These five Father’s Day books testify to the spirit behind the holiday

play

Father’s Day arrives June 19 with as many different types of stories as there are fathers.

If a father figure in your life loves books, or if you want to read more about the rhythms of parenthood, these five relatively recent titles will deepen and widen the view. They range from more conventional stories and observations to fatherly regrets, family-driven mysteries and tales of men providing surrogate support.

Within their pages, truth about the spirit of fatherhood reverberates, even as the intimate circumstances vary.

“Pops” by Michael Chabon (2018)

The Pulitzer-winning novelist (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”) offers a series — subtitled “Fatherhood in Pieces” — of brief but developed essays from inside his life as a parent.

Central to the work is a piece about Chabon coming to respect and understand his son as a person of his own while bearing witness to his child’s burgeoning passion for fashion. Speaking with NPR’s Terry Gross, Chabon responded to a question about watching his son find “his people dele” outside the family.

“That’s your whole purpose as a parent, ultimately — is to create a fully formed human being who can go out and stand on her own two feet. And there’s a certain resemblance between what a parent feels for an adult or an almost-adult child and unrequited love,” he said. “It’s not unrequited in the sense that your child doesn’t love you back. But it’s — ultimately, it seems to flow in this one direction. And that’s the purpose of it.”

More: Father’s Day 2022: The best 55+ gifts for every kind of dad

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson (2004)

A humble giant of a novel, Robinson’s Pulitzer winner relays spiritual wisdom and soft torment from the Rev. John Ames to his late-in-life son. Ames’ perspective arrives with plainspoken wonder, voicing eternal truths as if for the first time and achieving a supremely intimate sort of observation.

“Almost every page of this novel is charged with a stark beauty and a deep poetry,” Ted Gioia rightly wrote for The New Canon.

There is such a specificity to Ames’ words — he writes of his family, for his son, while puzzling over what the years which outlast him will bring. And yet readers feel softly, tenderly cared for by the aging minister; every attentive reader can glean wisdom at the pastor’s — and Robinson’s — feet to take up and carry along when life grows dark or confusing.

More: Father’s Day cartoon gallery: A collection of heartfelt cartoons about dad

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders (2017)

The depths of grief a good might experience — the lengths he would travel to spare his child’s suffering — reveal themselves on every page of Saunders’ formally-inventive, emotionally-devastating novel. The book follows a soul-afflicted Abraham Lincoln into a liminal space between death and rebirth after the passing of his young son Willie.

The novel, which won Saunders the Man Booker Prize, captures conversation and observations from within the bardo, showing the severity of Lincoln’s sadness while tracing moments of levity and the peculiarity of death.

Saunders’ inspiration came when he learned Lincoln went into his son’s crypt several times, he wrote in a 2017 piece for the Guardian.

“An image spontaneously leapt into my mind — a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietà,” Saunders wrote. “I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read ‘Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt,’ decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments.”

More: Happy Father’s Day! Drake, Carrie Underwood, Kevin Hart, other stars share photos and love

“Light From Distant Stars” by Shawn Smucker (2019)

Discovering his father’s body within the funeral home where they both work sends Cohen Marah on a journey where he must sift and weigh memory and reality, grief and responsibility, past and any hope for tomorrow.

One of our most empathetic and spiritually-minded novelists, Smucker draws readers into his characters’ concerns, even as they could never fully inhabit the novel’s plot and circumstances. As its title suggests, the book is shot through with wonder and distance, a light that manages to radiate even against a backdrop of blackest night.

Naming “Light” the best fiction book of 2020, Christianity Today cited the words of novelist Nicole Baart:

“When past and present collide and Cohen is forced to reconcile his current reality with a history that seems more terrible fantasy than fact, grace becomes a sacred hope that holds the very power of redemption.”

“Don’t Skip Out On Me” by Willy Vlautin (2018)

Vlautin, first known to the public as a musician, excels at finding the beautiful nooks and loneliest crannies from within hard-luck tales. His 2018 novel dele is n’t the tale of a biological father and son, but an elderly rancher who does his best dele by Horace, a hired hand and boxing hopeful.

To know Vlautin’s work at all is to know life will land more than its fair share of punches upon Horace’s chin. But the book never stumbles into pure despair, buoyed by the author’s sad-eyed soulfulness — and the simple graces of Horace’s connection with Mr. Reese.

“It’s only yourself and the people who love you, who actually care what happens to you,” Vlautin told the Los Angeles Review of Books, discussing Horace’s ambitions athletics.

“And the people who love you just want you to be safe, they don’t care about your ambition. Mr. Reese doesn’t know anything about boxing except that it could ruin Horace’s life. He loves the kid, no matter what he It’s only Horace who believes he has to be more.”

Aarik Danielsen is the features and culture editor for the Tribune. Contact him at adanielsen@columbiatribune.com or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: