Friday, July 15, 2016

Stranger, Father, Beloved

Stranger, Father, Beloved by Taylor Larsen
Gallery Books: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501124754

Stranger, Father, Beloved by Taylor Larsen is a recommended debut novel featuring a family falling apart.

The James family is wealthy, living in a very nice Cape-style home on the Rhode Island peninsula. Michael James, his wife, Nancy, teenage daughter Ryan and young son Max should be content, but that isn't the case. Michael has a diagnosed mental illness, neurotic paranoia, and has been on medication for it for years. Now it seems that his medication isn't working as well as it should, probably due to Michael's drinking. That combined with his chronic insomnia is affecting his thought processes. When he sees his wife smiling and laughing with a stranger at a party, Michael decides that this man should be the one Nancy is married to and also the father to his children. Michael makes friends with the man, John, and sets his delusional plan into motion.

Stranger, Father, Beloved is told in the third person. Each chapter reflects the viewpoints of either Michael or Ryan, occasionally Nancy. It is all introspection, personal experiences, and thoughts. Michael is unlikable and looks at everything as something that could have been better had he made the right choice - the right choice being not his current life. Ryan, their teenage daughter, stays away from their home for days at a time, yet neither parent stops her. She is going through her own struggles with self-identity. Nancy is the long-suffering wife who loves Michael.

This is a very well written novel; however, it is unrelentingly sad. While I didn't find it particularly compelling, it does capture the slow demise of a family and Michael's paranoia. Ryan is actually the more interesting character, but the focus is on Michael, who is the most irritating.

Michael's constant looking to the past was tiresome for me. I know he has a mental illness, but he also sought out and craved sadness and dissatisfaction. His elevated opinion of his great mental prowess compared to lowly Nancy's lack of any intellectual ability was annoying. Ryan's actions and her freedom to basically do as she pleased because she is unhappy at home were startling. These parents are immersed into self-contemplation and yet so fearful of her reaction that they did not try to talk to her to find out where she has been for the past week?

Finally, the big startling revealing insight at the end felt contrived and opportunistic. Yes, Stranger, Father, Beloved is technically very well written and I stayed with it to the end. I just don't buy it.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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