The Good Son, Michael Gruber, Henry Holt and Company, 2010, 383 pp
About two years ago, in an effort to keep up with books on the paperback fiction shelves at Once Upon A Time, I read Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows. It almost made my Top 10 list that year (there was stiff competition from the likes of Michael Chabon, Suzanne Collins, Toni Morrison and more) but I went on to hand sell many copies and my husband became a fan as well.
The Good Son is his latest and it is a great read. Some of the gratuitous flippancy from the earlier book is happily missing. Gruber boldly takes on Afghanistan from the viewpoint of WTF are we doing there and in my opinion does a credible and righteous job of laying out the true issues. His plotting skills are even more developed and the characters are drawn the way characters should be: by what they do.
Theo is the eponymous "good son." His father is a Pakistani from a wealthy family who married his mother, a former child circus performer. Theo was raised by his Pakistani grandmother in Lahore and often abandoned by his mother, who is another complex character. In fact, it is complexity which gives this novel its tension and makes its many twists and turns so exciting. Somehow, Gruber makes complexity easy to read about.
A reading moment: this is the second book I have read recently featuring a son who wants to save his mother. (The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff was the other.) Both sons had been abandoned by their mothers early in life and both found their task a thankless one. Could it be that mothers who abandon/neglect/reject their kids don't want to be saved? Comments welcome.