Jackie Gleason made a movie in the 1960s called Papa’s Delicate Condition. In some ways Christina Stead’s novel, The Man Who Loved Children reminds me of that movie; in other ways it reminds me of The Stepfather. The Man Who Loved Children is the story of a large family in the early part of the last century and how it coped (or didn’t cope) with their problems (especially money related). Father was a bit of a bore but I suppose his sing-song fairytale approach to life was fun for the kids, at least to a point, but it certainly didn’t help his relationship with his wife or his older daughter (by a previous marriage).
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this novel from Australia:
The novel tells the story of a highly dysfunctional family, the Pollits. The story centers on the father Sam, an idealistic man who provides well for his family, a situation destroyed by the shallow and selfish mother Henny’s snobbish inability to budget for the household. Stead details the parents’ marital battles and the various accounts of the blended family’s affections and alliances. The character Sam is largely based on Stead’s own father, marine biologist David Stead. The Man Who Loved Children was originally set in Sydney but the setting was altered to suit an American audience, to Washington, D.C., somewhat unconvincingly due to linguistic nuances. Unsparing and penetrating, Stead reveals, among other things, the danger of unchecked sentimentality in relationships and in political thought.
The marriage relationship is such that it probably only survives because there are no guns in the house.
This is the kind of novel I am not looking to discover. I remember my Mother saying that she really didn’t enjoy Bill Murray because his comedic routines were not so much “funny” as they we sadly truthful. She was focusing on Murray’s lounge singer bit and her point was well taken. So, did I enjoy Stead’s novel? Not particularly (and it was long enough to hurt). Did I improve my humanity by reading the novel? I don’t think so (it’s probably took late anyway). Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it to others? Well, that is too difficult to answer: there are probably as many types of readers as there are types of books. I would say that if you enjoy fiction that is so realistic and so spot-on that you almost forget it is fiction, then this one is for you; or if you enjoy reading about other people, other families, other problems, whether or not you are looking for solutions to your own problems, then try The Man Who Loved Children.
I am okay with this book and I see that it has support from several authors I consider quite good, but The Man Who Loved Children was on Time Magazine’s Top 100 list … this I must question.
Sometimes in the middle of the least likely book you find writing that makes you think or supports your own ideas. One thing the father in The Man Who Loved Children enjoyed was fishing and at one point he stopped to pontificate on his view of the oceans and the lifeforms therein:
Sam would say that though crops and livestock were privately owned, and birds and freshwater fish might be claimed by the land-grabber, the sea was socialist, the fish of the sea was for all, and it was wrong and a shame that anyone should presume to get separate fishing licenses and go fishing for private internet in the free and democratic sea: the fish should belong to all, the whole nation, the entire world could live off the sea, if it were properly used.
Here, as in other pints in the narrative, Sam accepts that Capitalism is the problem and
… We know so little that if the law did not arm inspectors and wardens, we would empty the whole giant Chesapeake system of fish, crustaceans, and bivalves, all that were edible, and kill what was left with the hideous effluvia of capitalism! We are all … cramming our mouths, satisfying every taste, and wrecking [our] fortune …. We are nothing but locust; and the Department of Agriculture should send out planes to destroy with gas bombs those locusts of our foreshores and fishing watts who decimate the commissariat of our great and good mother Nature.
This idea of killing off our problems has other interesting parallels in the novel.