four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
By: 
Lily King
user_rating: 
0

A-Father of the RainLily King is the author of The Pleasing Hour (1999), a New York Times Notable Book, and The English Teacher (2005), a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year.

The Story: In her third novel, King chronicles the tumultuous relationship between a young woman and the charismatic alcoholic father she adores. The Amorys, an affluent WASP family, live a privileged existence in a seaside Massachusetts community. Their days revolve around country club parties, private school, and, for patriarch Gardiner Amory, an astonishing amount of liquor. But in 1974, 11-year-old Daley witnesses the collapse of her parents’ marriage, the result of her father’s mean-spirited alcoholism and unrepentant bigotry. As Daley grows to adulthood and attempts to live her own life, she learns that some family ties are impossible to ignore.
Atlantic Monthly Press. 384 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780802119490

Entertainment Weekly 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Lily King’s first two novels were so finely spun they seemed almost ethereal, but Father of the Rain is a big, powerful punch of a novel, a gripping epic about a father and daughter that plumbs the dark side of a family riven by addiction and mental illness. ... There’s something so raw and affecting about Daley’s love for her damaged father that the book will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished it." Tina Jordan

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"King’s great accomplishment lies in making us care about Gardiner without ever letting up on her depiction of his gross infelicities. He is a marvelously complex character: at once consistent and rife with paradox. And King is too sophisticated to offer a straightforward redemptive arc." Leah Hager Cohen

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[S]ensitive and perceptive. ... Part II is this excellent novel’s strongest section, because it most fully explores the painful ambivalence of wounded people." Wendy Smith

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[E]xcavates the powerful forces of love and dysfunction with staggering aplomb. ... The principal feat of this powerful, moving novel is how deeply we understand and feel compassion for Daley and, amazingly, for Gardiner too; instead of condemning them, we enter into their dynamic on its own distorted terms." Paula McLain

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"King is a beautiful writer, with equally strong gifts for dialogue and internal monologue. Silently or aloud, her characters betray the inner tumult they conceal as they try to keep themselves together, wanting others to see them as whole." Liesl Schillinger

Seattle Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"As in her two previous novels, King shows once again her feel for the emotional undercurrents that control our most important relationships. ... But if there’s a problem with this novel, it lies in King’s decision--conscious, I assume--to cast her main characters in the one-dimensional mold by which they understand each other." Ellen Emry Heltzel

Critical Summary

Critics loved Father of the Rain, describing it as an honest, elegant, and unflinching look at alcoholism and family dysfunction. They also marveled at King’s ability to portray Gardiner (described by the Boston Globe as a cross between Archie Bunker, Homer Simpson, and Jack Nicholson) in a sympathetic light despite his many flaws. The Seattle Times reviewer, in the minority, disagreed, noting that the interaction between father and daughter lacked complexity. But perhaps many interactions between parents and children aren’t complex: they are the well-worn steps in a dance we’re often trying to change. Daley is looking for some way, as she grows, to be herself--but also to be with her father. Most readers will find these character studies well worth their time.

Also by the Author

The English Teacher (2005): King focuses on relationships in this novel as well: a single mother who teaches English at a prep school marries a widower with three children. Their new family life is not the dream they hoped it would be, and it’s only when a secret from the past comes to light that any peace can be found.