From the very beginning of Labor Day: A Novel, the reader is immersed in the mind, emotions and everyday life of a thirteen-year-old boy during one memorable Labor Day weekend. All told from the first-person narrator Henry.
Living in a small New Hampshire town, Henry is miserably aware of his limitations and those of his family members—from his mother, who is almost an agoraphobic, to his father whose new family with his new wife and new kids has no idea how to relate to him. Their stilted Saturday evenings out seem excruciating, and yet returning home to the mother whose need for him is almost too much…well, Henry is ripe for something extraordinary…something that will completely turn his world on end.
And then, at the Pricemart store early in that Labor Day weekend, the totally unexpected thing happens. First of all, it is very unusual for Henry and his mother to be out at all. His mother Adele avoids stores to the point that when she does go out, she usually buys enough provisions to stock up, therefore avoiding another such outing for many weeks…or months.
Therefore, it’s almost a quirk of fate, the two of them being in the store that day—it’s a last-minute clothes-buying expedition for Henry.
So when the man, bleeding and injured, approaches Henry, asking for help, it is such a fluke that of all the people this man could approach, Henry would be there for the encounter. And from that moment on, events tumble forward into such an unlikely scenario that the reader is drawn in and inevitably mesmerized by the unfolding moments.
We see the story unfold gradually, however, as the narrator takes us back and forth, filling us in on the backstory of each of the characters, helping us understand the context in which we find ourselves.
And then, almost like a slow crescendo, everything builds to the dramatic ending.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, lest I spoil it for the readers. Suffice it to say that the way you perceive certain things in life may never be the same again.
Afterwards, we are gifted with a few scenes of Henry’s life in adulthood, looking back on that summer weekend and how everything affected him—and not just negatively. We see how one incident of piecrust making with a stranger impacts Henry so much that he becomes a master chef as an adult. We discover how all of the events shaped his feelings about love, passion, betrayal…and how the haunting consequences of one weekend informed so much of his life in the years to come.
As I turned the last page, I wanted more…more about these characters and the events afterward; more of their experiences, living life through their eyes for just a little bit longer. They felt like friends…or possibly neighbors.
I will not forget this story.