Keeper and Kid
by Edward Hardy
Published by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne
294 pages, 2008
Definitely a Keeper
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
Most of the books I review here at January, I find on my own. Once in a great while, one comes my way I didn’t find. In this case, Edward Hardy’s book found its way to me via our venerable editor, Linda L. Richards. Now, Linda never fails to impress me with her insights, kind editing and suggestions regarding important life choices, but I had no idea she was one of those people who match book to reader. At least, not so brilliantly.
See, Keeper and Kid is just so perfectly for me. I don’t know if I would have chosen it (hell, I haven’t even seen it in a store, which is a damn shame), but once I dipped in, I was hooked.
Keeper is Jim Keeper, divorced, mid-30s and now wonderfully enmeshed in a fruitful relationship with Leah and a career path that leaves a bit to be desired. His life is just perfect right about now. His divorce was bad enough that he knows that he’ll never marry again, just to avoid having to divorce again (maybe). But Leah, a workaholic on the fast track, seems fine with that. Everything’s just ducky, in fact, until Keeper’s ex, Cynthia, dies. Leaving him their dog. Who turns out to be dead, too.
Which is when Keeper learns he has a three-year-old son. With no mother, the kid -- Leo -- is moving into Daddy’s house. Except Daddy didn’t ever expect to be a parent ... and it isn’t even his house.
Now, before you call me a spoiler, the jacket tells you all this (well, pretty much). And anyway, it’s from here that Keeper and Kid finds itself, its characters, its voice and its undeniable beauty. See, this is a book that seems to be about transformation, but is really about revelation. Leo, the monkey wrench, is tossed into the motor of Keeper’s life -- and seems to foul everything up. His relationships, his work, his home, his bank account...
As Hardy writes it, it’s all terrible for Keeper, but it’s terribly funny for us. How is Keeper going to reconcile what’s happened (happening)? Will his life be forever changed -- and more importantly, will he always feel like an alien inside it?
As much as the tale rockets along, what makes Keeper and Kid so fabulous is the details. Hardy knows all about this parenthood adventure, and he should. When I asked him recently whether he had a Leo of his own, he said, “Not by name. But we have two kids, five and eight. But when I started [writing], one was three and a half and the other was on the way.”
So back to the details. There are zillions of them here, and every single one of them rings true. When I asked Hardy how he knows so much, he just laughed. “I have no idea. The parenthood stuff, it was a weird book to write because we were right in the middle of it,” he said. “Some of it was stuff that struck me as it happened to us.”
Not that Keeper and Kid is a parenthood book. It’s so not. One could argue that it’s a fatherhood book, but I’d disagree even there. I think these classifications are far too pat. I think this is a book about what it means to have an unpredictable life. It’s about monkey wrenches and how they monkey with us. It’s about being pulled to another planet. “The thing about parenthood is that it takes you to an entirely new place. The kind of chatter in your mind is different.”
There are so many great things in this book that it’s tough to find one that stands out. That said, though, Chapter 16 does. This is where Keeper brings Leo to meet his parents -- and the effect this has on Keeper is profound. Frustrated beyond imagination by ignorance, failures and endless diaper changing, he presents Leo to his own mom and dad. He doesn’t know what he needs -- but we know he needs a nap. And while he gets that, he also gets to see his folks and Leo in a new way. Suddenly, all four of these people are revealed anew, to one another and each to himself and herself. I shuddered when I was reading it. It’s a perfect chapter in what I would call a perfect novel.
Keeper and Kid is filled with real feelings that define characters just enough to make them seem real. And it knows -- that is, Hardy knows -- when to shut up. He knows that loose ends are what make life what such a party, and that they also make great novels. So he leaves plenty of them.
This is a funny and tragic novel. It’s complex and simple and innocent and knowing. It’s all this ... but most of all, it’s absolutely unforgettable. | April 2008
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse and a contributing editor to January Magazine and Blue Coupe. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he is hard at work on an exciting new chapter in his life.