SECOND SON by Stephen Stark


Email this review


 An emotional portrait of a father and son relationship--in a second novel from the author of The Outskirts (1988). Rather like Larry Woiwode, Stark gets by on minimal plotting, instead allowing modulations in mood, and passionate exchanges between characters, to advance his story. The two main characters are a father, Addie, and his ``second'' son, Jack. Addie's suicidal wife and the son he loved best are suddenly, as the novel begins, dead. Though both took more than they gave, Addie is lost without them, as is young Jack. Father and son are propelled--sometimes violently--apart, as they deal with their grief and the fact that they've become strangers to each other. There is delight, and a kind of solace, in how well Stark knows working-class lives, in how his men talk, in how they redo a kitchen or overhaul an engine, in how they love their women. Stark's love scenes are magnificent in their power and subtlety, and particularly in how they lunge out of control. Poor Addie goes home at night to watch every TV show having anything to do with families; to shut off the TV, in the now silent house, is sheer terror. Then young Karen, the girl Jack left behind, finds in Addie what she couldn't in Jack. In counterpoint, young Jack comes under the spell of an older woman who begs him to hit her because she thinks all men secretly long to hit women; Jack demurs. He falls in love with a married woman, Sandy, whose husband does hit her. Love is messy, Stark is telling us, but it's all we have, and the only way to heal ourselves. Conventional, really: father and son become reconciled, and good women heal them. What's different here is that the men's movement hovers in the background; Stark angrily explodes stereotypes of men as violent or unfeeling or inconstant. His women, too, come perfectly alive. Stark is passionate, lyrical, even funny. He should sell a lot of books.

Pub Date: July 17th, 1992
ISBN: 0-8050-1943-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1992