Maine writer Lily King’s third novel is a wonderful family saga with a cast of flawed, waspish characters so finely drawn that “Father of the Rain” will remind you of John Cheever’s finest work. It has garnered praise from the New York Times and Vogue, among others, which is no surprise.

“Father of the Rain” is the story of a family turned dysfunctional by an alcoholic father, who roars his way through King’s most recent novel. Gardiner Amory takes his family with him as he spirals downward, with the journey chronicled in the first person by his sensitive daughter, Daley, whom we meet at age 11 on the eve of her parents’ divorce.

Among the novel’s many attributes is King’s avoidance of stereotypes. It’s not about a bad alcoholic and his good daughter, or a diatribe against blue-blooded New Englanders and their insular country-club life. Readers will sympathize with them all in this character-driven book.

What’s perfectly delightful in “Father of the Rain” is the way every dialogue and description of setting advances the journey of King’s interesting characters. The author’s use of metaphor serves the same purpose, as in the following snippet of conversation among 11-year-olds that portends bad times to come:

“We smoke a few more cigarettes,” narrator Daley relates, “and watch the seagulls drop mussels against the rocks and then fight over the smashed pieces.”

“Can you imagine that being your life?” Patrick says.

“I’d throw myself off a cliff,” Teddy says.

“But you’re a seagull so it wouldn’t work,” Gina says. “Your wings would just start flapping.”

In a way, that’s the theme of this novel in which youthful life impacted by alcoholism and divorce evolves — and sometimes manages to prosper — in spite of happenings that no parent would wish upon a child.

One of the book’s towering characters is Daley’s insightful older brother, Garvey, who tries to warn his sister about the extent of their father’s dysfunction. Both Garvey and Daley split visitation between their responsible mother and their father’s riotous household with his new wife and her kids.

During a Thanksgiving visit with their mother, Garvey — fresh from his father’s household — tells what it’s like. As in all King dialogue, the communication is wonderfully specific.

“Oh my God, Mom,” Garvey says, “It’s a scene up there. Catherine’s walking around with her boobs falling out of her dress and they’re both pounding down the martinis and her kids seem kind of shell-shocked. Frank is high as a kite and what’s-her-name is like a feral child.”

The novel traces the Amory family, and Daley’s life in particular, over the course of more than 30 years. But the tale is not a step-by-step narrative. For the book is divided into three parts, with skips in time between each section.

At the conclusion of part one, for instance, we find Daley in her mid-teens aboard a plane returning from St. Thomas with her alcoholic dad and stepmother. Turn to section two, and she’s a graduate student in her late 20s, much in love with her African-American boyfriend, Jonathan.

But the jump in time isn’t confusing. A few details quickly bridge the gap. Readers immediately sense the impact of childhood trauma on Daley’s adult self, as when her boyfriend takes her in his arms.

“I feel how fast his heart is beating,” she says, “and I think, briefly, the smallest pulse of a fear, that I am not worthy of that heart.”

King is the award-winning author of two previous novels, among them “The English Teacher,” a Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year. She lives in Yarmouth with her husband and children.

Without giving away too much, “Father of the Rain” takes a decidedly dangerous turn for Daley when, years after breaking ties with her dad, she gives up a career and her fianc?o care for the man who brought pain to her childhood.

The novel — which you absolutely should not miss — has a wonderful ending. You’ll agree with the New York Times reviewer, who calls King “a beautiful writer.” 

Lloyd Ferriss is a writer and photographer who lives in Richmond.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.