I always feel inadequate when I try to write about Melina Marchetta's books. This is partly because I am usually attempting it on very little sleep (her books will steal that from you), but it is mostly because she is such an amazing writer that it is hard to do her justice. My first experience with a Melina Marchetta novel was when I read Saving Francesca (my review) this past December. It was one of my favorite reads of 2010, so I naturally wanted to read The Piper's Son, a companion novel to Saving Francesca, as soon as it was available in the U.S..
Synopsis (from author's website):Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world. But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle's death.
And in a year when everything's broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.
Tragedy ripped the Finch-Mackee family apart at the seams and in the aftermath Tom is left alone and with no wish to cope with the reality of his world. He escapes into a life of partying, alcohol, drugs and indiscriminate sex in an effort to not remember and not feel. At the beginning of the novel he has hit his bottom, having fallen off a table and cracked his head while high. It isn't this that forces Tom to reexamine his life though. This is followed by his flatmates kicking him out (not as a result of the drugged up head cracking) and forcing him to seek shelter with his Auntie Georgie. Her conditions for his staying with her are no drugs and that he has to get a job. Tom complies and, by coming into contact with his family, and then choosing to work closely to the friends he abandoned, Tom begins to piece his life back together. What results is a story of the bonds of friendship and love, the strength of good community, the power of forgiveness, and hope that makes life livable. These are common themes in Marchetta's novels but she always manages to come at them in new and fresh ways.
Tom was one of my favorite parts of Saving Francesca so seeing where he was at the beginning of this book was truly heartbreaking. He is broken, partly by his father's actions, but mostly by his own. I like how Tom's story demonstrates just how much devastation one person can have. When you decide to blow up your own life in a nuclear holocaust of self destruction, it is not only you who is blasted, everyone around you is hit with the fallout. Tom starts out throwing a massive woe-is-me-pity-party for himself, but slowly starts to realize that he has caused as much devastation as he has been a victim of. With this he begins to reconcile with the people around him, but the two people he hurt the most, his mother and Tara, are the ones who least deserved it, and those are the hardest for him to face. It was so sad to watch them all go through it, and at the same time, very beautiful. To contrast this, there is also Tom's reconciliation with his father. In that case it is Tom who has to forgive and that forgiveness does not come easy.
Not only is this Tom's story, but it is also Georgie's. The point of view is third person limited and it switches between Tom and Georgie. So while you see Tom's struggles with himself, through Georgie you also see the family's concern for Tom and Georgie's own personal struggles as well. Through both of them you see the struggle of the entire Finch-Mackee family. It is a story about all different types of relationships and how one effects all the others in a person's life. It is messy and complicated, very true to life.
I was impressed too by how Marchetta demonstrated how every person is different in their struggles with mind altering substances. While the roads to addiction are many and varied, so are the roads to recovery. Tom's father needs AA and jogging. Tom completely disassociates himself with the people who enabled his drug taking, and that works for him. It was not made to look at all easy, he realistically struggles with wanting to go back sometimes but he has a pretty strong will and, by making contact with his family and friends again, accountability. His way wouldn't work for everyone, just as his father's wouldn't work for him. Again, very true to life.
On a lighter note, the interactions between Tom and Will Trombal (Francesca's boyfriend) were some of my favorite parts. They want to hate each other so much, but don't, and they're such boys about it.
Seeing how, five years later, the characters from Saving Francesca were getting on in life was a bonus to a story that is perfect on its own merits. It was nice to see that Francesca was doing what made her happy and that, though messy, her life had all she wanted in it.
Note on Content: This is more of an adult novel than a YA novel. All of the main characters in this novel are adults, and the book reflects that. It certainly is not intended for a younger, immature, teen audience. This is a book with a 21 year old, often angry, male as its protagonist. The language and references to sex reflect that. The content of both is higher in this novel than in Marchetta's previous novels, but as in everything else she does, this is portrayed realistically and not as a glorification of any of those things.