This book about love, guilt, and forgiveness in the contexts of family and friendship is so good that it’s hard for me not to feel overcome with the emotion that arises from reading a wonderful book. It pulls you into the world of the story and as you find out more about each character, you can’t help but become more attached to each, until at the end, you feel bereft when that final page is reached. How sad it will be not to “hear from” these characters anymore, who have become so real to me. How wonderful to find an author who makes one feel so bereft.
The story is told from the alternating points of view of Tom Mackee, age 21, and his aunt Georgie, age 42.
Complicated plot summary ahead! Feel free to skip to the Discussion, for which you don’t need a knowledge of the plot!
Tom is the son of Dominic Finch Mackee, known as “the pied piper” because others – particularly his siblings – have always copied whatever he did. Dom’s sister Georgie is his twin, and is now pregnant by her ex-husband Sam, who has a lovely, shy six-year old son Callum by another woman (which was the cause of Georgie and Sams breakup). Dom’s younger brother Joe was one of the fifty some people killed on the subway in London in July 2005 when Islamic suicide bombers blew up trains across the city. His body was never recovered, and no one in this close, contentious but loving family has ever been able to reach closure. Over 40 years earlier, the father of Dominic and Georgie was declared missing in Vietnam, and his body was never recovered either. Although the twins never knew any other dad besides their stepfather Bill, they have never wanted to accept Bill – it might jinx the possibility that their dad, Thomas Finch, could one day come home.
Joe’s death led to a host of complications in the family, from Georgie and Sam getting back together, to Dom falling deep into alcoholism and leaving his family, and Tom’s mother and sister moving to Brisbane. Tom has had his own problems, including dropping out of the university, hanging out either drunk or stoned with losers the whole year, and blowing off all of his former friends, those people from the book Saving Francesca with whom he previously had close bonds. One of them, Tara, he was even in love with.
All these dysfunctions come home to roost when Tom is evicted and moves in with Georgie, and Dom comes back, sober, and also moves in with Georgie, and Georgie copes with the growing discomfort and emotional volatility of her pregnancy, and her strained relations with Sam and Callum.
This is a totally character-driven novel, with dialogue that seems astonishingly authentic and with character growth that pushes its way through pain in a way that makes you want to hold every character in the book. And what love this family has, in spite of everything and in spite of the hurt they dole out to one another. Listen to this memory Tom has of him and his father when he was small:
‘I was shaking like crazy and I remember my father took my hand and asked me if I was scared. But I lied and told him I wasn’t and he just looked at me and said, ‘Well, I am, so you’re going to have to hold my hand tight.’”
And Tom, so believably awkward with Tara when face-to-face with her, is so much more romantic in his thoughts. When he finds out she was at the same place he was many years ago:
Maybe she’d always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them.”
The Piper’s Son is a follow-up or companion volume to Saving Francesca, which I reviewed earlier. It takes place five years later, and it isn’t necessary to have read the first to enjoy this one. But by reading it first, you will know more about the friends who love Tom like family, and grant him the same kind of space, and criticism, and acceptance that loving families do with one another.
Although marketed as a YA book, like other books by Marchetta, I feel it is more accurately described as a crossover book; indeed, Tom is 21, and the other main character, Tom’s Aunt Georgie, is 42. It could be said that Tom “grows up” in this book, but it’s certainly not in the way that would happen were he fifteen.
I included both the U.S. cover (on the right) and the Australian cover (on the left). The Australian cover seems much more germane to me.
Evaluation: This is a lovely, lovely book. The family dynamics and dialogue brought Tana French to mind for me a bit, but of course French adds murder and mystery to her books. Here, we just have a family with too many members seeking oblivion, and the story of how they fight their way back to redemption, through time, patience, and above all, love.
Published in the U.S. by Candlewick Press, 2011. First published by Viking/Penguin Books (Australia), 2010