. 'It was selfish of me.'
She smiled, and instructed Fen not to kill us before we got there.
You heard it here first, folks: The film version of Tom Rob Smith's gripping thriller, Child 44, will be hitting theaters in October. We got the news from the author himself, at Grand Central's BEA party last week.
Set in Stalin's Russia, the book is a nail-biting, gasp inducing thriller of the first order about a civil servant, Leo Demidov, who is investigating a serial killer. Problem is, in Stalin's perfect society, serial killers aren't supposed to exist.
With novelist Richard Price writing the screenplay and actors like Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Gary Oldham (aka Sirius Black), this is one book-to-film adaptation that I have high hopes for. Smith told us that he visited the set in Prague (filming in Russia being sort of tricky these days) and met with the cast—turns out Gary Oldman had read not only the book in question, but the entire series.
What book-to-film adapatations are you looking forward to this fall?
Debut author Pia Padukone explores cultural identity, grief and how we love in her novel, Where Earth Meets Water. Karom Seth is haunted by his brushes with fate: he should have been in the Twin Towers for a school project on 9/11, and he should have been at the family reunion when a tsunami on the Indian coast claimed his entire family in 2004. Karom is left with his grief, his guilt and his father's cherished Rolex. His girlfriend, Gita, invites him on a trip to India in hopes of helping him find answers and closure, and Gita's grandmother, Kamini, may be the one person that can point him in the right direction.
"Should the guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free of sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creatres sorrowing sighs,
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made,
To display thereby the creator's glory!"
"It's what Shah Jahan said about the Taj," Karom said, folding the paper back into his pocket. Gita closed her eyes and leaned against him. He wanted to comfort her, but he too felt let down. Nothing had happened. There had been no revelations.
Karom had been sure that he would leave the Taj Mahal with a deeper understanding of the world, of colors, of light, of love. He was sure that something magical would transform them, would transform him, the way he saw the world. He had placed too high an expectation on the Taj Mahal. After all, it was just a building. But it was a building that was homage to love, homage to the departed. He'd wondered if he would catch a glimpse of the past here, if he might tap into the spirit of the palace, the serenity of the courtyards. He'd wondered if, like a sinner, he too might be absolved, washed pure and clean, and set into the streets refreshed. He'd wondered if he might put lingering ghosts to bed and feel, for the first time, at ease with himself and finally, finally have the strength to put the game to rest.
What are you reading this week?
Josh Malerman infuses his apocalyptic tale, Bird Box, with an element of the "thrilling dread of yesteryear;" the menacing "monster" in his tale is never fully revealed to the reader.
Told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Malorie, her present and more recent past unfold, and we discover just why her two four-year-old children—Boy and Girl—have never been outside of their own home. There's something roaming the world, and it drives whoever sees it violently and irreparably mad, even with a single glimpse.
Malerman's creation of a menace that can never be fully perceived—by his characters or his readers—makes this a blood-curdling and incredibly thrilling read unlike anything in recent memory.
If you're feeling brave, then watch the spooky trailer below:
What do you think, readers? Are you interested in picking up a copy of Bird Box?
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg's debut novel is as dreamlike and as filled with potential horrors as one of his movies: Photographers Naomi and Nathan are lovers and competitors, but Cronenberg establishes early on that their two plotlines will not meet for a long time. Naomi has become obsessed with a "juicy French philosophical sex-killing murder-suicide cannibal thing"—a Marxist philosopher is found dead and mutilated in her French apartment, and her husband is nowhere to be found. Nathan is in Budapest, consumed with a "controversial Hungarian breast-cancer radioactive seed implant treatment thing," and after sleeping with one of unlicensed surgeon Dr. Zoltán Molnár's patients, he contracts a rare STD that sends him to Toronto in search of the man who first discovered the disease.
Consumed has a blurb from Viggo Mortensen (though they're clearly pretty good friends) and mentions a Gauloise in the second paragraph (of course). It's also hard to ignore the publicity materials throwing around names like Kafka and Borges, and words like "definitive heir," though film critics have been saying as much for years.
With all this in mind—as well as remembering my dislike for Cronenberg's most recent film, the limo thriller Cosmopolis, based on the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo—I approach Consumed with equal parts delight and healthy skepticism.
Read on for an introduction to Dr. Zoltán Molnár, a character that seems ideal for Cronenberg's style of exploratory, psychological storytelling and body horror:
And now, in a very smooth segue—which Nathan thought of as particularly Hungarian—Dr. Molnár said, "Have you met our patient, Nathan? She's from Slovenia. Une belle Slave." Molnár peeked over the cloth barrier and spoke to the disconnected head with disarmingly conversational brio. "Dunja? Have you met Nathan? You signed a release form for him, and now he's here with us in the operating theater. Why don't you say hello?"
At first Nathan thought that the good doctor was teasing him; Molnár had emphasized the element of playfulness in his unique brand of surgery, and chatting with an unconscious patient would certainly qualify as Molnáresque. But to Nathan's surprise Dunja's eyes began to stutter open, she began working her tongue and lips as though she were thirsty, she took a quick little breath that was almost like a yawn.
"Ah, there she is," said Molnár. "My precious one. Hello, darling." Nathan took a step backward in his slippery paper booties in order not to impede the strange, intimate flow between patient and doctor. Could she and her surgeon be having an affair? Could this really be written off as Hungarian bedside manner? Molnár touched his latex-bound fingertips to his masked mouth, then pressed the filtered kiss to Dunja's lips. She giggled, then slipped away dreamily, then came back. "Talk to Nathan," said Molnár, withdrawing with a bow. He had things to do.
Dunja struggled to focus on Nathan, a process so electromechanical that it seemed photographic. And then she said, "Oh, yes, take pictures of me like this. It's cruel, but I want you to do that. Zoltán is very naughty. A naughty doctor. He came to interview me, and we spent quite a bit of time together in my hometown, which is"—another druggy giggle—"somewhere in Slovenia. I can't remember it."
"Ljubljana," Molnár called out from the foot of the table, where he was sorting through instruments with his colleagues.
"Thank you, naughty doctor. You know, it's your fault I can't remember anything. You love to drug me."
Nathan began to photograph Dunja's face. She turned toward the camera like a sunflower.
Will you pick up Consumed when it's available this September? What are you reading today?
A blue-blooded family's luxurious New England retreat isn't exactly what it seems in Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's new gothic mystery, Bittersweet.
Mabel Dagmar, a scholarship student at a prestigious college, doesn't quite fit into her roommate Ev Winslow's glamorous world. But when Ev invites her along to spend the summer at Winloch, her family's secluded group of lakeside cottages, Mabel falls hard for the "place of baguettes and fruit and spreadable honeycomb, idyllic and sun-drenched in a way I had never known."
Romance, financial scandal and shocking family secrets collide to make Beverly-Whittemore's third novel, "a page-turner that will keep readers guessing until the end."
Watch the understated and chilling trailer below:
What do you think, readers? Interested in winning a copy of Bittersweet for yourself? Enter this week's web-excusives giveaway for a chance to get your hands on this and three other great titles featured on Bookpage.com!
Kaui Hart Hemmings follows up her best-selling debut novel The Descendants—which was made into an award-winning movie starring George Clooney—with The Possibilities, a moving story of a mother struggling to come to terms with the accidental death of her 22-year-old son. Our reviewer says of the book: "While [it] is a book ostensibly about death, it is at its core really about life—in all its messy, funny, hurtful, confusing and transcendent moments." (Read our complete review and a Q&A with Hemmings about the book.)
We were curious about the books Hemmings has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Bread and Butter
By Michelle Wildgen
I’ve been a fan of Michelle’s work ever since our first workshop at Sarah Lawrence. This novel was rich, page-turning and simple, in the best way. Two brothers, two restaurants, one small town. The characters seriously sizzled with life—they were so utterly real, and the writing—the writing!—sings. Michelle is a master storyteller.
Another book about brothers that was captivating and fluid. This time the brothers are attorneys who return home to help their sister and her son who has been accused of hate crime. It’s an intimate book—clear-eyed, gripping and beautifully written.
The Stories of John Cheever
By John Cheever
I may as well stay the course. “Goodbye My Brother” is one of my favorite short stories of all time. A simple premise: The Pommeroy family—three sons and one daughter—meet at their summer place on the shore. One brother is so pessimistic and aggravating that he provokes his brother to hit him on the head. Small, profound and lyrical. Transcendent and enduring. It is, to me, a perfect story.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Possibilities—or any of Hemmings' recommended books—to your TBR list?