This unusual book opens with a bizarre incident that sets the tone for the entire novel, as a South Rhodesian couple, Julia and Howard Lament, trek across the continents in search of contentment. From the first, their expectations are curiously off-kilter, and it is this author’s particular talent that sustains the reader’s interest, avidly following the misadventures of the aptly named Laments.
Premature baby Will clings to life and to his new parents, inseparable from them. When the family moves to Bahrain for Howard‘s new job, the first of many diverse employment opportunities Howard pursues, life is bursting with the promise of adventures yet to be experienced. But, as is their habit, the Laments soon find themselves overwhelmed by circumstances, emotionally overloaded; it is at such times that Howard turns to his scripted response: change jobs and geographic locations.
When Julia gives birth to twins, Julius and Marcus, the lives of the Laments take on another dimension. The twins are double trouble, two energetic hellions who make their brother Will’s days nightmarish; Will has the dubious task of riding herd on the little boys, whose daily activities are mischievous at best, monstrous at worst. This is when Will begins to see himself as the solitary son between two couples.
Another job for Howard, another change of address, this time to England, where Howard’s paltry salary barely covers the family needs. The Laments embark upon some trying years, circumstances that strain the marriage once so full of possibilities. In an effort to get back on his upwardly mobile career path, Howard accepts a prospective job in America. Hired by an eccentric visionary, Howard renews his belief in the future and his own prospects.
Unfortunately, the enthusiastic plans for success in America are thwarted, and Howard’s best intentions fail as the family struggles once more with changing fortunes. Fate, ever unpredictable, waits in the wings, prepared to strike the Laments one more blow. Situations push and pull on the fabric of the family, stretching them cruelly, but they remain in one piece, calling on untapped resources with their usual aplomb.
George Hagen has created a remarkable and fascinating group of characters who set upon life with a gusto that is undiminished for many years. Even when reality kicks in, we know that this is a family of survivors, reinventing themselves over and over. Like all families, the Laments are tested along the way, often harshly. It is a testament to human nature that Julia and Howard pass on their boundless enthusiasm to their children, even if the world disdains too much enthusiasm. In the end, it is the simple affection, trust and family spirit that render the Laments unforgettable.