Words: Binwe Adebayo
Tony Parsons has always been an important writer for me. In grade nine, I ferreted out his book “Man and Boy” from the crevices of my school’s library, and after finishing it in under a week, quickly sought the sequel, entitled “Man and Wife”. Parsons’ books are not literary classics, and they are not the type of books any critic would earmark as groundbreaking. But the reason his books mean something to me is because they deal with complex family issues, with an uncommon sincerity and nuance. There is no easy resolution or clear ending, as is often the case with other ‘family stories’, and in this way, they reflect the uncertainty of relationships with which almost everyone can identify.
Just recently, I found another book in this series, called “Men From The Boys”. It seemed to call out at me from the full, towering bookshelf at Red Café. Without reading the blurb or any of the reviews, I knew I had to buy it – I needed to know how Harry and Pat Silver (the series protagonists) were doing. I had become invested in them as characters and reading this book felt like a literary homecoming of sorts.
This book deals very delicately with the issue of masculinity. We are presented with the figure of Harry’s dad, a war hero whose Victoria cross-winning friend steps into Harry’s life as a reminder of another time. Harry is a man struggling with his own sense of manhood, having lost his job and his son (to the mother who abandoned him for so long) and having to rely on his wife, whom he believes wishes for another life. Then there is Pat, brilliant but socially undeveloped, who doesn’t relate to the ‘head of the house’ idea of a man, but realizes that his gentleness is misinterpreted for weakness.
The male characters reflect men we have all come into contact with, and Parsons is extremely successful in reflecting these varying identities to his reader. He does so without judgment of their attitudes and choices, but with a sort of meta-critical approach, stepping in and outside of the mind of his characters, and allowing us to see them fully and clearly.
I must admit, I wish I had discovered the book sooner. Time and an ever-faulty long term memory took its toll and at first, it was hard to resonate with my old friends. But, as ever, Parsons was able to draw me into his story and in many ways, I enjoyed this book as a stand-alone. Harry Silver is no longer the struggling single Dad I knew; he is nearing 50 and dealing with a mid-life crisis of confidence, torn between his old life and a new, uncertain future. And little Pat is an angsty teenager, starting to display the effects of being abandoned by his mother, over protected by his father and he is desperately trying to carve out his own identity in a blended family.