The Good Parents

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Overview

Maya de Jong is an eighteen-year-old country girl who moves to Melbourne and becomes embroiled in an affair with her boss. When Maya's parents, Toni and Jacob, arrive for a visit - Maya's gone - where, no one knows. And Maya, for reasons of her own, leaves haunting clues in late-night calls to her brother at home, carefully avoiding detection by the two people who love her most. Ultimately, to find her, Toni and Jacob will have to revisit parts of their pasts that they had thought were gone forever and confront ...
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The Good Parents: A Novel

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Overview

Maya de Jong is an eighteen-year-old country girl who moves to Melbourne and becomes embroiled in an affair with her boss. When Maya's parents, Toni and Jacob, arrive for a visit - Maya's gone - where, no one knows. And Maya, for reasons of her own, leaves haunting clues in late-night calls to her brother at home, carefully avoiding detection by the two people who love her most. Ultimately, to find her, Toni and Jacob will have to revisit parts of their pasts that they had thought were gone forever and confront the person they have long feared most. A stunning portrait of familial love and how far we can drift apart in the moments between the words we speak, The Good Parents is at once utterly contemporary and a story as old as humanity itself.
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Editorial Reviews

Roxana Robinson
Joan London's shimmering new novel, The Good Parents, explores the questions of sexual trade agreements, generational patterns and others, with subtlety and intelligence…London, who's Australian, recalls celebrated British stylists—Elizabeth Bowen, William Trevor—and another Aussie native, Shirley Hazzard. Like theirs, London's language is so lovely, her tone so gentle, that the sadness of her truths is somehow shocking.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

London (Gilgamesh) delivers an excellent family drama rooted in rural Australian lives. The novel opens with a lengthy glimpse into the life of 20-year-old Maya de Jong, who has recently left her small hometown for a new job (and subsequently an affair with the new boss) in Melbourne. As early as the second chapter, however, it's clear that the narrative interest lies with Maya's parents, Toni and Jacob, who arrive for an extended vacation to discover Maya's gone missing. Maya's puzzling, abrupt absence-which will leave readers perplexed nearly as long as the de Jongs are-leaves Toni and Jacob with little to do but wait for her to contact them; this period of enforced helplessness and isolation provides a metaphorical insight into the parents of adult children, who, as Jacob reflects, reveal their own self-doubts and self-awareness once their parental role is finished. The narrative shifts subtly among the past and present of a wide cast, each of whom has his or her own story of abandoning one life for another. This insightful novel illuminates with seeming ease the fraught relationships among friends, families and entire communities. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

London, winner of the Age Book of the Year Award for Gilgamesh, tells the story of a family history repeating itself and being redeemed. Maya, a young woman fresh from Australia's outback, leaves with her boss for Thailand after his wife's funeral, although her parents, Jacob and Toni, are on their way to see her. When Jacob and Toni arrive, they are devastated by Maya's disappearance, which sets them to thinking about the patterns of their own youth-for Toni, of her marriage to a controlling mobster and for Jacob, of falling in love with a young woman who died in an accident. They do their best to track down Maya and wait for her to return, to herself and to them. The story frequently changes time and perspective, weaving together patterns between characters and eras. London's narrative is deft, transcending a typical family saga and poignantly illuminating not only the harsh truths but also the gentle nobility of her characters' lives. Absorbing and suspenseful; recommended for medium to large libraries.
—Amy Ford

The Barnes & Noble Review
A young woman from the country moves to the city and disappears. Her mother has a mysterious past, which may or may not bear some relation to the daughter's fate. Drugs and sex are most definitely involved, as are men of loose morals. The Good Parents has all the makings of a literary thriller. Except it isn't very thrilling. In her determination to explore how children come to terms with what they've inherited from their parents, Joan London lets the theme overshadow the action.

At age 18, Maya de Jong amicably departs from her parents' house in tiny, rural Warton for the bustle of Melbourne. With the help of a family friend, she starts working as a secretary; on her own, she finds a room to let and begins an affair with her boss, Maynard Flynn, the proprietor and sole other employee of Global Imports. Maya begins sleeping with him in part out of pity -- somewhere in the suburbs, his wife is dying of cancer -- and in part out of a desire for romance: a previous attempt to lose her virginity had been a humiliating failure. After their early morning assignations, Maya imagines herself more lovely while Maynard chats about his past, casually referencing his affairs in the Far East and an expulsion from boarding school after getting a girl pregnant. When Maynard arrives one day with a new, creepy business partner and asks Maya to leave with them, she agrees.

Why Maya agrees to go is the first part of the mystery. She leaves word for her parents, who are due to arrive for a visit, that she had to go somewhere for work and doesn't know when she'll be back. Toni and Jacob, frantic, assume they're being punished for some misdeed. "If life was a test," they think, "this is what would break them." But they are the good parents of the title: kind, loving, supportive. Gradually, they adjust to life in Melbourne and without Maya. Toni begins canvassing the city, looking for clues, while Jacob develops a crush on Maya's roommate. To find their daughter, they need to rely on what they know of Maya and what they remember of their own youths.

When she was Maya's age, Toni met Cy Fisher, a mysterious figure who introduced her to the glamorous underworld of Perth. His underlings referred to the couple as "Beauty and the Beast." Across town, Jacob passed his childhood alternately spying on his mother's clients in her dressmaking shop and losing himself in fiction. Later he became involved in the hippie counterculture, a movement that completely passed by Toni, who found herself in the unexpected role of a gangster's housewife. Their meeting and subsequent involvement allowed each to further dissociate from their childhoods, Toni as the extraordinary daughter of an ordinary middle-class family and Jacob as the only son of a single mother. The relationship between the past and the present is yet another part of the mystery.

The parallel narratives allow London to tease out connections between Maya and her parents. Like Jacob, Maya tends toward imaginative fancy, envisioning herself a heroic savior. She thinks of her life in narrative terms, always striving for the perfect description to include in "the on-going letter in her head." Father and daughter also share an affection for Chekhov, London's not-so-sly nod to a fellow trafficker in the art of domestic drama. Like Toni, Maya relishes adventure, overly confident that she can handle whatever comes her way. When Maynard offers her the choice of staying behind or leaving with him and his associate, Maya opts for the latter but recasts her decision in the language of fate: "Her legs went one after the other as if they didn't belong to her any more." Removing agency from the decision to leave guarantees that she won't be responsible for what follows. Toni too can't conceive of her life with Cy as anything but inevitable.

Back in Melbourne, London detours and eventually stalls. Toni deepens her spirituality and becomes an Earth Mother. She wonders if someone or something else will need to be surrendered in order for Maya to return, and she searches for "vibes." Then she tries to become a Buddhist, which grants her such insights as "[a]ll creatures acted from self-interest. The last and greatest vanity was to think you were essential." Ultimately, though, this journey goes nowhere, as if to reinforce the idea that we can never change enough to escape our pasts. London realizes what Toni does not: within the story of our families, we are always necessary. The decisions we make in our first forays into adulthood will determine us, as will those made by our parents. Early on, Maya looks in the mirror and wonders, "When do you stop being haunted by your parents?" The answer, apparently, is never. For this author, genealogy is destiny.

In the de Jong family, London has literally represented her genre-blending project. Jacob is the literary thinker, Toni the active thrill-seeker, and Maya their (im)perfect offspring. But the rigid adherence to dichotomy this necessitates makes the real Maya hard to pin down. She is too much an equal-parts' blend and not enough an idiosyncratic self. From Magnus, Maya's younger brother, we learn that she "could never say no to a dare. Her name was Bandit Queen." The Maya whom Magnus knows isn't Jacob and Toni's Maya, nor the naïve dreamer who opens the book. Identity slips and shifts within families, and within novels. Too much slippage, however, as here, and readers can't reconcile the girl with her decisions. The Maya of the climax is almost unrecognizable, as indeterminate as the novel she inhabits. --Jessica Allen

Jessica Allen has written for Bitch, The Forward, The Onion AV Club, and The Washington Post. She lives in New York.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802170576
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/3/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 837,392
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2009

    Tough to Keep Your Interest

    I'm going to check back to see if other reviews come in on this one, because although I had a tough time keeping interested in the story, I feel as though I may have missed some deeper message. The story takes place in Australia, although it could have been anywhere. It is about a young woman, 18 years of age, who moves away from her family in the country to the big city--Melbourne. There she becomes involved with her much older boss and when he leaves the country after the death of his wife, she follows him. He isn't abusive, but he isn't all that good to her either, and she simply follows the path of least resistance. All this happens in the first chapter, but the book is not so much about her as it is about her parents. Their daughter was expecting their visit, but left anyway, and they don't know where she went. They end up setting up camp in the apartment she shared with a roommate while they alternately wait passively, but anxiously, for her return or try to track down where she could have gone. Meanwhile, the reader is taken on a ride into both mother and father's past lives before they met each other and then afterward and what brought them to this point in their lives. We also get another story about what is going on with their teenage son at home and a relationship that blossoms between the father's sister and a neighbor whose wife recently abandoned him. Little of it interested me to any great extent. The mother seems less interested in her daughter as she is in running away to an ashram. The father becomes preoccupied with the roommate. I wanted to know what was happening with the daughter, but little is learned until near the end of the book--where we find that just as she is persuaded to leave Melbourne, she is persuaded to return. No big drama. There were interesting parts from time to time in this book, but nothing at all that made it difficult to put down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2013

    Everyone has his own story. It might be funny or frightening, in

    Everyone has his own story. It might be funny or frightening, instructive or entertaining. It might bore some and excite others. Telling a story well, so others can relate to it easily, is the duty of the writer. Stories about ordinary people are particularly difficult. When crafted with excellence, the characters hit highs and lows, have flaws and fortes. They face the challenge of surviving in a world that often is cruel and uncaring, nourishing within themselves a careful consideration for their own well being and the same for others. I’ve found a book that meets my qualifications and is a joy to read. “The Good Parents” by Joan London. It features a teen-aged daughter seeking to reach adulthood through the time-honored fashion—an older man—along with the turmoil experienced by her mother and father, aging semi-hippies. There’s a mystery, in fact several mysteries: will the daughter meet a terrible fate, and will a disreputable but powerful man in the mother’s past bring doom? The beauty of this book, however, is neither plot nor action. Rather, the intricate weaving of the inner thoughts, the external impacts, the complex relationships, of the characters make you read faster and faster, to track the lives of people who somehow seem as close as dear friends or beloved relatives. The main characters as well as the secondary ones upon whom only a few pages may be expended are as faceted and radiant and entrancing as a diamond. Through this treatise on one family’s lives, I grew to appreciate my own more. “The Good Parents” is truly an example of how ordinary people can have extraordinary lives.

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    Posted September 10, 2009

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    Posted April 20, 2009

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    Posted August 19, 2009

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