Stay-at-home dad Josh Lansky is in for quite a day in Greg Olear’s new novel Fathermucker. Sure, there’s the normal wackiness of staying at home with two young children, exacerbated by the fact that he’s been home alone with them for days while his wife is away on a business trip, but he’s prepared for a day that involves a play and a field trip with his son’s preschool class. What he’s not prepared for? Being told that his wife could possibly be having an affair.
What a bomb to have dropped on you, right? That setup in the beginning paves the way for a novel that technically runs only the short course of about 24 hours, but involves much reflection and story-sharing from the first person narration of the protagonist. Through his eyes, we get to discover more than we may ever have wanted to know about the residents of this fictionalized version of New Paltz, NY, where Josh lives, a community full of its gossip and drama. As a narrator, Josh pulls no punches, and his affinity for “colorful language” gives emphasis to his storytelling in what came off as a very realistic, if a wee-bit neurotic, portrayal.
For me, the most brilliant part of the novel comes near the beginning when readers are being introduced to the history of Josh’s parenting experience with his oldest child Roland, a five year old boy with Asperger’s. In alternating segments, readers learn about Roland’s infancy and toddler years, as well as a brief history of autism and the way it has been perceived throughout history. Powerful stuff in this chapter, and the presentation of the information in this manner helps, perhaps, to soften Josh’s rough edges. It’s clear that he loves his children, even when he’s foul-mouthed and brash about his day-to-day life. After four years at home with my own kids, I can understand the duality of his perspective.
Another highlight of this novel is the way in which it is so absolutely in the here and now. Pop culture references abound with every page turn, from the Facebook statuses that draw Josh in (or cause him to hit the HIDE button), to the many side comments that involve every Nick, Jr. show known to three year olds. These details made me connect with Josh even more, even as I wondered if his characterization is similar to my own stay-at-home-dad pals… is that what they’ve been thinking during play group?
Oh, and are you still wondering about the whole cheating wife thing? Well, let’s just say that 24 hours might not be a long period of time usually, but when you’re trying to figure out if your entire world is about to crumble, it certainly can feel like a long, long while. I certainly won’t give away the ending, but I can tell you that it’s a wild ride in getting there.
If you’re looking for a contemporary portrayal of parenthood, told from the perspective of a realistic and often potty-mouthed kind of dad, look no further than Greg Olear’s Fathermucker. If you’ve got reading tastes like mine, trust me when I say that you’ll be laughing out loud!
Dawn spends her days with preschoolers in her classroom, only to return at night to her own wacky crew at home. When she can find a spare moment, she blogs away at my thoughts exactly.