Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2020 March 18 • Wednesday

When I picked up this book from a paperback book dealer on the street, I thought it was going to be a kind of saucy paperback original from the '70s.

But Laura Z. Hobson's The Other Father is actually an absorbing and intensely psychological novel first published in 1949.

Hobson wrote Gentleman's Agreement, a movie I had seen, but I had never read anything by her. While there's very little action in The Other Father, it drew me in and I was reluctant to put it down.

It's a very mid-century New York City drama, in which the main character is the head of a family of three, unhappily married with two grown children and one much younger one.

Sex is a major but almost invisible character in this book, influencing almost every thought and action while rarely being mentioned.

Andrew Dynes isn't happy with his wife and while she's presented to the reader as attractive and pleasant in every way, the problem certainly seems to be sexual.

And so Mr. Dynes is secretly having an affair both physically and emotionally passionate with a woman much younger than he is, who also happens to work for Dynes's sister (which is how they met).

It's a difficult situation, as is Dynes's job, an unsatisfying accounting law gig with a small firm whose boss takes him for granted and is happy to have him slaving away for meager renumeration, often dangling hints of a profit-sharing scheme at some point in a future that never arrives.

All of this seems like it would be sustainable if it weren't for the revelation that Andrew's daughter Peg, who has ditched college to pursue a promising career as a professional photographer, very much against her father's wishes, is also deep into a clandestine affair, with an older married man, the father of two, much older than she is.

In fact the ages of Peg and her lover are roughly equivalent to the ages of Andrew and his.

To say that this is a shock to Andrew's system would be a massive understatement. And with the shock comes horror and revulsion as he considers—and this is written in very oblique language—whether his desire for a much younger woman is in fact a desire for his own daughter. And also whether that goes the same way for Peg but in reverse.

That's the gist of it and it's pretty intense. Hobson does the New York City atmosphere quite well and is extremely skillful at moving the characters around as well as subtly drawing the reader into their different minds.

The ease with which she changes perspective and point of view while also maintaining an authorial voice is very impressive.

Based on the strengths of this novel, I'm definitely interested in reading more from her.

The first line is "He woke up thinking of sleep".