After Dad is the story of a family coping with the death of their father.
The story follows the years that go by after the father’s death, from the perspectives of his wife, son Toby (the youngest sibling), and mostly from the two daughters, Jenny and Margot. Each of the three children has a moving story, and Cohen introduces some tough story-lines for these three characters, although he keeps the story balanced.
The first two chapters, which are fantastic, occur while Dad is still alive and show the father’s relationship with his two daughters. What’s nice about these two chapters is that Dad is a hero figure in the eyes of his children but he’s also flawed. He’s a dreamer with a clever sense of humor, but not perfect.
The third chapter, which I found odd, is written from the funeral director’s point of view. It was a jolt after the lyrical quality of the first two chapters, and it was also an abrupt shift to new characters. It serves the purpose of showing us the family from an outsider’s perspective, but the narrator in this chapter is so strange it was more of a distraction. I’m also not sure the chapters from the mother’s perspective worked.
I was worried that this story would be melodramatic and sappy. Instead it really takes you into the lives of this family; they miss their father but it isn’t all about poor old Dad. It’s more of a coming of age story for the three siblings. I also liked the fact that the three siblings experience their father’s absence in really different ways, because of their age.
There were a couple of things I struggled with. First, I wish it had been easier to keep track of time, both the ages of the characters and the time the story was set in. This could have easily been accomplished with dates at the beginning of each chapter, but instead I found myself constantly looking for clues about how many years had gone by. Also the story takes place mostly in the 60’s, but I didn’t always feel the story was rooted in that particular time, except for the occasional mention of hippies and protesters.
The writing is very good in many parts of the story, but occasionally it felt uneven, as though Cohen is just relating a series of chronological events to get us to the next really interesting part. That’s typical of a book that covers a wide span of years. An example is the chapter where Jenny becomes a wrestler – I didn’t find it terribly interesting or meaningful, except in the sense that this character is still trying to define herself and resolve past issues. But we get an awful lot of detail about wrestling that I didn’t need.
There are a lot of powerful moments in this book. Margot was my favorite character, and one I really identified with, especially when she blows off school her senior year (she’s the responsible kid in the family), and when she struggles with her marriage and having a baby. I loved the chapter about Jenny’s first date (although it takes an odd turn that didn’t make sense to me). Toby’s story is tough but I loved the writing, because this kid has a really rich sense of fantasy (like his father) and Cohen does a great job blending his fantasies with reality, giving this character a unique point of view.
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to someone who likes reading about family relationships and growing up after a tragedy.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.