When I first heard about Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller, I thought it would be a perfect book to review for Father’s Day. And then, like a complete doofus, I forgot and scheduled it for the day after Father’s Day. *head hitting desktop* Other than that, this is still a story about marriage, family, parenting, and growing up that’s going to appeal to anyone who’s a parent and some of us who aren’t parents but have them.
“My name is Logan Pyle. My father is dead, my wife is indifferent, and my son is strange. I’m thirty-six years old. My life is nothing like I thought it would be.”
Logan Pyle and his family live in Montana. He always wanted to be a writer. Instead he’s sort of a stay-at-home dad with a son, Owen, and Julie, his wife. Logan and his friend Bill run an outdoor equipment company, The Gold Mine, that’s on its last legs. It needs a magician to pull a miracle out of a hat to save it, and neither Logan nor Bill are magicians.
Gus was a systems engineer and later a partner in a law firm, the one in which Julie works as an attorney. Gus was a force to be reckoned with as an attorney and environmental activist. He was Julie’s mentor and she held him up on a huge pedestal. Logan knew him differently, warts and all. He always vowed he’d be a much better parent to his son than his dad ever was to him.
“As far as I could tell, he [Gus] lived exactly as he pleased, never considering the consequences of his actions, or what anyone else thought, or the impact his decisions had on those around him (namely, me). ‘Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke’ was something he liked to say.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I didn’t love the man. I did. I mean, he was a good father, maybe a great father, and I loved him very much.”
“[after Gus’ long illness,] I’m not ashamed to say it was relief and not much else that I felt when he died – even at his funeral…Does that make me a bad person? A bad son? If so, then okay, maybe that’s what I am.”
Gus was such a magnetic and powerful force in his family’s lives that they were ill prepared for his death. Logan never resolved a lot of his issues with his father so he feels cast adrift, not knowing what to do next. Julie also feels cast adrift without the mentor she adored, and is drinking too much and working too hard. Four-year-old Owen is regressing to the point that he’s demanding to drink from a bottle and is sucking his thumb almost non-stop.
“Besides the thumb, he’s [Owen’s] gone back to the bottle and climbing into our bed in the middle of the night, and he even insists on wearing a diaper some days under his pants. And now and then he’ll slip into an odd, German-sounding baby talk it pains me to hear. Julie insists it’s normal, or at least common…”
Something has to give in this tightly wound situation, and it does. At a children’s party, Logan sees Julie with another man in a guest bedroom. That’s it – the final straw. Logan grabs Owen and takes off in the car – no destination in mind, just a wild, desperate need to escape a situation he can’t bear anymore. After driving for an interminable length of time, he finally realizes he has no clue what to do next so he heads to his father’s cabin in the woods.
Bennie, Gus’ widow, lives in the cabin. She and Logan are close to the same age, which has always been an issue for Logan; however, she welcomes them. Being at the cabin may have looked like a refuge but something in Logan’s subconscious has to know it will bring up every issue he needs to resolve so he can decide where his life is going next.
People may grow up biologically but growing up emotionally and psychologically is never a guarantee. Logan is at that cross roads we all come to where we have to decide whether to grow up for real or not. He’s Everyman in that sense. Add to that the loss of a parent with whom he had huge unresolved issues and the stressors of a less than perfect marriage (and everyday life) and you’ve got an explosion just waiting to happen.
Each member of Logan’s family acts out their grief in different ways, and each is devastated in their own way. When the powerful Gus dies, it’s as if the sun they all circled disappeared and they’re left blind in absolute darkness. Like a lot of children when a grandparent dies, Owen’s emotional reaction is negated because his parents are so wrapped up in their own grief. Regressing is the only coping mechanism he has to deal with his loss and his reaction to the crumbling of his safety net, his parents.
Emily Jeanne Miller has written a very complex and thought provoking novel in Brand New Human Being, about events and stages of life that happen to all of us. Everyone’s marriages/relationships have ups and downs and sometimes those can look like unscalable mountains and deep abysses. Every parent I’ve ever known has pledged they would improve on the job done by their parents and then has felt so inadequate when they didn’t get it perfect 100% of the time. Eventually something has to give.
Brand New Human Being grabbed me with its first sentence and didn’t let go. It was not just a roller coaster ride. I became involved with these people’s lives. I didn’t like Logan’s or Julie’s behavior a lot of the time but I kept rooting for them to work it out. The person I felt for the most was Owen and I wanted things to work out well for him most of all. If I had to classify this novel, I’d call it a stage of life story. The events in it are ones we all have to go through in one way or another. It’s also a story of loss and redemption. It’s well worth your time to read it!
Can’t wait to read it?
Brand New Human Being was published on June 12, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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