Book Review: When You Went Away, by Michael Baron

~~”Touching, tender and gentle, the moments between father and son in When You Went Away pull at the heartstrings and the tear ducts.” 

Gerry is our unlikely hero in When You Went Away, a novel by Michael Baron, published by The Story Plant, a relatively new and different sort of publisher, operated by publishing industry veterans. I received an advanced reading copy of When You Went Away for review, and it appealed to me: I liked the cover, the concept of the novel from the blurb. Because of these two things, I bumped this book up in my review queue. Hey, even reviewers like to read for pleasure now and then.

I wasn’t disappointed with When You Went Away, either, so I was glad I bumped it up, but I will say it wasn’t exactly written as I expected it. First, the book is told in a near-memoir style, even though it’s a fiction novel, and the reader gets to go along with Gerry, our protagonist, on his journey of surviving after both his wife and daughter leave him—his wife through death, and his teen daughter through running away from home.

Left to raise a near-newborn son, alone, Gerry has to learn how to live again. He was young when he married, and had been married for the majority of his adult life, and now he’s a single father to Reese, the unplanned but much wanted child born just month prior to Maureen’s death.

Finding support in his sister in law–who looks remarkably like her sister, a fact Gerry finds both unsettling and comforting at different times–Gerry navigates grief, healing, guilt and redemption, all while trying to define what life without his wife will be and also seeking to understand his now almost adult runaway daughter and the reasons she left home so young.

The negatives to this book are few, but there are some. For example, the author, Michael Baron, either is a big Yankee’s baseball fan, or else he’s not one and he overcompensated by providing much too much detail that was unnecessary for the advancement of the story, about baseball and the Yankees.

Secondly, the story plods along at a steady, even pace, but it’s often too unemotional, factual, matter-of-fact. In other words, it’s a novel that is most likely a story that will appeal to women, but it was obviously written by and in the point of view of a man. This made it difficult for me, though not impossible, to connect on that emotional level with the characters.

The things I enjoyed the most in the book included something as simple as the unobtrusive references to gourmet food and cooking. I liked that Gerry enjoyed cooking. Just goes to show, women do, generally speaking, like a man who can cook well–as evidence by both Gerry’s wife and daughter’s love of his cooking and his new flame Ally’s pleasure in it as well.

Of all the characters, the one I enjoyed reading about the most was Reese, Gerry and the deceased Maureen’s infant son. Another stereotype in that women love a man who is tender and kind to children, particularly a man who loves his own children, is proved in my affection for Reese and the manner in which Gerry, through Michael Baron’s writing, talks about his son. Touching, tender and gentle, the moments between father and son in When You Went Away pull at the heartstrings and the tear ducts.

The reader never gets to meet Maureen while she is alive, but we learn a lot about her through Gerry’s thoughts and actions, as she informs many aspects of Gerry’s life, up to and including his thoughts and feelings about the woman he meets when he returns to work: Ally. Ally is, in many ways, everything that Maureen was not. Where Maureen was a mother and a wife, married young and had no other lovers prior to Gerry, Ally has had a varied love past, is a career woman, and we later learn, is unable to bear children. Even so, in the ways that matter most to Gerry, the two women share the most important qualities.

Ally helps Gerry feel again, though he questions his commitment to Maureen because he feels so much for Ally so soon after his wife has died. It’s those feelings that allow him to see and understand what his daughter might have been feeling when she left home as a teenager, to run away with her love of the moment, Mick.

I won’t give away the ending, because you’ll really want to read this one for yourself. I do want to mention, the ending slightly disappointed me, because it seemed to come too quickly, without enough full resolution. I guess that might be a good thing, in that it left me wondering what happened next, but I’m the type of reader who, if there’s not going to be a sequel, would prefer more closure.

Short of that, this approximately 360-page book by Michael Baron is an exceptional read, and one that makes me want to watch for more works by this author in the future.

~~”Michael Baron gives us likable characters in Gerry Rubato and his son Reese, with touching moments, emotion and a good story. This one is well worth adding to your reading list.” 

When You Went Away, by Michael Baron is scheduled to be released on October 6, 2009.

(For permission to reprint this book review, at no cost, on your website or in your ezine or newsletter, please contact Michy at michy@twintrinitymedia.com or michelle@accentuateservices.com)

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