You’re only a bastard in your own mind.
A bright sprig of holly adorns the cover of Young’s debut novel, foreshadowing the uninspiring yuletide tragedy that sets this rambling bildungsroman in motion. When their aging father dies on Christmas, the four adult Michelson children come face to face with members of their father’s â€œother” family in a wonderfully awkward moment at a nursing home. Janice Michelson, 35, narrates this tale of abandonment and homecoming as visited upon her and her three illegitimate brothers raised in the late 20th-century Atlanta projects by their strong, caring mother and a largely absent father who never publicly acknowledged them. â€œHow ironic,” says Janice, â€œ[â€¦] that after the torment of trying to love two families, Daddy died in a nursing home alone.” What begins as a quest to unearth her parents’ hidden past transforms into a somewhat conventional journey of self-discovery, as Janice wavers between sympathy and loathing for a father who stuck around just long enough to be missed when he left. Janice also worries that she shares her mother’s unhealthy tendency to fall for a married man. Some of the story’s most disturbingly sweeping observations emerge in lessons gleaned from conversations with her mother: â€œThe need to feel secure, the need to be touched, the need to be kissed, to be caressed and adored, and to be made love to by the man you love. Every woman with blood rushing through her veins has these needs, even the need to hold on hoping that someday a man would leave another woman for you.” Apart from similarly stereotypical views of gender roles and a reductive rendering of homosexuality, the novel passably explores the stigmas associated with illegitimacy.
Varying shades of forgiveness examined from a number of angles.