11/20/15 STAY-AT-HOME DADS: BRAFF’S THE DADDY DIARIES AND PERROTTA’S LITTLE CHILDREN I’ve bought three books because of tweets. Joshua Braff’s The Daddy Diaries was one. I expected a stay-at-home dad with an infant or toddlers, in the vein of Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. But the children in Joshua Braff’s novel aren’t little. The protagonist’s daughter is 10, his son 13.
The family has recently moved from the San Francisco Bay area to St. Petersburg, Florida. In a Huffington Post blog interview, the author talks about being isolated as a stay-at-home dad-with-little-ones in his California neighborhood, and just when more dads began showing up there, moving to Florida and being a lone wolf again. The Florida location in The Daddy Diaries serves as an isolating factor not only for the father but also for his teenage son, whose depression is one focus of the book. Another focus is the father’s best buddy from high school, who’s now a druggie boozer capable of not remembering last night’s abusive behavior. Protagonist daddy Jay struggles to remain a friend and also to rescue his troubled pal’s daughter from a home life no one could wish for a kid. Then there’s the sexually ambitious mother of a friend of Jay’s own daughter. St. Petersburg’s mansions with swimming pools, the beach, sunshine, bikinis, provide a setting for temptation. What does a man do when a woman shows him her pair while his wife is across the country on business? Florida also provides color: our family’s new street is below sea level and their house has to be sandbagged when it rains hard.
The Daddy Diaries impressed me enough that I wanted to write about it here because it’s genuinely a book of character, not plot. Character studies are the most difficult books to write, I think. They also happen to be my favorite form of fiction. Braff does such a good job of it. Brushing my teeth, I found myself looking forward to my nightly read in The Daddy Diaries.
The only other novel I’ve read about a stay-at-home dad is Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. Perrotta’s Joe College is among my favorite books, and his The Wishbones ends as well as any novel I’ve read. In Little Children Todd, handsome stay-at-home dad of a toddler, plays night football when his wife thinks he’s studying for the bar at the library and, during his afternoons at the playground and neighborhood pool, when and where his wife thinks he is, encounters a “bikini”—a halter-top, at most—in the form of a mom unhappy with home life. There’s also a child molester in the neighborhood, which strikes me as a distraction and possibly as the author looking for more plot. I would have preferred that Perrotta instead had enriched his characters. The people populating Little Children aren’t touching or memorable, as the characters of his Joe College and The Wishbones are, or as is protagonist Jay in Braff’s The Daddy Diaries.
(Starting in 2016, Jennifer Bort Yacovissi, author of the novel Up the Hill to Home will join me here on Late Last Night Books on the 20th of every other month. Look for her first post on January 20.)