The Beloved Son
Jay Quinn
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Buy *The Beloved Son* by Jay Quinn online

The Beloved Son
Jay Quinn
Alyson Books
320 pages
May 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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"Life moves, sometimes imaginably fast," says the reluctant fifty-two-year-old Karl Preston. Karl prides himself on having elegant solutions to common problems, so he's a little disconcerted when he gets a needy and unexpected phone call from Frank, his eighty-year-old father, telling him that he must come home to Florida as soon as possible.

In recent years, Karl has drifted away from Frank, his mother, Annike, and his younger brother, Sven. A senior partner and creative genius in an architectural company, Karl prides himself on his emotional self-containment, and he's certainly not the sort of man to bother over disturbing, abstract family woes.

More than anything, Frank would just prefer to spend a lazy and quiet weekend alone with his own family, his wife, Caro (Caroline), and his lovely twenty-four-year-old daughter, Melanie, in their newly purchased up-market townhouse in Cary, North Carolina.

But Frank has called, and Karl must due his familial duty. The prospect does little to assuage the thin skin of dread that steadily creeps into his psyche. Families concerned with one another's business are something that Karl feels is entirely inappropriate; his own family is "close enough for comfort, but far enough away not to encourage over-involvement in any petty details."

With the usually mordant Frank not exactly forthcoming about the crisis, it is left to Sven to tell Karl about the emergency. Apparently Annike has recently been diagnosed with senile dementia so rapidly progressing that Frank has decided that he wants his family to say their final goodbyes before the disease becomes too advanced.

Frank also wants to tell the family that he and Annike will be selling their house and moving into Palladian Gardens, an upscale retirement community where Annike can be cared for when the time comes that she can't function on her own anymore.

Upon arrival in Florida, Karl is met by Sven, and for the first time learns to true extent of his mother's illness. He's warmed and comforted by his brother's easy amicability, yet he's also disturbed by Sven's staggering confession, having no idea his mum and dad needed so much looking after - "no one has said anything to me about this," he says.

Feeling like a fish out of water, Karl finds it hard to adjust to his family's new predicament. Luckily, though, Sven has taken on most of the responsibilities of caring for Annike and Frank. With his growing interior design business, Sven has been dividing his time between work and taking care of his parents, even attending to their every need while also trying to hold his relationship together with Rob, his long-term lover.

The weekend continues, Caro and Melanie arrive, and Annike does her best to keep it together. All of the family is quick to realize that soon she will only have her native Swedish language left available to her, her growing isolation an awful precursor to her inability to translate her most basic needs in a way that can be commonly understood.

Meanwhile, Sven confides to Karl that he's grown tired of being the one responsible for making everything right for everybody. Karl is also appalled to discover that his younger brother has become the easy whipping boy for Frank's boozy pent-up frustrations over how bad things have gotten.

Soon enough, however, Sven's warm-hearted and friendly brotherly banter wraps around them all, and for the first time, Karl allows himself to recognize the fine feeling of being loved. Once rather emotionally shut-down, Karl now begins to open up, becoming a man who is challenged in both his perception of his family and the choices he has made in remaining so distant for so long.

This is a time for forgiveness and goodbyes, not just for Karl but also for the whole family, as author Jay Quinn beautifully charts the course of their weekend together, the arguments and petty squabbles, the unexpected intimacies, and new bonds that are inevitably formed between brothers and grandchildren, daughter-in-laws and parents - and, of course, even sons.

As the gentle fatigue of the weekend envelopes him, Karl finally begins to build the courage to say his ultimate farewell to Annike. For Karl, what was once predictable and imperceptible suddenly seems to be accelerating with an almost unimaginable force. Part of his growth as the beloved son is that Karl must finally come to terms with the new demands that his family have placed upon him.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2007

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