Jack Tennant is called home by his mother to reconcile with the father he hasn’t seen in 15 years, after the old man succumbs to a stroke and ends up with “Locked-In” Syndrome. Hahva, his girlfriend and a social worker, is convinced that confronting his family demons will help Jack find peace. However, Jack has never told Hahva what the demons are he’s hiding: about his brother Dexter who died when Jack was five; how his father, the alcoholic, was the killer responsible for Dexter’s death; and that his father broke Jack’s finger, effectively ending his musical career. Hahva also isn’t aware of the circumstances surrounding Jack’s dismissal from his Ph.D. program.
Adam Davies’ second novel Goodbye Lemon, published four years after his acclaimed debut novel The Frog King, shows humanity at its rawest, stripped naked in all its messiness. Jack is angry and emotionally infantile, frozen in time in the moment when he lost his brother, but Davies still engenders the empathy of readers and helps them laugh with the follicly-challenged young man, who calls his childhood home the “Suicide Palace.”
Recently, a number of books have been written dealing with the difficult issue of losing a child. This fundamental loss has far reaching consequences on the siblings who remain, providing authors with a wide range of literary options. Davies chooses to explore the family dynamic resulting from the parental decision to erase every trace of a lost child and shut off emotionally from their remaining children. As Jack states: “I wasn’t just robbed of my brother’s life; I was robbed of his memory…I wasn’t allowed to know the first thing about him.” Later on Jack realizes that he didn’t just have the void left by his brother, the emptiness came from losing his parents as well.
In the Tennants, Davies has created a family where each member exists in their own sphere of isolation and obsessions, only periodically intersecting with one another. For fifteen years, Jack hasn’t returned home or dealt with the loss of his brother. He lives a closed life refusing to acknowledge the void he carries with him and his past, yet chooses a life-partner who is a social worker who makes a career out of determining individual’s truthes. Unable to save Dexter or himself, Jack nevertheless makes choices that hint at his desire to be saved; actions countering his words.
Goodbye Lemon is so effective because Davies writes with a plethora of descriptive language, throwing the lack of real communication among the members of the Tennant family into starker relief. He creates soundscapes out of words, filling up the void with invoked sound and scent, often using obscure vocabulary to invoke the right note or image. For some readers this will be invigorating, causing them to rapidly grab for the well-used dictionary; however, for others Davies’ language choices will have the effect of a wall and may cause them to set the novel aside. This would be a shame, for in Goodbye Lemon, Davies has created a novel whose dark humour and heart is sure to delight.
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: August 8, 2006
Binding: Trade Paperback
tags: books book reviews Adam Davies family relationships fiction death of a child