Thursday, January 16, 2014

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard - The F2F Report

I've already reviewed Labor Day by Joyce Maynard (my review, here) so this post is a report on my book group's discussion. We were provided 10 copies of Labor Day by HarperCollins and I didn't receive them (thanks to the first box going astray) till last Thursday.  Fortunately, it's a quick read so most of the 16 people (3 male, the rest female) who showed up for our meeting had managed to read it.  

The consensus was overwhelmingly positive. Labor Day is very different from our typical fare - a quick read, neither challenging nor brilliantly written but, we all agreed, great storytelling. Before I had even arrived (I was a tiny bit late to arrive in Vicksburg), everyone had apparently already taken a vote and given Labor Day an overwhelming thumbs-up.  

Quick synopsis - Convict Frank escapes from a hospital after an appendectomy and spends a long holiday weekend being sheltered by Adele and Henry, leaving a lasting imprint on their lives.

WARNING: Portions of this post may contain spoilers. Please skip this post if you haven't read the book and/or are concerned that spoilers may ruin the reading for you.

We used the Reading Group Guide in our books as a starting point, although the discussion was such an enthusiastic one that we didn't just stick to the questions in the guide. We discussed whether Adele was mentally ill or just needed to pull her boots up and get on with life, whether she was a good or bad mother and how her inability to function due to agoraphobia, grief and severe depression (my wording -- I think she was in serious need of treatment for mental illness) had a negative impact on Henry.

We talked about Frank, the escaped convict -- his innocence or guilt, why he would bother escaping if he was not guilty, whether he was a decent man who was the victim of terrible circumstances or really just a very good con man. We discussed the changes in how we felt about him as the book progressed and which scenes showed his innate kindness.

Lust versus love came up, although nobody mentioned that Adele may have been more vulnerable to Frank's attention because of her loneliness and depression. We did, however, talk about the fact that we were not surprised that she took Frank home because it was clear that she wasn't stable and therefore was not able to make logical decisions.

The group discussed normality: how a "normal" family life can be defined (with mention of a particular scene witnessed by Henry through a window) and why Henry was protective of his mother. We talked about why he wasn't really thrilled about the idea of living with his father, stepmother and their children, what happened after Frank left and Henry had to go live with his father, and the long-term impact of Frank's stay on Adele and Henry.

We talked about Eleanor and I couldn't remember Eleanor so I've just flipped through the book to remind myself who she is.  Oh, yeah.  Now I remember.  Funny that she's so important -- really, the catalyst to the Labor Day weekend's ending -- and yet I'd completely forgotten about her.

We're going to set up a time to go to the movie together, when it's released, and we talked about our expectations for the movie.  I didn't watch the Golden Globe Awards but someone mentioned the fact that Kate Winslet won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Adele, which obviously bodes well, and another member mentioned seeing an interview with Kate Winslet in which she talked about having to lose weight for the role and her difficulty with weight, in general.

Various expectations of the Labor Day movie:

  • Since the book is a coming-of-age novel narrated by an older Henry reflecting back on a pivotal turning point in his life, one of our members brought up the fact that it should be narrated by Henry. Some agreed, some didn't, but I think everyone pretty much was in consensus that with or without Henry narrating as a man reflecting on his youth (which one member thought would be awful because narration can easily be overdone), it still should be a movie shown from Henry's viewpoint.  
  • We're all curious how the book will be translated to the screen -- which scenes will be removed, what may be added. My F2F group is a widely varied bunch but we love comparing books to movies.  
  • We are all hoping it won't be too graphic.  Some mentioned that because Labor Day told from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy, it's only natural that there's a great deal of focus on sex.  But, said one member, it's not provocative; it's sexy.  Nods all around and mention of hopes that the sex scenes will mostly involve a bit of knocking on the wall without actually showing Adele and Frank together. 
  • I mentioned that I'm most looking forward to the peach pie scene from the book and that comment got an enthusiastic response.  The peach pie scene was, to many of us, one of the most meaningful scenes because it had so much impact on Henry.  It could easily become a scene that is not just touching because it shows Henry's kindness and how teaching Adele and Henry something important to him bonds Frank to both of them but also one that helps portray the developing crush between Adele and Frank with a few meaningful looks. 
  • I'm also hoping that a few brief scenes in which Frank works with Henry on improving his baseball skills will be done well.  I visualize only a little talking and some images of the two of them continuing to work together without dialogue - just a musical interlude to show how Frank patiently works through Henry's frustrations to help him improve.

A few final words:

I definitely recommend Labor Day as a book club read.  I was pleasantly surprised at how many different aspects of the characterization, story, plot, etc. we found to talk about. We've read some beautifully written but intense books, this year, and the entire group enjoyed reading a book that was interesting and discussion-worthy without being either time-consuming or overwhelming. One member said she was glad not to have to look up any words in the dictionary, which made me laugh.  I like learning new words but I agree, sometimes it's nice to just read something that's easy on the brain. Another member said she was happy to be able to skim the sex scenes without feeling like she was missing anything (unlike, several mentioned, The Goldfinch, which is terribly long but still felt like a book that required that one read every single word).

Labor Day is scheduled for release on January 31.  Do you like comparing a movie to the book it's based upon?

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  1. I really should read this so I can see the movie, but I don't own it... It might be one of those times where I just see the movie.

    1. You can always do things backwards. I've watched a movie and liked it enough to go read the book, then watched the movie again to compare the two. That's tremendously fun. Or, maybe you can find Labor Day in your library. The copyright date is 2009 so it's not a new title, by any means.

  2. Do I *LIKE* to compare book to the movie!>?!?! yes. I do. But I also think that I am much more generous than most - or most of those people who complain 'Book is ALWAYS better' because I really like to see who a book is interpreted and made visual. I'm forgiving of the creative license. But. :D

    and YAY!!!!! THANK YOU. I OWE YOU.

    1. I like comparing the way a book is translated to screen to the book itself, too. I can't always say I understand the choices made, but it's still fascinating to see what's removed and which scenes are chosen, what's added, etc. And, you're welcome but don't thank me till I get it out the door. LOL

  3. Yes. I like comparing the two. It's fun to see movies of books you've read. I'm actually reading Labor Day now and then I will be ready for the movie when it comes out. Cheers.

    1. Isn't it? I like to sit around theorizing about why a scene was added or taken away. Sometimes, it's surprising when they remove scenes that you think would work visually. Hope you enjoy the book and movie!

  4. I have been curious about this one and I'm happy to read your review!

    1. I really enjoyed it because the characters were interesting but I've noticed the biggest complaint is that people can't buy into the relationship. That's certainly understandable but my F2F group members agreed that letting a prisoner into her house made sense for Adele because she wasn't stable. You can't necessarily judge her actions against what you, a person who is stable and able to make sensible decisions, might do. It's a valid complaint, though. If you read it, I hope you'll let me know your thoughts, Amy!

  5. I can see why this one would be a good book club pick and am glad you shared your group's thoughts on it, Nancy.

    I am one of those who had trouble buying Adele taking Frank in so easily (I thought it was more understandable in the movie), but, as you point out, given her instability, it's not as much as a stretch as it might seem. Is it possible too that the more small town atmosphere lends itself to people being more trusting? I have never lived in a small town, so don't know. We also have to take into consideration the year the novel takes place.

    I think I struggled most with whether I trusted Frank and his version of events. I am glad from your discussion to see that I am not the only one who questioned him. I did come to trust him by the end--and I wanted to believe he was being honest--but it's hard to set aside my personal skepticism.

    In answer to your question, yes, I do. I enjoy reading a book and then seeing the movie. I like to make comparisons and see how the book was translated to film. I don't mind changes so much--as long as they work and the movie is good. But it's rare I think a movie is better than a book.

    1. It was definitely a great discussion book, Wendy!

      I think the way Adele let Frank come home with her is probably the most common criticism of the book and I understand the reasoning but it definitely makes sense to me that a woman who is not in her right mind would be the most likely woman to make such an illogical decision. As to the small town aspect - actually, I hadn't thought about that but from my experience it would likely be a deterrent. That "everybody knows everybody" thing . . . been there. If people saw her taking a stranger home, there would be talk and suspicions and maybe even people who didn't know her all that well would drop in just to see if there was a nice little bit of gossip they could spread. It depends on the town, of course, and I didn't even honestly pick up on the fact that it was a small town. Funny how I overlooked that but I have spent most of my life in cities with populations under 50,000. The time period was one when people were more trusting, though, definitely.

      I wanted Frank to be honest, too. And, I guess because things worked out nicely in the end, I came to the conclusion that he was okay. I wasn't as skeptical as most.

      Isn't it fun to compare? I love doing that. I do think it's funny how I've slowly come to the conclusion that it's best to watch a movie, first. For a while I just stopped going to movies based on books but in recent years I've had so much fun comparing the two. I don't always think the decisions to cut or alter scenes are the right ones, even from a "turning it visual" standpoint, but it's fun to see what's done and theorize about why a story was handled that way when translated to screen. I love reading screenplay to see the differences between book and script, also. Fascinating stuff.


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