Father of the Rain: A Novel
When you grow up in the 1970s, your parents may hang tapestries on the bedroom wall of the married-student housing complex while one of them finishes grad school or they may dwell in WASP-y New England serving martinis by the pool and playing tennis at the country club. Daley Amory's parents were a mix of the two when she was 11 growing up in Massachusetts in the new novel by Lily King, Father of the Rain. Her dad Gardiner is a Republican businessman with a love of life--always joking, always drinking. He'd wait until 5 p.m. every night and lovingly and ritualistically be at the bar scooping ice into a highball glass, screwing off the paper of a fresh bottle of Smirnoff, topping it with vermouth, and spooning out tiny onions from a jar--some of which he'd give to Daley, standing right there.
Daley's beautiful mother Meredith's conscious has been raised by outside interests--she invites a youth group over for a barbecue and hates Nixon--after years of her spirit torn down by Gardiner's dark side, which comes out after too many cocktails or when confronted by something he doesn't understand. He gets verbally abusive, bigoted, inappropriate, and just plain mean. So she leaves, taking Daley--Daley's brother Garvey is away at boarding school--to her parents' cabin in New Hampshire. At summer's end, they return; her mom rents a small apartment and gets a job and Daley visits her father, who has moved his new family into the house: her friend Patrick, his mother Catherine, his older brother Frank, and baby sister Elyse.
The first part of the detailed Rain covers Daley's life dealing with the divorce and the rage she feels toward her father, which she takes out on her mother. It's easy to project onto the stable parent because you know what they'll do when they're pissed.
But the line connecting father and daughter serves as the book's backbone. Gardiner is now drinking earlier in the day and Catherine keeps up, neither minding much about the kids, who have learned to fly under the radar or disappear when adults get loud and red faced. Never forgiving her for leaving, Daley's father has withdrawn his love and she spends the rest of her childhood trying to gain it back. She spends college and grad school trying to live without it until she's back at her childhood house, trying to mend him after another wife leaves and his alcoholism has finally worn him down.
It's a painful love story and King doesn't flinch away from telling family secrets--the embarrassing and hurtful moments, the points of danger and ridiculousness that feel like such a load of dirty laundry to be carrying around. Anyone with complicated family relationships can understand feeling disgust and longing, and King writes it all so clearly--how the little things mean so much and can add up to so much time lost.