First read of 2012, and it was a good one: Fathermucker, by Greg Olear. Add this one to the canon of recent dad fiction (see Domestic Violets, The Financial Lives of the Poets), a nice counterpart to all the books out there written from the perspective of mothers.
Fathermucker is about Josh Lansky, a thirtysomething Brooklyn transplant living in New Paltz, NY with his wife and their two children – Roland (5), who has Asperger’s, and Maude (3). New Paltz is an ultra-liberal suburb (Olear describes nearby towns where “church attendance is higher, Republican sympathy stronger, mean household income lower, college degrees rarer, gun ownership more common, and NASCAR interest more acute, than they are in New Paltz”). Everyone in New Paltz drives a liberal bumper-sticker emblazoned Subaru or minivan and is “outpoken about their contempt of chain [stores] of any kind.”
Josh is a stay-at-home dad (SAHD), and Fathermucker takes place over the course of a single day – a Friday – during which he attends a playdate with his daughter, goes with his son on a class field trip to the pumpkin patch, and learns from another parent that his wife may be having an affair. She, meanwhile, has been gone all week on a business trip, only exacerbating Josh’s exhaustion and desperation. Roland is a handful, with the quirks of an Asberger’s child, and Olear doesn’t shy away from the reality of raising a child “on the spectrum”.
Fathermucker is funny, yes, but it is also a poignant book. It’s incredibly honest about the challenges and rewards of parenthood – and specifically stay-at-home parenthood – and the isolation and erosion of self-esteem that often accompany it. In addition, Fathermucker is chock full of pop culture (Josh is addicted to US Weekly), music references (Olear brilliantly weaves song lyrics through his prose), and incredibly sharp social satire. What more could you want?
My one complaint -I really don’t like books that take place over a single day. I find them exhausting and unrealistic, in that it’s hard to believe that so much can actually be taking place in one day. Then again, Josh’s life is exhausting, which is part of Olear’s point about parenthood. It can be draining and seemingly endless, and sometimes you look back and can’t believe you’re still living the same day.
I highly recommend Fathermucker – it’s a great read. Thanks to Harper Paperbacks for the review copy (hi there FTC!). 2012 is starting off strong – Olear just set a high bar for future reads.