A novel by Joyce Maynard
Most of us don’t expect labor Day weekend to change our lives. As a holiday it doesn’t seem to have a purpose; it doesn’t celebrate or commemorate anything other than the end of summer. We use it as an excuse to take another day off from work and school.
When I saw and purchased the book in Barnes and Noble book store I didn’t recognize it as the book from which the movie Labor Day was made. I’m glad, because I probably would not have bought it.
I find that reading books after the movie or vice versa is seldom satisfying. Often characters and settings are changed so the storyline is confusing. And invariably the movie version leaves out much of the character development that a writer can express with words. I didn’t feel that way here. But more about that later.
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Labor Day- the characters -a woman, a man, a boy
Henry, who narrates the story, lives with his divorced mom in a small town. At 13, Henry seems more mature than he should need to be, while his mother Adele seems childish and naive for a grown woman. As the story unfolds, you begin to wonder if Adele’s eccentric behavior is due to something more than immaturity.
Adele and Henry are in their small town store buying clothes for school when a man they don’t know approaches them asking for help. Frank seems nice enough and asking for help might not be a problem except for the fact that is is bleeding, and evasive about why.
He asks Adele to take him to her house and either due to fear or poor judgement, she says yes. Both she and Henry seem to realize that something dramatic is about to change in their lives, but what it is, they can only guess at this point.
Labor Day– the story
As the novel progresses, we learn several story lines.
The main story line, narrated by young Henry, tells what transpires between the three of them over this Labor Day weekend. Weaving throughout are the back stories of what brought them all to this point.
Henry has reached manhood by the end of the book, at which time we learn what happened to these characters years after this memorable Labor Day weekend.
If you want to believe, or already know, that the worst of situations can have a happy ending, the final chapter will please but not surprise you.
Joyce Maynard writes in closing remarks at the end of the book,
“Maybe it’s an impossibly romantic and idealistic story. No doubt ….it would be a very poor idea for a woman to bring home a strange man, as Adele does that Thursday before Labor Day. Perhaps this book should carry a warning label: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.”
Medical themes addressed in Labor Day are heavily weighted around sexuality so if you are uncomfortable with those this book/movie may not appeal to you.
These topics include
- Puberty and Adolescent sexuality
- Adult sexuality, both in and outside of marriage
Other health issues explored in the story include
- Pregnancy and pregnancy loss
- Emotional/mental dysfunction
- Marital dysfunction and divorce
- Childhood disability
- Trauma and death
Following their encounter with Frank in the store, young Henry talks about his feelings as Adele drove them home-
“In the seat next to her, I studied my mother’s face, to see if her expression changed, when Frank said these things. I could feel my heart beating, and a tightness in my chest-not fear exactly, but something close, though oddly pleasurable. I had it when my father took Richard and the baby and me, and Marjorie, to Disney World, and we got into our seats on the Space Mountain ride.
Today is my lucky day, Frank said. Yours too, maybe.
I knew right then, things were about to change. We were headed into Space Mountain now, into a dark place where the ground might give way, , and you wouldn’t even be able to tell anymore where this car was taking you.
If this had occurred to my mother, she didn’t let on. She just held the wheel and stared straight ahead same as before, all the way home.”
Ms. Maynard explains that as fiction this novel’s unfolding was
“a rare occasion, where a writer imagines a world in which goodness and honorable behavior might be rewarded and love might carry the day.”
Labor Day , the movie adaptation by Jason Reitman
Labor Day as a movie starred Kate Winslet as Adele and Josh Brolin as Frank.
Once I started reading the book, I remembered the movie, and cannot imagine any other actress portraying Adele; Ms. Winslet aptly illustrated Adele’s quiet strength as well as her fragility . Young Henry is solidly played by Gattlin Griffith while Tobey Maguire as the adult Henry narrates the story and then appears in the movie’s final scenes.
As I mentioned above, the movie sticks faithfully to the novel. The backstories are not developed as much as in the book which is typical with the time limitation of a movie adaptation.
See below for a spoiler alert if you’ve already read/seen the book/movie, or don’t care about learning the ending too soon.
Another unlikely romance
Labor Day reminded me of another book I read and reviewed, about the relationship between a woman, a man, and a boy. I wish it had a movie version ; another book by the same author does, Pay It Forward. Here is my review of
exploring the HEART of health in literature
Thanks for joining me to “celebrate” Labor Day and consider an unconventional look at life and love in Joyce Maynard’s novel and movie, Labor Day.
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A true life romance also from Joyce Maynard
Joyce Maynard wrote a memoir, THE BEST OF US, about her true life romance which didn’t end as happily as her fictional one did, but did change her life forever. Here is a brief review.
Ms. Maynard’s story initially sounded like a failed marriage/bad divorce saga with adult children torn between the two parents, persistent anger and bitterness, and attempts to ease the pain with a series of bad choices in lovers, followed by a complicated adoption attempt.
Finally we can breath a sigh of relief when she meets a man and seems to have found true love at last. But that comes to an abrupt halt when he is diagnosed with cancer.
From then on she poignantly describes a life turned upside down as she enters new territory as a caregiver. As she relates how their lives changed, we as the readers are changed also, learning to recognize what is truly important in life. As the author admits,
“success, money, beauty, passion, adventure, possessions- have become immaterial. Breathing would be enough.”
Read this book if you want your assumptions about life and death to be challenged and changed.
You can read the prologue of THE BEST OF US .
Spoiler alert: the following section reveals a major plot of Labor Day
At the book’s end, Joyce Maynard wrote a final piece, “Don’t Try This at Home-How I Came to Write This Novel”, in which she explains why she chose to make an escaped convicted murderer (Frank) a main character in her novel-
Because she herself once struck up a long distance friendship with a man in prison .
“I resemble that impossibly romantic woman who drove a man home with her, feeling no fear for herself or her son-though the man had blood dripping down his leg-because she saw in him something of her own wounded self.”
Her convict story does “not have a happy ending” she says,
“it taught me…to trust less and steer clear of the kind of man whose wounds on the outside may be fewer than those within.”
Here’s her story about that encounter