Father of the Rain: A Novel (Amazon.com link for purchasing), by Lily King is an incredibly satisfying book – probably the best novel I have read in several years. And its premise is a fascinating but troubling one, as the author explains here:
Several years ago, I read a parenting book that claimed, with all sorts of studies to back up this claim, that women get their self-esteem almost solely through their relationship with their father. Given that our society, and our world, is still quite patriarchal, it makes sense that a man’s opinion of you is what is going to matter more. Just a few days ago I found one of the first notes to myself that I ever wrote about this novel. There were possible scene ideas, and then at the bottom it said: “The way we were treated by our father is the way we expect the world to treat us.” Father of the Rain is one woman’s efforts to escape that fate.
(Confession: I would have wanted to like this novel even if it weren’t so beautifully written. Its protagonist is a feminist academic attempting to resolve issues around her charismatic but unpredictable and rejecting father. Somewhat close to home for me).
The book takes up the story from three different points in time – through the eyes of an eleven year old child watching her parents divorce; as a young woman embarking on a career while facing an opportunity to rescue her father that could simultaneously dismantle her own life; and, as a middle-aged mother with a family of her own waiting to see if closure is possible with her father.
But the novel is not nearly as heavy-handed and therapy-driven as that description may sound. It is a wonderfully astute, intelligent and thought-provoking story of family dysfunction. One of those rare novels where you almost never see where the writing craft begins and the characters end. Its exploration of WASPs, divorce, conservative-liberal conflict, step-families, fatherhood, daughterhood, alcoholism and atypical parent-child relationships – with all the reversals of roles and collapsing boundaries that that entails – is perfectly rendered here in Father of the Rain.
Now, on another note about Lily King. I know it is limiting for female artists to be questioned about how they manage to combine motherhood with their career but secretly I am always pleased when they’re asked about it in an interview, especially when they say something as useful and reassuring as King did in this instance:
You once told me that given the option between writing and your daughters, you will “choose my children over my writing every time.” Can you talk a little bit about navigating motherhood and authorhood?
Before my children were in school full-time it was a chronic struggle and confused me to no end. I had part-time childcare and was constantly reconfiguring the hours. I never felt like I had enough time to write, and yet I missed my children terribly in the hours that I did have. Then they went to school and the balance was righted.
There is hope. Just three more years until both of mine are at school.
Also, Lily King’s personal reading list is worth a glance.