Divorce is always hard on children, but when Adele, Henry’s mother, decides to harbor escaped convict Frank Chambers in her home on Labor Day weekend, thirteen year old Henry’s life gets better – for a while.
Told in Henry’s young tentative voice, Joyce Maynard’s Labor Day begins as a familiar story of a mentally ravaged, divorced mother trying to survive. Adele may be the extreme example of a shattered life. She hides in her house, fearful of everyone. Maynard reveals later that she has good reason, but her depression only motivates Henry to try to make his mother happy.
On a rare outing to get food – tomato soup and fish sticks – Henry and Adele meet Frank, a convicted murderer – bleeding from jumping out a hospital window to escape after having an appendectomy. Adele and Frank instantly connect; his compassion and gentility meet her loneliness – and then, there is the sex too.
Over a long steamy Labor Day weekend, Frank becomes lover to Adele and father to Henry, teaching him how to catch a ball and how to bake a peach pie.
This is more than hostages with Stockholm syndrome. The connection grows into a pseudo family that Frank offers to legitimize with marriage, new identities, and escape to a new life in Canada.
But Henry vacillates between trust and paranoia over losing his mother. He is 13, and he’s scared – mostly for himself. When a new girl in town feeds his fears and sense of inadequacy, the balloon bursts.
In the end, Maynard fast forwards the story to a satisfying ending and delivers a poignant story – soon to be a movie. If you wonder why it takes so long for everyone to get their act together – well, it just takes some people longer to grow up.