4 July 2017

Review #622: Everybody's Son: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I feel bare. I didn't realize I wore my secrets as armor until they were gone and now everyone sees me as I really am.”

----Veronica Roth

Thrity Umrigar, the bestselling, critically acclaimed author, has penned a terrific and extremely heart breaking literary fiction in her new book called, Everybody's Son: A Novel that centers around a biracial, abandoned kid, who is adopted by a rich and powerful white family while his crackpot mother rotted away in jail, and later he grows up to carry forward his adopted family's name by himself becoming someone important, but he can never shake off the strong relationship he had with his own mother and now after so many years, he is going to learn lots of dirty secrets about his past as well as about his adopted family, that will threaten his whole sanity as well as his existence.


The bestselling, critically acclaimed author of The Space Between Us and The World We Found deftly explores issues of race, class, privilege, and power and asks us to consider uncomfortable moral questions in this probing, ambitious, emotionally wrenching novel of two families—one black, one white.

During a terrible heat wave in 1991—the worst in a decade—ten-year-old Anton has been locked in an apartment in the projects, alone, for seven days, without air conditioning or a fan. With no electricity, the refrigerator and lights do not work. Hot, hungry, and desperate, Anton shatters a window and climbs out. Cutting his leg on the broken glass, he is covered in blood when the police find him.

Juanita, his mother, is discovered in a crack house less than three blocks away, nearly unconscious and half-naked. When she comes to, she repeatedly asks for her baby boy. She never meant to leave Anton—she went out for a quick hit and was headed right back, until her drug dealer raped her and kept her high. Though the bond between mother and son is extremely strong, Anton is placed with child services while Juanita goes to jail.

The Harvard-educated son of a US senator, Judge David Coleman is a scion of northeastern white privilege. Desperate to have a child in the house again after the tragic death of his teenage son, David uses his power and connections to keep his new foster son, Anton, with him and his wife, Delores—actions that will have devastating consequences in the years to come.

Following in his adopted family’s footsteps, Anton, too, rises within the establishment. But when he discovers the truth about his life, his birth mother, and his adopted parents, this man of the law must come to terms with the moral complexities of crimes committed by the people he loves most.

After 7 days of struggle and abandonment in his own apartment, where his crackpot mother left him for a few minutes that apparently turned into days, Anton Vesper escapes from a window, only to be rescued by the local police, who then later find out the location of his careless drug addict mother, who is immediately charged with child abandonment and faces jail time. So Anton isn't handed over to her, and since David Coleman has his own games to play in this small town, he schemes and plots to foster this abandoned child in order to replace his lost son, who was destined to carry his family's legacy. David and his wife, Delores has recently lost their teenage son, and being a powerful rich white man of the town, he waves his magic wand and makes a few calls, upon hearing about Anton's foster situation. And finally Anton has a loving and caring home to look forward to. The child who loved his mother like anything, despite of her flaws, he grows up to become the Attorney General and through the years, he struggles with his mixed race and skin color, as well as with his dark past, where his mother still lingers like a ghost. But David's lies, that he fed to his wife as well as to both Anton's mother and to the boy, have now come undone and are threatening to ruin the lives of those who matter. And can Anton live with his father's lies or will he confront his own existence? Can he forgive and find his own identity?

Have only heard good things about this author and her books, so when I got the opportunity to review this book, I simply could not pass it on. And I've always loved books that feature a racial angle, the struggles of it and family issues surrounding it. Sadly, the author might not have been able to tie those connection strikingly, but she has successfully manages to concoct a deeply moving story about a young boy, growing up with lies and later on realizes his own worth and the value of his own race and background. Literary fiction aficionados will, no doubt, find this book to be delightful and poignant, all throughout.

A man so greedy for a son, plots to become the father of an abandoned young boy for his own selfish reasons, and why can't he, when he has so much power to achieve that, but can he face the outcome, when his lies come to the light, especially when the boy learns about his cruel intentions? The climax will take the readers off their edges, since it is unpredictable and thoroughly tragic.

The story is powerful, but I wish the story telling could have been a bit eloquent enough. As a result, the readers might find the loose ends dangling from the end of each chapter. Yet the narrative is spot on, laced with enough emotional depth to move the readers as well as contemplate with the characters' voices and their plight. The pacing is bit slow, as the events from the book take a lot of time to develop or rather say, take a lot of time to unfold. The prose is articulate yet somehow the plot development is not that strong enough for the readers to get a grip on the story line.

The characters from the book are realistically painted, but lacks depth and dimensions in their demeanor, so felt a bit bland. The main character, Anton, is an inspiring character who goes through a lot of challenges at a very tender age for his mixed race and that part is handled with enough sensitivity by the author. What irks me is that Anton could have been developed with much more layers, he is bit monotonous. even though the author never fails to portray his emotions in a vivid manner. The next important character from the book is a fine and interesting man with selfish intentions, yes, that's right, David Coleman would go at any lengths to make Anton successful and carry the family legacy of greatness. This story also features about his own personal journey as a powerful judge of the state and his own mistakes that come undone at a later stage. The female secondary characters are not painted so well, all I can say is that they are pretty simple.

In a nutshell, this book is evocative and compelling but somewhere between the lines, it lost its touch of charm and poignancy. Definitely, it could have been much better, since the story will only provoke the thoughts of its readers.

Verdict:  An empowering read where the protagonists are on a path to seek truth behind their race and families and discover their individuality.

Courtesy: Thanks to the publishers from Harper Collins India for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.

Author Info:
A journalist for seventeen years, Thrity Umrigar has written for the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and other national newspapers, and contributes regularly to the Boston Globe's book pages. Thrity is the winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, a Lambda Literary award and the Seth Rosenberg prize. She teaches creative writing and literature at Case Western Reserve University. The author of The Space Between Us, Bombay Time, and the memoir First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood, she was a winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University. She has a Ph.D. in English and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
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