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Who hasn’t ever lost faith in whatever personal qualities embolden them to try and make a living out of something that other people could probably do better, or lots of people even, or everyone they’ve ever met?

A little while back I was plowing through the library, alphabetically as it happened, which I know isn’t fair to authors like Harriet Zieffert and Rosemary Wells, because really, by the time you’ve turned the corner around M, you’re probably not as sharp as you’d like, or as charitable either. Sometimes I start from the other direction. Sometimes I catch myself delighting in the completion of a shelf – check! – without a solitary Maybe, and wonder if my pickiness isn’t the inevitable result of turning a hobby into a business, of growing up and growing old and growing cranky, like one of those guys with his pants pulled up to his chest, shouting at his family to flip the handle on the toilet, won’t somebody please flip the goddamn handle?!

Sometimes I lose myself. Then sometimes, miraculously, a book will appear – something even as blandly titled as A Day with Dad, I’ll rifle through the first couple of pages, I’ll slow down, I’ll catch myself holding my breath, hoping the author doesn’t bungle the story with a public service announcement….

Then finally. I’ll exhale.

This. A book like this is why I plugged through all of the others.

Here is what happens in A Day with Dad: A man and his son enjoy hot dogs. A movie. The library. Éclairs. Then Dad gets back on the train, and waves goodbye, his hand getting smaller and smaller.

Nobody cries (except me). Mom looks kind of solemn on the platform maybe, but this is a story informed by a child, convincingly, for children, who are eager – in my limited experience - to put a better face on things they don’t completely understand. Books are so often referred to as “generous” these days it’s beginning to sound like a clinical diagnosis. And while I do not believe there is anything noble necessarily in thinking the best of everyone’s motivations, this book is commendable, even courageous for its understatement. Readers more qualified (by degree or divorce) may dispute the therapeutic value of such stoicism (the author, Bo Holmberg, is Swedish after all), still doubly risky is a story that pretends to be for children, and is really about us. As parents we are free to fill in the blanks with our children, but we should probably make sure the blanks are all ours. What drama there is in these pages derives from everything that doesn’t get spelled out, and I, for one, am happy to have my expectations occasionally dashed.


Jun 23 2009 | Comments: 0

Filed Under:  Foreigners    Libraries    Parents  

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