There's something that happens when you pick up a book published through a major publishing house - the reader trusts and has faith the book will meet certain expectations. The book will be of a particular caliber, and all kinks will have been ironed out. Slipping into the storied world will be seamless and easy for the reader. One doesn't always find that in self-published works. Yet, with After Dad, Ralph Cohen has created a novel that has come closer to a tightly-packaged big company produced piece than most other self-published books I have read.
Cohen exhibits an astute talent for the craft of writing. After Dad is a heartfelt novel about an American family in the '60s following the sudden death of their husband and father. Without dipping a single toe into a riptide of sentimentality, this story is observant, emotional, and character-driven. The influence and presence of Frank Kovacek posthumously in the lives of his grieving family is portrayed with creativity and patience.
Each chapter focuses on one family member at a time - sometimes in a third person narration, first person at other times. Some of my favorite chapters concerned Toby, the son so young when he looses his father. Tall tales - cowboys and ball players - are woven with great skill into the perceptions of a lost and lonely young man.
When I talk about this book, I tell people it should be in the hands of an editor at a big city publishing house. I also tell them that if I were the editor of said publishing house, with this book in my hands, I would praise Cohen... and tell him to give me something else. Or at the very least change a few things in After Dad. One being the numerous scenes of sexuality - some are intimate, some of them are graphic and distressing. The affect of the story is lost in the effect of such scenes. Such events can, and do, occur, but it was too much. I also found the addition of Edgar/Eddie (assistant director of a funeral home) as an important character merely an attempt to flesh out the story. I can see why Cohen put him there, but I do not feel he needs to be. He disrupts the flow.
And the last thing that stuck out to me is the "why". Why do we care so much about this family? Why should we spend 300+ pages learning about them? Why are the Kovaceks a novel unto themselves? The inherent purpose of this book is not obvious. But I must admit, the quality of writing is so fantastic, there were times I did not care to answer that question.
All that aside, Ralph Cohen is a novelist to be discovered and given the opportunity to stretch and find what he can add to our literary world. He is already so much further than many other new authors.
This book was kindly provided by the author for review.
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