The Joyce Maynard novel, Labor Day (2009) is, I think, interesting and competently written; but is it also forgettable?
A prison inmate called Frank runs away from the hospital he is in for an appendectomy, then forces Adele, the divorced mother of Henry (the book’s 13-year-old narrator), to drive him to her house where he will hole up for the Labor Day weekend and a couple of days prior to it. Frank is a likable man not wholly guilty of what he was sentenced for; Adele is a sensitive recluse whose children, except for Henry, died on her as surely as her marriage died. Implacably the two begin a hidden romance. Planning to flee to Canada and take Henry with them, Frank and Adele are unaware of certain forces that will firmly block and cripple them.
Appealing details crop up in the novel, and although Frank is a bit too rudely good to be true, the characters are believable. I dislike the many sexual references that exist in modern American novels but . . . the ones here do not seem excessive. Or un-called for. Still, is the book (finally) forgettable?
Actually, I think it comes close to being so, but escapes it by showing the reader what it means when a human life is reduced to the bare necessities, to actions and habits incapable of bringing a person anything like happiness or self-fulfillment. And it is endlessly compelling on the subject of isolation. If it were not for this, Labor Day WOULD be forgettable, the kind of thing we’ve seen before.
Two more items: Maynard’s novel is not a tragedy; it has a happy ending. And it has been made into a movie.