‘Oh, Dad, how little you know,’ said Liv, her head returning to her phone.
How little I know. I have a feeling this one cold, hard sentence, uttered from my twelve-year-old daughter’s lips, might sum up my life.
Ben Robinson is an art teacher, in his mid-40s, and is trying to figure out how he'll survive the upcoming summer holidays -- 6 weeks with his three kids, and a marriage who's spark is gone out (possibly for good). Oh yeah, and an aging father with dementia moving in with them, rather than a nursing home. Meanwhile, he's trying to prepare for a half-marathon, which is about a whole marathon more than he's ready for.
We get a day by day (or close to it) account of how this goes for Ben. The short version is: not very well. Particularly in the beginning. Ben meddles in his fifteen year old son's love life (with some really bad sex tips -- all of which I'm considering passing on to my kids), cannot understand his twelve-year-old daughter's social media life (and nascent pubescence), and derails his eight year old son's summer plans without trying. Things go downhill from there, really.
His dad is having trouble remembering that he doesn't live in the same home, or that his wife has been dead for a few years -- this is a source of strain for both Ben and his father -- and the relationship becomes strained. Ben is having trouble seeing his father this way, and his father is having trouble being this way. Both are trying their best, but this
Speaking of a strained relationship, the number of things wrong with his marriage keeps growing, and every thing that Ben tries to do to fix it just makes things worse. He and his wife aren't communicating well -- one of those problems that keeps feeding itself and growing worse.
Throw in an accidental participation in an anti-Brexit demonstration, a road rage incident leading to social media notoriety for one member of the family, teen romance problems, summer-altering injuries, and well -- clearly, someone needs to write a survival guide.
As Ben and his family try to get through their struggles intact -- and maybe even better than that -- there's plenty of fodder for humor. There's a lot of heartwarming material, some real laughs and more than a few chuckles. There's some really effective writing and characterization.
However, there's also Rance's need to go for the big laugh. And here, he basically turns Ben into Basil Fawlty -- with all the wild schemes, failing schemes, shouting, misunderstandings and slapstick involved. I don't think any of these scenes or moments worked for me. When he's going for subtle laughs, or those that grow from character, I really enjoyed it. When the subject matter is serious (or at least non-comedic), Rance is really strong. It's when he's obviously trying that he falters.
‘Marriage,’ said Dad. ‘There’s always ups and downs. You just keep riding it, son. It’s like a rollercoaster. You can’t get off, so you just hold on, and do your best to enjoy it.'
‘I’m holding on for dear life, but life is harder than it was, Dad. The world has changed. The rollercoasters are bigger and scarier now. The drops are bigger, the hills higher.’
‘Oh tosh. The world might change, but people don’t. Love is still love, clear and simple. Don’t blame the world for your problems, son. Hold on tighter. Love stronger.’
That's one of the more earnest moments -- and there are plenty of them in the latter part of the novel, all set up well in the early part -- and it shows the heart of the book -- and there's plenty of heart. Rance won me over, and got me to put more of his books on my list because of these kind of moments, and the genuine laughs I got from the smaller moments, I've got more of his stuff on the TBR.
It's a nice, pleasant book that'll tickle your funny bone and warm your heart.