Father's Day
Philip Galanes
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Father's Day

Philip Galanes
224 pages
June 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Father's Day is a competently written but strangely uninvolving story of family dysfunction and urban loneliness. The story opens with the main protagonist, Matthew Vaber, describing how his father shot himself in the head. He then launches into an attack on his bitter, disaffected, and self-absorbed mother who, it is gradually discovered, has a secretive lesbian past with a childhood friend. While living in New York working as an artists' representative, Matthew occasionally visits his psychiatrist and seeks solace from his fear of intimacy by connecting to 555-PUMP, a phone sex service, and periodically haunting the corridors of The Downtown Club for casual, anonymous sex.

From the outset, it is obvious that Matthew has problems not only relating to men but that he also has unresolved issues with his mother. Matthew's take on men is a mixture of the virulent with the yearning - he seems to be stuck in a repressed, withdrawn state of emotional retardation, but he also seems blurrily obsessed with finding a steady love interest. He admits that he has cornered the market on sweet and clever and funny with more than a little handsome thrown in, too, but nothing has ever worked for him. Pump Line is like "the new kid on the block" where Matthew can stalk the boundaries of his little cage in a continuous loop, around and around, circling endlessly. However, when he is brutally assaulted in an encounter gone wrong, he travels to Darien, Connecticut, to visit his uncle. In a fit of indulgence, and using his uncle's phone, he again dials the Pump Line and connects with Henry, who he hopes is a nice suburban boy.

Of course, Matthew can't keep the façade of true love up for long; he feels like a guy in chains, and soon enough he's back to his old, promiscuous ways. By effectively using flashbacks from Matthew's childhood, Galanes attempts to explain how Matthew came to be the way he is today, and he paints a picture of a family life mired in the dysfunctional and the disparate. Father's Day is often subtle and poetic, and its lively humor combined with its warm understanding of human nature will probably appeal to many readers. Galanes does a good job of accurately capturing Matthew's youthful, bumbling viewpoint, and there is no doubt that the writing is rock-solid throughout, but for some reason, this reader rapidly lost interest in the proceedings. I read this novel over several days, but a novel of this length (only just over 210 pages) is probably better read in one sitting.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2005

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