The Facts of Life

by Graham Joyce

Atria Books, June, 2003.
Hardcover, 294 pages.
ISBN: 0743463420

The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce The Facts of Life does not disappoint the reader; It leaves few parts of life unexplored. The story follows the adventures of a young boy who is born into a working class world in the midlands of England after the end of World War II. The tale is brutal yet kind as it allows this young boy to see all that is to be seen of life. The midlands and especially the town of Coventry had been the target of Hitler's Luftwaffe. It was bombed mercilessly, probably because of the existence of a munitions factory. The political and social climate of postwar England and the attitudes and problems of ordinary people all surround and influence the growing boy.

Frank's existence is due to another of his mentally unstable mother's "lapses." When she made her first mistake, the family found an adoptive family for the child. But when the prospective adoptive mother of Cassie's second "lapse" approached her, Cassie ran home with her little son still in her arms. The family, under the leadership of Martha, the undisputed matriarch, decided to keep the boy and trade out the responsibilities for his care among themselves.

Young Frank is exposed to all the experiences to which a family can expose a child. As Frank lives with the family of each aunt he is exposed to the birth of twins, the sexual exploits of would-be intellectuals living in a colony in Oxford, as well as the details of embalming the dead in which he assists his aunt and uncle. All is seen through the explicit and nonjudgmental eyes of youth which accepts, but does not yet judge.

Is the Vine family so very different from most families? If all the truths were told, perhaps not. At least the reader will find characters beautifully drawn not only through descriptions, but through their actions and reactions as they move toward molding England into what it became in the second half of the twentieth century.

As for Frank Vines, that child that all of the Vine family felt was so special, readers of The Facts of Life would like to see what he turns out to be, after so unconventional a start in life. In the tradition of English writers, Graham Joyce has introduced us to a family of unforgettable people who do their best to make life livable. He lets us see how the eccentric and the unusual can come close to the spiritual as people work out the problems in their lives the best way they can.

--Sarah Reaves White

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This review was published in the September-October, 2003 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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