Wednesday, March 9, 2011

REVIEW: The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

The Piper's Son
by Melina Marchetta
Released on 03.08.2011
336 pages
Candlewick Press
Source: ARC loan provided by Banned Book Tours

The award-winning author of Finnikin of the Rock and Jellicoe Road pens a raw, compelling novel about a family’s hard-won healing on the other side of trauma.

Award-winning author Melina Marchetta reopens the story of the group of friends from her acclaimed novel Saving Francesca - but five years have passed, and now it’s Thomas Mackee who needs saving. After his favorite uncle was blown to bits on his way to work in a foreign city, Tom watched his family implode. He quit school and turned his back on his music and everyone that mattered, including the girl he can’t forget. Shooting for oblivion, he’s hit rock bottom, forced to live with his single, pregnant aunt, work at the Union pub with his former friends, and reckon with his grieving, alcoholic father. Tom’s in no shape to mend what’s broken. But what if no one else is either? An unflinching look at family, forgiveness, and the fierce inner workings of love and friendship, The Piper’s Son redefines what it means to go home again.((from GoodReads).

I took a heavenly ride through our silence
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life
-Pink Floyd, "Coming Back To Life"

Marchetta is a writer who understands the beauty in the breakdown.  This book would not have been so simultaneously hopeful and heartbreaking to read if she didn't.  It's 2007. Two years have passed since Tom's beloved Uncle Joe was killed on his way to work in London.  Tom's father has always been a drinker, but he completely falls off the wagon after Joe's death.  Tom's mother walks out in an attempt to shield his younger sister from the chaos.  Tom refuses to go.  Eventually, his father walks out on him, too.   Tom escapes quietly into an numbed state of drug and alcohol use to cope.  I blame him, but it's a sympathetic blaming.  Some emotions feel better on snooze.

His Aunt Georgie has other problems.  Due to seemingly being the only family member able to hold her crap together (bless the Georgies of the world), she flies up to London to retrieve Joe's body, if possible.  Her ex accompanies her.  The one who cheated on her five years earlier.  And got another woman pregnant.  Now, two years later, Georgie is also pregnant with his baby.  Honestly, I don't how she did it, because straight up, I would be like, "Please, for the love God, hand me a drink."

Like I said, I can sympathize with Tom.

I am not sure if I can adequately articulate my emotions about this one. I know on the surface it would be so easy to say that the events in The Piper's Son are about a family dealing with grief from a death. It would be incredibly easy to say that. However, the death, to me, seemed more of a reckoning, a gathering on the Finch-Mackee timeline for things unsaid, resentments unacknowledged, and demons unconquered. The death of Tom's Uncle Joe was the keystone of a family's implosion and magnified issues that were already present.  Instead of the family coming together, the fine fracture lines cracked apart and separated individuals.  Tom was both abandoned and chose to be on his own. Georgie closed in her grief and shame and anger over her baby brother's death and her unplanned pregnancy.

No one I've read can quite balance grief and humor like Marchetta can . . . Our Tom is still the snarky layabout that he was in Saving Francesca, but while you only got a whisper of his pain there, here it is full blown, as are his quips and timing.  At times, I hated him, and at others, I kept praying that he would reach out to someone, anyone, because it was evident that he wanted and needed that.  Georgie is one of the 'realest' characters I've ever read.  She carries guilt the way she carries her child: it hangs low on her and takes up the center of her being.  Marchetta really nails the difficult journey of self-love and forgiveness of others through Georgie.

I didn't just smile; I laughed out loud in public (several times, I might add).  A couple pages later, I'd tear up.  I love this family - I know a bit about how some families need to get a little blood on the floor so everyone can walk away feeling loved and forgiven.  It's a cathartic process you only appreciate if you grow up with it.  Their humor, their loyalty and their ability to feel deeply had me hoping the entire book that everyone would find their way back to each other.

For those of you wondering if you need to read Saving Francesca to understand this book, no, it's not necessary.  The Mackee's story stands on it's own, although Saving Francesca is a book I highly recommend to you, as well (review coming 03.14.11).  I am not sure if I am really doing this book justice, but suffice to say, I didn't simply love it; I breathed it in and lived it.  It's the subtle difference between standing outside a story and being a witness in it, and Marchetta's writing is the type that makes you feel like you walking down the street with Tom or talking men with Georgie.  In the end, this is the story of how love can rip family apart and bring them back together, of how keeping connections with others alive and hungry nourishes and protects your own life.  The Piper's Son is a beautiful story of love and redemption, of going home again, and how some things have to shatter so you can put them right again.

BONUS: Both the YA Bibliophile and Jen at I Read Banned Books posted amazing interviews with Marchetta this week.  Excellent and different questions from both.  Check them out!


"Page 1902.  "Japan."  Not about the Japanese, but about moments of perfection.  Commit it to memory and make good use of it.  Because if I come home and you're still pining over this little girl without having given her a chance, I will call you a chicken shit for the rest of your life."
-Tom's Uncle Joe, via a 2005 email, page 38

"Back in Georgie's attic, he yanks the phone out of the socket and begins scrolling down the names under dialed calls, praying to anyone who will listen.  God.  Baby Jesus.  Saint Thomas the doubter.  Saint Whoever, patron saint of losers.  Praying, Please, please, don't let it be true.

The first name shatters him.

The second makes his head spin."
-page 76

"Her voice whispering love soothes him.  They'd never done that before.  Weren't that type of family.  Except now he doesn't know what kind of family they are.  What word is it that can define them?  What would they call his family in the textbooks?  Broken?  He comes from a broken home.  The Mackees can't be put back together again.  There are too many pieces of them missing."
-page 130


  1. Great review. I agree completely. I have never had my emotions vacillate so much in one book. I was just so invested!

  2. Ah freaking mazing Review!!!

    "Marchetta is a writer who understands the beauty in the breakdown." Nailed it. I loved the way you described Georgie and the way she carries her grief.

    I love this family too. They somehow made it okay to think of yourself as a fuck up, capable of giving and receiving love. That was part of the cathartic process.

  3. Ohhhh loved how you said you didn't love this one, you breathed it in and lived it. Brilliant. I love books that make me feel that way! Your review is ridiculously amazing as always, you never fail to get your thoughts across in an incredibly eloquent way:)

  4. I'm going to need to read this one super soon! :) Great review! It must be a good book since other than one format the book is sold out on TBD!

  5. I like how you mentioned grief and humor- it is hard to find a balance but it sounds like this one found it.
    Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  6. @YABib - It definitely made you pace your emotions. I've only read a few books like that . . .

    @Missie Thank you, friend :) I still remember your beautiful review of this. If only families didn't have to go through ALL of that process, eh?

    @Jenny - Thanks, Jenny! We bloggers who tend to write long have to keep interesting, no? That's why I like reading yours, as well.

    @Jacinda - it's been out in AU for a bit, so that's probably why - hopefully, you have a local bookstore you can pick it up at.

    @Brandi - she definitely nailed that.

  7. Amazing post. This is not a book I would normally pick up, but I've been hearing a lot of good stuff about this book. I really appreciated your thoughts.

  8. Oh my goodness. I cannot even begin to tell you how amazingly wonderful this review is. It almost makes me embarrassed of my own review, because yours is seriously amazing. I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on Saving Francesca.

    And ya, you definitely did this book justice. Your review is the absolute best I've read for this book.

  9. woah, awesome new cover!!
    i've only seen the sepia cover!

  10. @MR - it's an emotional read, but I think you would appreciate it. I know some people don't like to get into those sorts of books, but I think it's good to have a couple thrown in there throughout the year.

    @Ashley - Oh WOW! Thanks, hon!!! ***blushes**** So glad you liked it and that you thought I did well by it :)

    @Nic - Grazi! You Aussies have a fantastic author here!

    @Megan - I actually prefer the B&W version better - I thought that cover really nailed the emotions with Tom. I really want to give this book to my 34 year old bro, but - and I know this is vanity - I really want the B$W version for him.. . It's a bit more sophisticated, and I think if I handed him this version, he be like, "I swear, if this is about some kid who play guitar hero and wants to be on American Idol, there will be blood." (Not really, be we like to incorporate random movie lines in our threats - lightens them up a bit, haha!)

    Thanks for stopping by, everyone!


  11. I can't believe I haven't read anything by this author yet! I must correct that right away. I love books where you are so invested in it and it becomes a part of you. Really looking forward to reading books by Marchetta. Thanks for the awesome review, Linds!

  12. Duuuuude. <3. Best book of the year for me last year. THat's all I can say.
    Oh, and I have a feeling this *might* come up, but Tom Mackee is mine. That is all.

  13. It's all good, Audrey - I'm holding out for Jimmy :)

  14. Dropping by from the Aussie YA Challenge roundup. Excellent review! You were able to say everything that I felt about this book a lot better than I did. I'm amazed at how brilliant Melina Marchetta is as a writer. My favorites are this one and Jellicoe Road.