Author: Melina Marchetta
Published: 3/1/10 (Aus) 3/8/11 (US)
Publisher: Penguins Australia (Aus), Candlewick Press (US)
Blurb (GR): The award-winning author of Finnikin of the Rock and Jellicoe Road pens a raw, compelling novel about a family’s hard-won healing on the other side of trauma.
Award-winning author Melina Marchetta reopens the story of the group of friends from her acclaimed novel Saving Francesca - but five years have passed, and now it’s Thomas Mackee who needs saving. After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can’t forget. Shooting for oblivion, he’s hit rock bottom, forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt, work at the Union pub with his former friends, and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom’s in no shape to mend what’s broken. But what if no one else is either? An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper’s Son redefines what it means to go home again.
In an interview at Persnickety Snark, Melina Marchetta said that she wanted to capture, “People holding it together and succeeding some days and failing other days” in this novel. Thank you. No, seriously, thank you for summing up a book that is so hard to capture. That comment made me think of a perfect quote--“You have to laugh at yourself because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.” Sure, it’s from an Indigo Girls song but it’s still totally relevant. (right?) On those days you are failing, a sense of humor goes a long way. The grief that the Mackee/Finch family has been living with for the past year or two seems insurmountable. How can life go on when life as you knew it is over?
For those unfamiliar with the story, this book follows up on several characters from Saving Francesca, though this book can stand alone. Thomas Mackee and his close-knit extended family have been grieving the loss of Tom’s uncle Joe, who died in a bombing, for over a year. Tom’s mother and sister moved away, his alcoholic father checked out, his aunt is pregnant but believes that because her grief was the impetus for her ex to return, she shouldn’t celebrate the pregnancy. This might sound like a ton of family drama going on but honestly, every person has their problems. Every family has their issues. What this book really deals with is that belief that we all have that no one could ever understand how we are feeling, especially the suffering we go through when we lose another person who is such a huge slice of our world. It’s hard to go on living when someone who served as a point of reference is no longer there. It feels so singular, like we are going alone. And sometimes it feels like it’s easier to live in oblivion.
But it wasn’t all sad. I truly laughed as much as I wallowed in this one, and often out loud. Tom's family and friends really make his turnaround. No, they make each other's turnarounds. At one point in the story, Francesca and Justine are trying to argue that Tom cried while watching Lord of the Rings. The girls text Siobhan and Tara to ask what movie Tom cried during and Siobhan answers “LOTR,” but Tara answers, “He cried when those two muppets climbed that mountain in New Zealand.” (167) I couldn’t stop laughing at this because I have several jokes with my friends that run along this line. (how people describe movies, actors, etc. but we know exactly what they mean when they say something ridiculous) Sometimes all I want is to call, email or text one of my friends just to get back the other half of a joke—it’s the reassurance of a shared memory. Family are the ultimate example…and we all know that families never forget anything. (Hell, my sister is still pissed about me knocking over her dollhouse OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO. Seriously Casey, get over it.) Anyway, I really loved the family and friendship dynamics in this one. I was really glad there was so much discussion going on about how it feels to be those people on the outside trying to help. No one knows what to say but they keep trying, and waiting, and trying some more.
I know I really love something when I don’t give a shit what anyone else says about it. You’d think it would be the opposite — teeth-baring rage directed at any naysayers. Sure, I’ll fight to defend it if someone says they didn’t enjoy x or y about it but when it all boils down, it means so much to me that everyone else can just go to hell if they don’t see its value. I’ll be in my own little corner (in my own little chair) poring over my favorite books (including this one) laughing hysterically, giving my heart a workout, inconsolably sobbing, and hoarding my memories like that packrat garbage lady in Labyrinth.
This book gave me a heartache and a stomachache. I thought I would cry, even before I knew where the book was going, even before I cracked the book open. But I didn’t. Not until the very last few pages and it was more like two tears streaming silently down my face. I wish I could know these characters in real life. I’d marry Tom Mackee in a nanosecond. And please, Melina Marchetta, please tell us what’s happened to Jimmy.
I’m leaving this picture I drew as a placeholder for my review. It’s totally honest. In this book, Melina Marchetta will rip out your heart and serve it back to you on a silver platter.