Winner of the New England Book Award for Fiction
New York Times Editors’ Choice
Amazon’s Best Books of the Month, July 2010
An Indie Next List Notable selection (July 2010)
O Magazine's 2010 Summer Reading List
2011 Maine Literary Awards Winner, Book Award, Fiction
In her most ambitious novel to date, critically acclaimed author Lily King sets her sharply insightful family drama in an upper-middle-class East Coast suburb where she traces a complex and volatile father-daughter relationship from the 1970s to the present day.
When eleven-year-old Daley Amory’s mother leaves her father, Daley is thrust into a chaotic adult world of competition, indulgence, and manipulation. Unable to place her allegiance, she gently toes the thickening line between her parents’ incompatible worlds: the increasingly liberal, socially committed realm of her mother, and the conservative, liquor-soaked life of her father. But without her mother there to keep him in line, Daley’s father’s basest impulses and quick rage are unleashed, and Daley finds herself having to choose her own survival over the father she still deeply loves.
As she grows into adulthood, Daley retreats from the New England country-club culture that nourished her father’s fears and addictions, and attempts to live outside of his influence. Until he hits rock bottom. Faced with the chance to free her father from sixty years worth of dependency, Daley must decide whether repairing their badly broken relationship is worth the risk of losing not only her professional dreams, but the love of her life, Jonathan, who represents so much of what Daley’s father claims to hate, and who has given her so much of what he could never provide.
A provocative and masterfully told story of one woman’s life-long, primal loyalty to her father, Father of the Rain
is a spellbinding journey into the emotional complexities, mercurial contours, and magnetic pull of families.
"Lily King's Father of the Rain
is one of the most richly satisfying and haunting novels I've read in a long time."
- Richard Russo
"You know that moment when the ingénue in the horror movie heads downstairs to check the radiator, and you're screaming, dumbfounded, at the screen? That's the sort of protective rage you feel for Daley Amory, the narrator of Lily King's novel Father of the Rain…Haunting, incisive…King is brilliant when writing from the eyes of a tween, all self-conscious curiosity but bright and hopeful as a starry sky. And as Daley grows up and learns how to trust and to love in spite of herself, King cuts a fine, fluid line to the melancholy truth: Even when we're grown and on our own—wives, mothers, CEOs—we still long to be someone's daughter. The dream of an absent ideal father is like a thick, soft blanket; find one to burrow under, and enjoy."
- Rachel Rosenblit, Elle
"In Father of The Rain
Lily King creates a brilliant portrait of a man who lives in the everyday world but follows almost none of the everyday rules. The result for his family is excruciating and for the reader a wonderfully intense and absorbing novel that reminds us of just how complicated love can be."
- Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street
"One of King's extraordinary feats in Father of the Rain
is her capacity to travel unflinchingly into the darkest recesses of family bonds, but do it with such unerring specificity that the effect is both comic and utterly heartbreaking. Like The Glass Castle,
by Jeannette Walls, this book beautifully depicts the emotional tightrope a child must walk with a charismatic, intelligent, and emotionally crippled parent. King also has a suspense writer's gift to make the ways her characters love and betray each other a complete, up-late-into-the-night page-turner with an ending that simply took my breath away."
- Cammie McGovern, author of Eye Contact and Neighborhood Watch
"A riveting portrait of a father so spectacularly dysfunctional that he rivals Alfred Lambert, in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections
…Readers will be thoroughly taken by King's exceptionally fluid prose and razor-sharp depiction of the East Coast country-club set."
- Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
"'We think back through our mothers if we are women,' wrote Virginia Woolf, but Lily King's powerful novel about a daughter's odyssey to find her way through the tangle of her father's heart and so find herself, claims new terrain. In King's masterful hands, Daley Amory's quest for her drunk, charming, impossible father is heart-breaking and familiar in the oldest sense of the term. I wanted to shut my eyes, and couldn't because I couldn't stop reading. When I finished, I cried for us all."
- Sarah Blake, author of the The Postmistress
"[A] powerful family study…Daley is so beautifully portrayed that readers will clench their fists and protectively rail against her actions, only to be taken breathtakingly by surprise when her complicated, determined strength to do the right thing for both her father and herself replaces her losses with a wondrous resolution. Highly recommended."
- Library Journal (starred review)
“Lily King's Father of the Rain
is the most unsettling and exhilarating kind of love story—the sort that interrogates just how resilient the bonds of unconditional love can remain, even after a lifetime of damage at the hands of a heedless parent. This is a passionate and beautifully observed and fair-minded novel.”
- Jim Shepard, author of Like You'd Understand, Anyway
Elizabeth Nickson, The Globe and Mail
Daley triumphs for one reason alone, by practising the stern character virtues: self-denial, discipline and rigorous self-examination, which her father, and an entire generation, abandoned. But not, of course, before she tries nearly everything else. Lily King's Daley triumphs, but she is also Lily King's triumph.
Read the full review here.
Susan Cheever, Vanity Fair
"Spellbinding . . . Marvelous . . . A story of high drama in the court of Nixon-era New England aristocracy…You won't be able to stop reading this book, but when you do finally finish the last delicious page and look up, you will see families in a clearer and more forgiving way."
The Washington Post
"Meetings conducted by Al-Anon, the support group for family members of alcoholics, begin with some variant of this greeting, woven from solidarity and sorrow: "We who live, or have lived, with the problem of alcoholism understand as perhaps few others can." What grim knowledge these spouses and children harbor, forced into the contradictory roles of nurse, defender and victim."
Read the full review here.
New York Times
“If you could return as an adult to the staging ground of your youth—showing people you’d turned out all right after all; taking that Ferris wheel ride with the middle-school crush who’d ignored you; reassuring your parents about how wise, how capable, how worthwhile you were—would you?”
Read the full review here.
“Lily King won a well-deserved raft of honors, including the prestigious Whiting Writer’s Award, for her first two novels, The Pleasing Hour and The English Teacher, and her latest is just as sensitive and perceptive. Indeed, this harrowing chronicle of Daley Amory’s 34-year struggle to come to grips with her impossible father may be her best yet.”
Read the full review here.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Electra has a few things to tell us about fathers and daughters. So does Lily King in her searing third novel, "Father of the Rain," which excavates the powerful forces of love and dysfunction with staggering aplomb.”
Read the full review here.
“You know that moment when the ingenue in the horror movie heads downstairs to check the radiator, and you’re screaming, dumbfounded, at the screen? That’s the sort of protective rage you feel for Daley Amory, the narrator of Lily King’s novel Father of the Rain”
Read the full review here.
Baltimore City Paper
“When you grow up in the 1970s, your parents may hang tapestries on the bedroom wall of the married-student housing complex while one of them finishes grad school or they may dwell in WASP-y New England serving martinis by the pool and playing tennis at the country club. Daley Amory's parents were a mix of the two when she was 11 growing up in Massachusetts in the new novel by Lily King, Father of the Rain.”
Read the full review here.
“Lily King's first two novels were so finely spun they seemed almost ethereal, but Father of the Rain is a big, powerful punch of a novel, a gripping epic about a father and daughter that plumbs the dark side of a family riven by addiction and mental illness.”
Read the full review here.
- What are the defining traits of Father of the Rain? Is it a courageous book? Why? Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer talks about being "heartened by all the brave and original works that have been written without the slightest regard for how strange or risky they were, or for what the author's mother might have thought when she read them." Talk about King's daring, her bone honesty in this book.
- When she is away, Daley misses her mother, her spirit and values. Daley calls her the ballast in her life. Does she actually miss her father when she is absent from him? If so, why? It takes Gardiner two weeks to call her when her mother has decamped with her to New Hampshire. Is that call just legal strategy? How does Daley react? (see p. 25)
- "People need to be held accountable" (p. 23), Daley's mother says, referring to Nixon in the summer of 1974. How is this issue of accountability woven through the novel?
- Is there a sense of a lost Eden, however spurious? "I never suspected we all weren't having a good time" (p. 66), Daley says about the Peking Garden restaurant and poolside frolics. What does her mother's rose garden signify to her? Despite the family dysfunctions, in Daley's mind certain things have connected the Amorys as a family. What are those things? Perhaps "I don't like you, I don't like Pinky, and I'm not having a good time" (p. 61)? Or the silly back-to-school song? Other things? How does Daley deal with these codes when she returns to Ashing? What does she mean by "those two smashed sides of me fusing briefly" (p. 61)?
- Which of the minor characters move us to love or pity? For instance, is it Neal's mother with her bipolar mania that we feel sympathy for? Or her son Neal who always has to conceal and protect her and pick up the pieces after McLean's? The officer Mullen? The sisters Vance in their hidden garden world? Others?
- Daley's is a rich and capacious spirit. Whatever her pain, she has a great heart, and her sense of humor is often her salvation. Talk about that shrewd, funny quality in Daley. Even though her father's humor is often crude and reductive, has she sharpened her wit on him? They do have each other's measure. After an AA meeting Gardiner has jotted down that "'Thank you is all you need to say to get God's attention. I thought that was pretty good.' He looks embarrassed, then laughs when he sees that my eyes have filled" (p. 212). When else are they able to share that connecting wire of humor?
- Who are the people in Daley's life that she truly cares about? Which ones does she dismiss without mercy?
- Is regret part of Daley's nature? If so, when? What would she like to change about herself if she could? What are the most terrible choices she has to make?
- "Did my father ever have a conscience?…Or did he truly never develop to that extent? Was he only ever capable of feeling his own needs, his own pain? Was there any way to have had a good relationship with him?" (p. 343). Much of Daley's growth comes with disillusion. Talk about these times in her life. How is it that the scorn and neglect of her father does not create a hard shell of a girl? "In my father's culture there is no room for self-righteousness or even earnestness. To take something seriously is to be a fool. It has to be all irony, disdain, and mockery. Passion is allowed only for athletics" (p. 173). After a rare burst of anger at Gardiner, Daley is blistered with "You turned out worse than your mother, you little bitch." It is the first word about her mother since her death nearly a decade ago. She retreats in despair, but "It's a normal night for him. A quart of vodka, a vicious argument. He probably feels damn good, like he's just played two sets of tennis" (p. 179).
- Does the reader have any sympathy for Gardiner? Is his any kind of tragedy? Here is a man of great physical grace and prowess, with gifts of birth, enviable education, and mental agility laid low by alcohol and self-deception. "Ridding my father of his racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric would take a long time. It would be a whole reeducation. His prejudices are a stew of self-hatred, ignorance, and fear" (p. 167). How does Daley try to seek explanations in his childhood? In his dubious work experience? Is it Daley among all his women who battles to save him as well as herself?
- What is the role of politics in Father of the Rain? How does it act as a wedge between some characters and a bond between others? Does Daley come to her convictions under the influence of others or based on her own observations? When she streaks with Gardiner through her mother's Project Genesis pool party, is it her own protest or the lure of her father's insidious charm? "My mother, for a moment, looks like she's been tossed out of a plane" (p. 14).
- Eudora Welty, in the preface to her stories, wrote: "I have been told, both in approval and in accusation, that I seem to love all my characters…to try to enter into the mind, heart, and skin of a human being who is not myself . . . man or woman, old or young, with skin black or white." Do you think Lily King makes the jump in imagination Welty refers to? How does she achieve the astonishing truth of Daley's world and of those around her? Carefully chosen vivid details? Ones that skewer a character or a type, a place or a custom? Give examples. Does anyone, including Daley, completely escape satire? Who? Can you both satirize and love a character? For example, when Daley calls her mother to talk about Myrtle Street: "She's doing something, painting her nails maybe. The phone keeps slipping away from her mouth" (p. 66). Gently, a deft and funny sketch is made of a woman who cares deeply for her child but still has her own life. Other examples?
- In the muddle of family behavior, how has King sifted through layers of the past for concrete evidence, the shards of love and hate, vengeance and delight that have made Daley who she is? Daley usually has no trouble being honest with herself. Does she ever delude herself? Does she slip into whitewashing herself when she tells her story? When does she disappoint you? What about Paul?
- "The impulse to lie is instinctive, like one of those desert cats hastily burying its kill in the sand" (p. 156). Here Daley refers to covering her tracks with her father, even a phone call. Is it any wonder she learns the wiles of a feral creature in his house? "My mother…loved me but did not protect me…let me go off every weekend for years and years to my father's even though I returned a wild animal and she never asked why" (p. 180). Beneath the veneer of Ashing civilization (pool, tennis courts, club, red pants, wild geese socks, multigenerational Harvard credentials,) the father's behavior often veers between boorish and grotesque. Does violence always lurk beneath the surface even when it is not overt? What does Daley see in his language about "girls" and their bodies? Are you as shocked as she is when he ultimately turns his savagery against his daughter?
- Is Daley's commitment to taking care of her father an act of filial responsibility? She says it is her "duty not just as a daughter but as a human being" (p. 219). But both Jonathan and Julie tell her she is indulging in a need to be needed…and throwing away her life. How do you see it? What is Garvey's opinion on her staying on in Ashing? Is she still trying vainly to rewrite the past? Is her attempt to "save" her father ultimately selfish or altruistic? What is an adult child's responsibility to a parent who has been negligent or even abusive? The Bible advises: "Honor thy father and thy mother." Are there any exceptions?
- How has Jonathan been raised to deal with white people? He recalls going to a movie in a crowd of white people when he was terrified but also exhilarated "because the world was different from what I had thought" (p. 138). How does loving Daley represent such a huge step for him? What do you think Jonathan sees in Daley, what about her interests him? What does she see in him? How do you think their children will fare with Jonathan and Daley as their parents? Is our world becoming "post-racial"?
- King is sometimes stunningly graphic about sex. For instance, Daley is perplexed and horrified by accidental sightings of Gardiner and also Garvey. But what about her own explorations and lovemaking? "My mother had told me not to make love without love, but I had become a freakish air-traffic controller, determined to land the two, love and sex, at precisely the same time…With Jonathan I lost interest in control, lost the ability to control" (p. 139). What has happened by the lake? How has she been lucky enough to find exuberance and celebration in sex? (How does alcohol figure in the two really successful relationships, those of Daley and Jonathan and her mother and Paul?
- Do you think Daley has met her match in Jonathan? For intelligence? Education? For sass and fun? Bedrock devotion? Integrity? Libido?
- How is the Obama election a touchstone for various characters? Which ones? Any surprises? Is Daley celebrating for both herself and her family as well as for her mother?
- In the end of the novel Gardiner the old reprobate shows a change of heart. How? Is his late transformation credible? What has caused it? His relationship with Barbara? With Daley's children? Are his last moments of grace as much a gift to himself as to Daley and her family?
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
The Duke of Deception
by Geoffrey Wolff; This Boy's Life
by Tobias Wolff; The Liar's Club
by Mary Carr; The Glass Castle
by Jeanette Walls; Them
by Francine du Plessix Gray; The Subject Was Roses
by Frank D. Gilroy; I Never Sang For My Father
by Robert Anderson