“Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother by Richard Edward Noble is neither novel nor memoir but rather a pentimento. As such it has little plot but rather is propelled along like The Merrimac River, the river whose flow gave reason for Lawrence, Massachusetts, the setting of this book. Rivers have no motive but rather move over time and yet stay the same. At one place flow is rapid and at another almost lackadaisical and replete with eddies, but always the river moves along. So too does this book flow, and the reader is moved along with it caught in the life that forms its core.
Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother is the story of a boy, Richard Noble, growing up in Post World War II Lawrence. The use of his own name for his main character and his hometown for his setting are methods by which the author arouses our empathy for this sad little boy whose family defines dysfunction. His is an emotionally desolate and painful landscape. While a recurrent theme of the book is adults (and even older children) laughing at childish misunderstandings of the world, this book is without humor for it is a story of survival – of a young person struggling to stay afloat and to make sense of that which is incomprehensible. Similarly, while another recurrent theme is religion and its role in young Richard’s life, this is a book without redemption and faith for God is as tricky and unpredictable as are his parents and relatives.
In the end this is a story of determination – determination to control that which is beyond control. If love and goodness were sufficient, if prayers could ultimately make the world well, surely this youngster would have succeeded in his valiant attempt to make his life and his family better and happier. But they are not, they do not. In the end only a young man’s rage is left to combat the worst of life and of abuse, and does that end make him any better than those who have abused him? The sorrow, like the river, must flow on.
While the author tries mightily to take us inside young Richard’s head – and at times succeeds most memorably, there are many times that the adult voice of the narrator overshadows the immediacy of the child’s experience. For that reason, I wish Mr. Noble had written this work of fiction in the fashion of a memoir. But novel or memoir, Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother is worth the read. (Kenneth Weene, author of Widow’s Walk and Memoirs From the Asylum)
Kenneth W wrote this review Saturday, September 4, 2010.