If You Like…
- Family stories
- The Pixar film, “Up”
- Plucky, aspiring actresses
- The Real World
Then You’ll Like…
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
Naw, but you get what I mean. Judging from my photo, you can probably guess that I’m talking about an ebook this time, not necessarily something I have in print. I possess multiple devices with Kindle apps on them, and find ebooks to be just as engrossing as a palatable page-turner.
Today, I wanted to take a look at The Family Man, a story about a retiring gay lawyer who reconnects with the daughter of his ex-wife, and of whom he regrets not adopting. Also the ex-wife is going through a crisis, the daughter is an aspiring actress who feigns being the girlfriend of a celebrity for publicity, and his new love interest enjoys matching napkins to table linens at a department store. I know, it’s a lot to take in, but it truly is a lovely story.
Before I go into detail, it should be known that I have an immense weakness for stories with strong, gay characters. Often times, these are romance novels, or heart-wrenching stories of coming out. The Family Man is not these.
Elinor Lipman’s story is about a different kind of love, between a father and a daughter, with a main character who happens to be gay. I love this kind of fiction that doesn’t center the story around a gay man and his exploits, but focuses on the strange circumstances that are happening to a character who happens to be gay. It’s why we love to read – to experience the out-of-ordinary events around one person. Now, on to the story.
Lipman’s construction of Henry Archer, our main character, is excellent. He’s likable, newly retired and willing open to changes to keep retirement from becoming dull. However, the story begins when he reaches out to his ex-wife, Denise, to offer condolences for the death of her third husband (Henry was Denise’s second husband). He learns that Denise’s daughter, Thalia, from her first husband, is still alive and well and thriving somewhere in the city. When Henry was married to Denise, he loved Thalia, but when they divorced, he silently regretted not adopting her during the marriage. As you can probably guess, The Family Man is all about Henry making amends for that.
As a retired lawyer, Henry has a pretty cushy lifestyle. Not lavish, but very comfortable. Thalia has no such amenities as an aspiring actress, so Henry reconnects with her and invites her to live in the vacant apartment below his townhouse. Their life as roommates brings along a host of quirks that I enjoyed with every page.
What I loved about Henry and Thalia’s relationship was that there was never any resentment from the get-go. Thalia holds no grudges against Henry for never seeing her after the divorce, and Henry is simply relieved to find a semblance of family with her. Instead of acting like an overprotective born-again father, he addresses Thalia as a grown woman who can make her own decisions. He does act as her legal advisor during certain events in the story. This careful balance of realizing that Thalia doesn’t need a babysitter, while also having urges to provide for her as a father, is what makes Henry so relatable. Thalia takes it all in stride and gravitates to him like a small planet, having lacked a consistent father-figure in her life and been saddled with an overbearing mother.
Some authors may write the whole father-daughter reconnection with a darker tone, but what I also enjoyed about this book was how comedic it was. Almost Shakespearean, taking a character at a loss at what to do with retirement, and giving him something to strive for and succeed. Lipman’s style is very humorous, as evidenced by Thalia’s go-lucky attitude and her juxtaposition to Henry’s cautious nature. But it’s all in good fun.
If you’re looking for a strong, family story, don’t look any further. The Family Man is easy to read and lovely to behold, and just might have you thinking of distant relatives you haven’t called in a while by the end.
Will Make You Feel: Like hugging your dad
Music to Listen to While Reading: Uplifting indie tunes
Publisher: Mariner Books