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When devastating news shatters the life of six-year-old Harvey, she finds herself in the care of a veteran social worker, Wanda, and alone in the world save for one relative she has never met—a disabled felon, haunted by a violent past he can’t escape.
Moving between past and present, Father’s Day weaves together the story of Harvey’s childhood on Long Island and her life as a young woman in Paris. Written in raw, spare prose that personifies the characters, this novel is the journey of two people searching for a future in the ruin of their past.
Father’s Day is a meditation on the quiet, sublime power of compassion, and the beauty of simple, everyday things—a breakthrough work from one of our most gifted chroniclers of the human heart.
Six-year-old Harvey (an odd name for a girl, but it is what it is) is living the life of a typical child when her world is turned upside down, with the sudden death of her parents. The machinations of Wanda, a seasoned social worker, lead Harvey to her uncle Jason, her father’s older brother, whose troubled past and criminal history kept him a stranger from his family.
Jason is utterly unprepared to become a father. Lonely, reeling from a traumatic childhood and difficult adulthood, and living with a disability, he has resigned himself to a life of anger, of expressing his frustrations as they occur. He has never expected to amount to much of anything, and never expected anyone to depend on him. Yet something in Harvey touches his heart, and even though he feels he is no match for the needs and mood swings of a young girl, particularly one who has seen so much tragedy at such a young age, little by little he lets his guard down and lets Harvey in.
At times, like any child, Harvey is more perceptive to Jason’s vulnerability, yet other times she is utterly childlike, saying what she feels when she feels it without consideration of how Jason might react. And while Jason may be different than the fathers of most of her friends, and their life together is difficult at times, she starts to feel safe with him, and recognize that she is as much help to him as he is to her.
Can a person who has convinced himself he is unworthy of love and affection to allow himself to depend on those emotions? Do we recognize love as we feel it, or does it take time and perspective to help us realize and appreciate it? Are we changed by those we love as much as we change them? Simon Van Booy’s beautiful and poignant Father’s Day is a portrait of the sacrifices we make for those we care about, and how we may not realize until much later how much those sacrifices mean.
The book shifts between Harvey and Jason’s tentative steps towards becoming a family and the challenges they face (some of their own making), and Harvey’s reflections some years later as she is working in Paris and awaiting a visit from her father. Given the circumstances that brought them together, and the difficulties both had depended on others, theirs is an emotional story, but one that is uplifting and moving, and demonstrates how the beauty of perspective can show us just how much our actions truly mean to another.
I’ve been a huge fan of Van Booy since I read his exquisite story collection Love Begins in Winter. I love the way he imbues his characters with shades of grace even while they are flawed, and the emotions his writing provokes are truly memorable. Father’s Day is a sweet and moving book, and it certainly made me miss my own father all the more as I read this.
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