Joyce Maynard, 2009
With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.
But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.
In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, acclaimed author Joyce Maynard weaves a beautiful, poignant tale of love, sex, adolescence, and devastating treachery as seen through the eyes of a young teenage boy—and the man he later becomes—looking back at an unexpected encounter that begins one single long, hot, life-altering weekend. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—November 5, 1953
• Raised—Durham, New Hampshire, USA
• Education—Yale University (no degree)
• Currently—lives in Mill Valley, California
Daphne Joyce Maynard is an American author known for writing with candor about her life, as well as for her works of fiction and hundreds of essays and newspaper columns, often about parenting and family. The 1998 publication of her memoir, At Home in the World, made her the object of intense criticism among some members of the literary world for having revealed the story of the relationship she had with author J. D. Salinger when he was 53 and she was 18.
Maynard grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, daughter of the Canadian painter Max Maynard and writer Fredelle Maynard. Her mother was Jewish (daughter of Russian-born immigrants) and her father was Christian. She attended the Oyster River School District and Phillips Exeter Academy. She won early recognition for her writing from The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, winning student writing prizes in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, and 1971.
While in her teens, she wrote regularly for Seventeen magazine. She entered Yale University in 1971 and sent a collection of her writings to the editors of the New York Times Magazine. They asked her to write an article for them, which was published as "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life" in the magazine's April 23, 1972 issue.
The Times Magazine article prompted a letter from J. D. Salinger, then 53 years old, who complimented her writing and warned her of the dangers of publicity.They exchanged 25 letters, and Maynard dropped out of Yale the summer after her freshman year to live with Salinger in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Maynard spent ten months living in Salinger's Cornish home, during which time she completed work on her first book, Looking Back, a memoir that was published in 1973, in which she adhered to Salinger's request that she not mention his role in her life. Her relationship with Salinger ended abruptly just prior to the book's publication. According to Maynard's memoir, he cut off the relationship suddenly while on a family vacation with her and with his two children; she was devastated and begged him to take her back.
For many years, Maynard chose not to discuss her affair with Salinger in any of her writings, but she broke her silence in At Home In the World, a 1999 memoir. The same year, Maynard put up for auction the letters Salinger had written to her. In the ensuing controversy over her decision, Maynard claimed that she was forced to auction the letters for financial reasons, including the need to pay her children's college fees; she would have preferred to donate them to Beinecke Library. Software developer Peter Norton bought the letters for $156,500 and announced his intention to return them to Salinger.
In September, 2013, Maynard wrote a New York Times opinion piece following the release of a documentary film on Salinger. She criticizes the film's hands-off attitude toward Salinger's numerous relationships with teenage girls.
Now comes the word...[that] Salinger was also carrying on relationships with young women 15, and in my case, 35 years younger than he. "Salinger" touches—though politely—on the story of just five of these young women (most under 20 when he sought them out), but the pattern was wider: letters I’ve received...revealed to me that there were more than a dozen.
Maynard never returned to college. In 1973, she used the proceeds from her first book to purchase a house on a large piece of land in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, where she lived alone for over two years. From 1973 until 1975, she contributed commentaries to a series called “Spectrum,” broadcast on CBS radio and television, frequently debating the conservative voices of Phyllis Schlafly and James J. Kilpatrick.
In 1975, Maynard joined the staff of the New York Times, where she worked as a general assignment reporter also contributing feature stories. She left the Times in 1977 when she married Steve Bethel and returned to New Hampshire, where the couple had three children.
From 1984 to 1990, Maynard wrote the weekly syndicated column “Domestic Affairs,” in which she wrote candidly about marriage, parenthood and family life. She also served as a book reviewer and a columnist for Mademoiselle and Harrowsmith magazines. She published her first novel, Baby Love, and two children’s books illustrated by her son Bethel. In 1986 she co-led the opposition to the construction of the nation’s first high-level nuclear waste dump in her home state of New Hampshire, a campaign she described in a New York Times cover story in April ,1986.
When Maynard’s own marriage ended in 1989—an event she explored in print—many newspapers dropped the “Domestic Affairs” column, though it was reinstated in a number of markets in response to reader protest. After her divorce, Maynard and her children moved to the city of Keene, New Hampshire.
Maynard gained widespread commercial acceptance in 1992 with the publication of her novel To Die For which drew several elements from the real-life Pamela Smart murder case. It was adapted into a 1995 film of the same name starring Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck and directed by Gus Van Sant. In the late 1990s, Maynard became one of the first authors to communicate daily with her readership by making use of the Internet and an online discussion forum, The Domestic Affairs Message Board (DAMB).
Maynard has subsequently published in several genres. Both The Usual Rules (2003) and The Cloud Chamber (2005) are young adult titles. Internal Combustion (2006), was her first in the true crime genre. Although nonfiction, it had thematic similarities to the fictionalized crime in To Die For, dealing with the case of Michigan resident Nancy Seaman, convicted of killing her husband in 2004. Labor Day, an adult literary novel, was published in 2009 and is presently being adapted for a film to be directed by Jason Reitman. Maynard's most recent novels are The Good Daughters, published in 2010, and After Her, in 2013.
Maynard and her sister Rona (also a writer and the retired editor of Chatelaine) collaborated in 2007 on an examination of their sisterhood. Rona Maynard's memoir My Mother's Daughter was published in the fall of 2007.
Maynard has lived in Mill Valley, California, since 1996. She was an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine and now runs writing workshops at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
In February 2010, Maynard adopted two Ethiopian girls, Almaz (10) and Birtukan, but in the spring of 2011, she announced to friends and family that she no longer felt she could care for the girls. She sent the girls to live with a family in Wyoming and, citing their privacy, removed all references to them from her website. On July 6, 2013, she married a lawyer, Jim Barringer. (Adapted fom Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/15/13.)
The book is narrated two decades [after the events in the book] by Henry, unsuccessfully pretending he’s 13 again, which makes him a two-time loser. If Labor Day is supposed to be a feel-good story, why did I feel so bad while reading it? Because it’s less likely and more saccharine than the escaped con’s lovingly described peach pie.
Tom LeClair - New York Times
It is a testament to Maynard's skill that she makes this ominous setup into a convincing and poignant coming-of-age tale. As she has revealed in her memoirs and five previous novels, Maynard has had her own share of unsuitable attachments. She understands the deep yearnings that drive people to impulsive decisions and sometimes reckless behavior.
Carolyn Preston - Washington Post
Labor Day is suffused with tenderness, dreaminess and love.... First and foremost a page-turner.... [it] puts back together the world that it detroys.... You definitely need to get a box of tissues.
The novel is an extended meditation on the nature of love, grief and loneliness.... Maynard has created an ensemble of characters that will sneak into your heart, and warm it while it breaks.
St. Petersburg Times
But apart from being a successful thriller, this book is a fascinating portrait of what causes a family to founder, and how much it can cost to put it back on the right path.
National Public Radio (NPR.org)
The story is moving and fast-moving, affirming Maynard's reputation as a master storyteller and showing her to be a passionate humanist with a gifted ear and heart.... Maynard illuminates the human experience.
In her sixth novel, Maynard (To Die For) tells the story of a long weekend and its repercussions through the eyes of a then 13-year-old boy, Henry, who lives with his divorced mother, Adele. On Labor Day weekend, Henry manages to coax his mother, who rarely goes out, into a trip to PriceMart, where they run into Frank, who intimidates them into giving him a ride. Frank, it turns out, is an escaped convict looking for a place to hide. He holds Adele and Henry hostage in their home, an experience that changes all of them forever, whether it's Frank tying Adele to the kitchen chair with her silk scarves and lovingly feeding her or teaching the awkward, unathletic Henry how to throw a baseball. The bizarre situation encompasses Henry's budding adolescence, the awakening of his sexuality and his fear of being abandoned by his mother and Frank, who are falling in love and planning to run away together. Maynard's prose is beautiful and her characters winningly complicated, with no neat tie-ups in the end. A sometimes painful tale, but captivating and surprisingly moving.
The summer Henry turned 13, he had many questions about sex, "but it was clear my mother was not the person to discuss this with." A dancer, pretty like Ginger from Gilligan's Island, Adele had withdrawn from the world after her divorce from Henry's dad. Mother and son lead a lonely life together, subsisting on stacks of Cap'n Andy frozen fish dinners while Adele half-heartedly tries to sell vitamins by phone. Adele rarely leaves home, except when pressed to get Henry some last-minute back-to-school clothes. It's at Pricemart that the wounded pair meets Frank, a man with much to teach them about true love, baseball, and the best way to make a ripe peach pie. Verdict: There's a catch, of course—Frank's just escaped from prison, and there's a full-fledged manhunt underway. This coming-of-age story is gentle, unexpected, and simply told.
Christine Perkins - Library Journal
A pubescent boy learns about sorrow and regret during one blisteringly hot holiday weekend. Shifts of tone mark the progression of Maynard's latest (Internal Combustion, 2006, etc.). In an unlikely opening, 13-year-old Henry and his mother Adele agree to take home Frank, the bleeding man they meet while shopping at Pricemart. Frank turns out to be an escaped convict—a murderer in fact—yet he is unthreatening and domesticated, soon rustling up the best chili they have ever eaten. Adele, a romantic, has been left slightly unhinged and agoraphobic by her divorce; she and Frank quickly develop a sensual attraction observed by Henry, who is grappling with teenage angst over his sexuality. As the adults become lovers and Frank starts to teach Henry how to catch a baseball, the novel becomes a semi-comic exploration of what constitutes the ideal American family. But then Frank describes the circumstances of his conviction, an implausible chronicle of deception and coincidence that considerably darkens the novel's mood. Henry fears his mother is about to abandon him and shares his anxiety with his anorexic new girlfriend Eleanor, but he is wrong: The plan is for all three to flee to Canada, a plan that Eleanor will stymie. Narrated by the adult Henry 18 years later, the story shows how a boy digests, then uses the lessons learned that hot weekend. Redemption is eventually offered to all parties. Maynard expertly tugs heartstrings in a tidy tale.
1. As reported by Henry, his mother Adele displays a number of behaviors that could be interpreted as crazy. How do you explain her son's steadiness and competence? Do you consider Adele to be a bad mother?
2. When you were first introduced to the character of Frank (p. 5), what was your feeling about him? As you learned more about Frank over the course of the story, did your impression of him change? If so, what details and actions can you identify that caused you to alter your opinion of him?
3. Were you surprised that Adele was willing to bring Frank to her home? Why do you think she did?
4. Henry's father and his wife, Marjorie, live a much more steady and "normal" life than the one Henry shares with Adele. Why do you think Henry remains so loyal to his mother, concealing aspects of her behavior that would no doubt alarm his father?
5. Were you surprised to discover than Frank is a good baker? What does his baking ability tell you about him? Why do you think the author chose to offer such a detailed description of Frank's pie-making technique?
6. The novel is set at a time during which a number of transitions are taking place in the lives of the main characters. What transition if Henry going through? Adele? Frank? How is that feeling of transition echoed in the time period in which the story is framed (the end of summer and the beginning of the school year)?
7. Henry often refers to a "normal family," a "regular family," a "family." What does the concept of family mean to Henry? What does the term "normal family" mean to you?
8. What was your first impression of the character of Eleanor? Did this impression change as you got to know her better? Why do you think Eleanor behaves as she does?
9. How does Eleanor go about instilling fear and doubts about Frank in Henry? Why do you think she does this? What is she hoping to accomplish?
10. In Chapter 18 Henry comments that seeing his mother happy with Frank "took me off the hook." At the same time, he appears to be threatened by the possibility that the intimacy she has discovered with Frank will cause her to abandon him. How does Henry go about reconciling these two conflicting responses to the love affair he witnesses, and how much of what takes place occurs as a result of this conflict?
11. How do you think the events of that Labor Day weekend changed Henry? How might his life have gone if Frank had not shown up?
12. Why do you think Adele relinquishes custody of Henry? Why does he decide to return to her?
13. Were you surprised by what Henry says and does when he encounters Eleanor again, a year later, walking her dog? What do you think has caused Eleanor to become the person she is? Why is her dog named Jim?
14. What does Henry's father mean when he observes that Adele "was in love with love"?
15. Frank's experience with Adele and Henry cost him eighteen years of his life, and yet he expresses gratitude for having met them. How can this be? Do you believe the kind of love that existed between Adele and Frank can truly exist?
(Questions issued by publishers.)
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