I have a tendency to read the same three types of books: sweeping epics, “slice of life” stories, and a very particular type that can really only be classified as “Oprah’s Book Club.” These are the genres I most enjoy, and I don’t tend to step out of my reading comfort zone much.
I am trying to be less insular outlook when it comes to literature, however, and so I jumped at the chance to read and review Stranger, Father, Beloved by Taylor Larson, courtesy of Simon and Schuster Canada. Call it personal growth, I suppose.
Stranger, Father, Beloved is a very strange and somewhat disturbing story about a desperately unhappy, mentally unstable man, Michael, who sees his wife talking to a stranger at a party, and decides that this man, this complete stranger, is the person who his wife SHOULD have married, not just for her own happiness, but for the good of the entire family.
Weird, right? It gets weirder. Michael and his wife Nancy have two children: a somewhat wild teen girl named Ryan and a very weak, asthmatic boy named Max. Michael feels that everyone would be much better off if he was not in the picture, but instead was magically replaced by the stranger, John, who is a landscaper and, conveniently, divorced. Michael goes about trying to figure out how to make this happen, this replacement, and takes steps towards achieving this very strange goal.
This is no “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where the main character realizes how much value he has added to the world, and everyone ends up happy and fulfilled. No. It’s more like a fascinating trip though the mind of a clinically paranoid man who has been suppressing his homosexuality for his entire life, and is literally tearing his family apart.
I was surprised to learn that this is a debut novel; the writing is much higher quality than most. It is beautifully written and absolutely mesmerizing. As the chapters unfolded, I found it impossible to predict what was going to happen next. Most novels have some degree of predictability, this novel was so strange and so different that every new twist and turn was a surprise.
Stranger, Father, Beloved really pushed me outside of my comfort zone; Michael is clinically mentally ill, and we discover as we read on that he is a suppressed homosexual as well. The writing leads us to wonder about the connection between the two, which is, frankly, disturbing to me in this age where we strive to be open and accepting of everyone regardless of sexual orientation. The fact that the main character is neither open nor accepting is unsettling, to say the least.
All of the characters are very rich and multifaceted, and, as in life itself, each has his or her own story, which could be a complete novel in its own right. As it is the reader is treated to snippets of their lives, both in the past and in the present, and those experiences which make a person who they are.
I’m so glad I went outside of my regular reading habits, because this book was an experience in itself. I’m looking forward to Taylor Larson’s next work.