Caught in the Tangled Web of a Dysfunctional Relationship
Father of The Rain
By: Lily King
After reading Lily Kings’ most recent book, Writer’s and Lovers, I was desperate to find another similar book. My best friend in California called me one day and told me that if I liked Writers and Lovers, I would love Father of the Rain, also by Lily King. The novel was published in 2010 and I am kicking myself because I don’t know how I missed this book’s debut ten years ago. Regardless, I am so glad I found it now because I loved it.
Father of The Rain, is the story of a dysfunctional family living in a wealthy and very New England WASPy suburb of Boston in the 1970s. The novel is told in three parts, and the story follows the Amory family until 2008. The main character is Daley Amory, who at the start of the book is 11 years old. Daley’s life seems pretty good at the outset of this novel. She attends the local private school, Ashing Academy, lives in a big house right by the beach with a gigantic swimming pool, and her dad buys her a new puppy for her birthday. This is the life of every 11-year old’s dreams.
What we soon find out is that Daley has a terrible secret. Her mother will be leaving her father in just a few days. Daley doesn’t really understand the reasons why, but she knows that she will be going with her mother to her grandparents’ house for the summer and after that, she will return to Ashing to live in an apartment down the road from her father. The worst part is that her new puppy can’t come with her.
The year is 1974, Watergate is underway and there is a cloud of uncertainty over the country. All Daley can think about is how she will soon betray her father. Daley adores her father. She loves his fun mischievous side, his love of household chores on the weekend, and streaking nude into the pool on hot afternoons. What Daley doesn’t understand is that her father is a raging alcoholic, and for most of her life she has been shielded from his alcoholic rages by her mother and brother. Her world and all she believed of her father is about to be turned upside down.
After returning from her grandparents she visits her dad and finds that he has a new girlfriend, Catherine, who also happens to be the mom of her best friend Patrick. She also finds that her father is very angry with Daley for abandoning him. This is a theme that will play out throughout the book. Daley’s father, Gardiner Amory, is a wealthy, waspy, tennis-playing alcoholic. He is also the definition of a narcissist, because he never once thought about how his 11-year-old daughter was not given a choice, and that her world has just been rocked. He only thinks about the fact that he has been left alone.
So, very soon after Daley’s return, he marries Catherine. With Catherine, he acquires a new family, two boys, and a new daughter to replace Daley. The little 6-year-old daughter has even taken over Daley’s room. Her father has essentially replaced his old family with a new one.
Daley is not allowed to be upset because no one will hear her. She has to just accept that this is how things are. And every Sunday night it is her job to collect the child support check from her dad and return to her mom’s apt. If she decided to stop showing up, no one would care and that is too much for her to bear. She loves her dad, despite his flaws, and she doesn’t want to be replaced.
Fast forward to Part ll of the book when Daley is getting ready to start her post-graduate school life in Berkeley, CA as a Professor of Anthropology. She will be moving there with her boyfriend Jonathan and all of her hard work and hardship seems to finally have paid off. Yet on the night of her going away party, she receives a call from her brother Garvey imploring her to return home. Catherine has just left her dad and as a result, he has spiraled into an alcoholic stupor. Garvey asks that she return home for just two or three days before she drives to California. As always, Daley being the dutiful daughter returns home to face her father and his demons.
Part III of the book focuses on Daley trying to help her father clean up the mess of his life that’s left. It is no easy task but her father basks in her attention because he doesn’t want to be alone. Like any narcissist, he needs to be the center of her or anyone’s, attention. Her brother has basically abandoned him, his second wife has left him, so Daley is what he is stuck with. The question is why does Daley repeatedly come back? And with this, the book addresses an issue that so many of us face in our lives. Why do we continue to go back time and again to a relationship that causes us so much heartache?
For as sad as this storyline seems, this book is a beautiful narrative about a daughter’s love for her father. When I finished the book, I called up my friend Lauren to thank her for the recommendation and I asked her why I loved a story about such a dysfunctional relationship? Most importantly, I asked her why I wasn’t depressed by the book? She agreed with me, while the story sounds depressing the book is actually uplifting. If anything, it shows us that all kinds of relationships can be repaired.
One of the best lines from the book is when Daley and her brother Garvey are fighting and her mother tells them that it all will eventually end in tears. How often do we tell our own children this? In this novel, time and time again you will find that Daley and her father’s relationship does often end in tears. This is an emotional roller coaster of what life can be like living with an alcoholic. This subject matter may be difficult for some, but what is uplifting is that even though Daley returns time after time, her emotional attachment to her father and their relationship changes, and she is able to have a relationship that no longer causes her distress. So, in a way, it is about a woman’s evolution in her relationship with her father, and men in general.
I love King’s writing style. It is fluid, easy to read, and her character development is so thorough that you will find yourself staying up at night to read on. You will know these characters so well and you will come to love them or hate them. I finished this book in three nights, one night for each part. It is a book that is very hard to put down, while at the same time you will not want it to end. It is also a book that is hard to move on from, in the best kind of way. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Father of The Rain
By: Lily King
Publication Date: July 6, 2010
Atlantic Monthly Press