Stephanie Collins Reviews Thought-Provoking Tale of Superbly Convincing Characters
My Father’s Son
Felix Ryan, a middle-aged high school teacher from Curlew, Conception Bay is facing the biggest battle of his life. While attempting to stare down a mid-life crisis that leaves him questioning his entire existence, Felix receives a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Tammy to return home.
A big American oil company led by a larger than life Texan named John Baron and his cracker-jack lawyer has begun purchasing land from the local residents with a plan to extract fuel from the ground. As the town becomes divided over the potential new wealth a fracking operation would bring, Felix’s aging and eccentric father embarks upon yet another crusade to reveal the truth about big business, religion and life.
As battle lines are drawn, Felix is confronted with the realities of his existence, and unknowingly embarks upon his own crusade to take back his life. My Father’s Son is Tom Moore’s sequel to the award-winning novel The Sign on My Father’s House. It is a story about the triumphs and tribulations of life and fighting for what you believe in.
I rose from the table like a man rising from the grave. I left the walls, the dust, the echoes behind, and I moved into a new dimension.
From the outset of the novel the reader quickly discovers that all is not well with the main character Felix. Standing on a precipice atop Signal Hill on a wet day wearing black leather shoes, he compares himself to the icebergs making their way south on their “journey from water to ice and back to water again.”
We come to appreciate these symbolic references, which help solidify the deeper meaning of an otherwise easy and entertaining read. They are punctuated throughout the narration along with setting and plot details that are iconic to St. John’s and outport life. What Newfoundland Townie wouldn’t know The Ship Inn, Soloman’s Lane, Rocket Bakery and the Health Science Centre?
As the story moves to the small town of Curlew, Moore invites us to bear witness to the soap opera-like antics of a small community that has become too familiar with itself. From affairs to secret pregnancies, abuse and even murder, Felix is finally forced to confront the truths of his life and we take guilty pleasure in becoming a part of it.
In Curlew the past met the present: the old saltbox homes from the war years stood beside the new split levels of the 1970’s. Some of the older ones were abandoned or kept as summer homes by nostalgic offspring. They mostly housed mice these days, and annual touch-ups were as much as they could expect. Many of these annual repairs got lost in the world of good intentions. Roofs leaked and eaves sagged in various degrees of neglect. Some, well back from the road, had fallen in on themselves, desolate, slipping back into the invisible past.
Tom Moore does a superb job developing authentic characters that are true to form. The lovely Ellen Monteau (Felix’s true love) is sharply contrasted with Tammy, the cigarette smoking, gum chewing woman who ends up capturing Felix’s heart.
And of course this story simply could not be without Father, Walter Ryan, always at the ready to fight a cause. Everyone knows a Walter, but it is his crusade and dynamic personality that drives the story, helping us realize the importance of standing up for what is right, and eventually showing Felix how to be the son he was destined to become.
“Paternalism is no good. It leads to people like your last speaker, Reverend Stone, who says, ‘Turn over your lives to me and I’ll save you.’ John Baron has the same message. Give me your land and I’ll save you. It’s all the same scam.”
“But Mr. Baron built a big hotel and a huge church here in the town. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“No, it’s not. People can be bribed with those things for a time. But the shallowness of materialism, and religion, and paternalism only stifles growth. The individual must grow, but can’t grow under the yoke of an oil baron, a fishing merchant, or a minister.”
My Father’s Son by Tom Moore is a well written and enjoyable read. It is entertaining and often thought provoking. Though not required, a read of Moore’s first novel, The Sign On My Father’s House, will give an excellent introduction to this great story.