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.