Child of My Right Hand by Eric Goodman
Child of My Right Hand, generously loaned to me and outside of my typical reading choices, was a book that produced a powerful emotional effect. I cried over it. I had dreams about it and it would be a keeper if it weren't borrowed and a bit too steamy for my bookshelves with three little boys already developing into voracious readers.
Jack, Genna, Simon and Lizzie Barish are your typically dysfunctionally functional family, just messed up enough that you're relieved you're not them, but just normal enough that you could be and therefore they don't degenerate into laughable stereotypes.
Jack and Genna are professors at a small college in Ohio. They have an emotionally tumultuous marriage with Jack having an itch to stray and Genna experiencing the inevitable disillusionment and questioning. The biggest challenge they each face, however, both together and individually, is dealing with their 17-year-old son's apparent, then eventually confirmed, homosexuality. The story wends its way around and through their personal journeys, the reactions of their 14-year-old daughter Lizzie and the varying responses of the townspeople.
The book is narrated from the alternating point of view of each of the three main characters. We hear from Lizzie only through the eyes of Jack, Genna or Simon which, rather than take away from her character, is actually fitting. Lizzie is the good and easy child in contrast to Simon, leaving me wanting to take her off for a mother/daughter weekend, buy her stuff and enjoy her sunny disposition.
Simon, poor, sweet Simon. He broke my heart. Like Jack I wanted to find out "why" and like Genna I wanted Simon to have the life for which he was created. I fundamentally disagreed with both Jack and Genna's methods and opinions on how to achieve these objectives but I could certainly sympathize with their search to identify and execute and with their all-consuming love for their son.
I suspect Goodman's agenda behind this story is to justify what I feel are a series of bad choices and erroneous assumptions but he does it so well! He presents the gut-level parental love for our children in such familiar terms that I was able to identify with the Barishes, feeling as if I'd descended into their valley, walked with them — though not always agreeing with their choices — and emerged, blinking in the clarified light of unconditional love.