His Father's Son by Tony Black
|His Father's Son by Tony Black|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Scott Kemp|
|Summary: Tony Black's first non-crime novel is an unfortunate misfire. It could, and should, have been better, but his portrayal of the Driscol family fails by silencing the mother.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 216||Date: September 2013|
|Publisher: Black & White Publishing|
|External links: Author's website|
Having safely established himself as a crime novelist, Tony Black has decided to take a brief holiday from the genre. While there's no doubting the bravery of such a move, the real question is whether it is the right one. There are certain facets of crime writing - intricate plotting, frenetic pacing, and high body count - that do not transfer to the world of humdrum realism. And as the contemporary novel focuses on a slower movement of time and a subtler delineation of character, aren't these all the things Black had to eliminate in the interests of genre expectations? So: as far as transitions go, it is a difficult one to make. Has His Father's Son managed it? Well, the answer is no, not really.
Joey Driscol and his wife, Shauna, left Ireland for Australia on a 'wet May morning in 1968'. It was supposed to be a new start. It is now 1978 and the dreams of an idyllic escape have slowly crumbled, and Joey is forced to admit that 'a fresh start cannot last forever'. Marti, their eight-year-old son, watches his parents' marriage collapse firsthand, yet he asks the same question as the baffled reader: why? But before he has had time to answer this conundrum, his mother whisks him off to Ireland. The rashness of the move ensures Joey must follow his son, and so begins his frightful odyssey back to the Old Country. You see, 'Marti was his son, the one pure and good thing in his life', and he wasn't going to let Shauna just take him. But why Ireland, a place they both hated, a place to which they vowed never to return?
Black's talents as a crime novelist are employed throughout. In a series of brief flashbacks, Joey painfully unravels the tangle of 'desperate memories left over from his...childhood'. As he does so, the suspense gradually builds (who said you couldn't use genre techniques in realist fiction?): will we find out how Joey broke his mother's heart? What 'grand sin' had he and Shauna committed in the murky past? And was it this act that led an entire church congregation to be offended by 'their very presence'? Yet despite Black's attempts to give the reader twists and turns aplenty, the disclosure of the secret's content has a feeling of inevitability attached to it. As such, the tension rapidly deflates, and the clues that had been discarded as too easy suddenly become glaring signposts, their lack of nuance rendering the detective work a cinch: now where's the fun in that?
The novel's point of view alternates between Marti and Joey. And as this pattern repeats itself throughout the book, it can only be viewed as a structural mistake. The aim may've been to portray an intense father and son relationship, but there would be no such thing without the mother. When we hear anything of Shauna, we must greedily hoard these details, as it is only through a smattering of dialogue and Joey's fortuitous discovery of her diary that we really get to know her; otherwise, she is simply an outline with no shading. If one of the moral criticisms aimed at Joey is his lack of respect for Shauna and her troubles, then Black is just as guilty, for he silences his heroine. And this is strange, because she's the narrative's central figure, the catalyst for the plot, and the family's eventual saviour.
Overall, then, His Father’s Son suffers from its wobbly workings. It is difficult to have much faith in a novel when the lifelong feuds depicted can be forgotten in a jiffy, a character's debilitating illness can instantaneously disappear, and an intransigent old waster can repent and die on cue. In fact, it seems that once the characters have received their didactic lessons the world's woes quickly disappear and everything is tickety-boo. Although Marti's narrative goes some way to redeeming the book - his interactions with Ireland and its religious rituals showing the country anew - it cannot conceal its pervading corniness. The ending is too simplistic, too moralistic, and too gushingly sentimental to deliver any real power. There may be an attempt at tackling grim topics (depression, generational baggage, economic austerity), but they do not convince; if anything, they appear tired when contrasted with the sparkling Marti, the only element of light in this gloomy novel.
If you wish to read a truer representation of the bond between a father and child, then My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas is a candid and intriguing portrait of Dylan Thomas's nonexistent parenting skills.
You can read more book reviews or buy His Father's Son by Tony Black at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy His Father's Son by Tony Black at Amazon.com.
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