Review: South of Main Street by Robert Gately

FF’s Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

For his family novel entitled South of Main Street, Robert Gately has created a seemingly silly fifty-five-year-old male protagonist to touch the lives of a drug addict trying to stay clean and a teenage boy who lives with an alcoholic father in a small Pennsylvanian town. And even more to my liking, the threads of this novel branch out in unpredictable ways. A mother finally gets hope for her wayward daughter once she meets Henry, an alcoholic father of a son Henry knows catches a glimpse of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and tragedy hits Henry when he least expects it. Coupled with a surprising twist at the end, all of this is happening as Christmas approaches.

Sisters Robin and Sharon Wolff grew up on the north side of Main Street, Coalsville, the part of the town designated for the upper class. The rock behind their family was Mary, their mother, who passes away due to cancer at the beginning of December. Their father, one Henry Wolff, is more child than man. Sharon wants what’s hers and because Henry is, well, Henry, Sharon decides to petition the court so that Henry’s assets can be frozen so that she can become Henry’s financial guardian. Robin believes that her father can take care of himself. A court hearing is scheduled to be held on the twenty-third of December. Whether she’s doing the right thing or not, Sharon needs proof to get what she wants.

Armed to the teeth with jaded one-liners, Robin’s father is one of the most peculiar characters I’ve ever met in a book; just a whole sack of unlimited weirdness, first seen in a scene one would mostly see in a 90s comedy film. I say peculiar here because the author didn’t give me the impression that the man was crazy enough to be institutionalized. In a lot of ways, due to what he experienced as a soldier coupled with the loss of his baby boy, he is like a child, however. Living with a family secret along with his daughters and quick to vanish when someone says the wrong word to him, he can easily be taken advantage of by someone in desperate need of money or who is just looking to score where possible.

Which brings us to Sharon and her wanting to become Henry’s financial guardian. When I met her, I didn’t like Sharon. In just a few pages, the author had her personality type all laid out for me. All about the money. But I was quick to judge. Well, sort of because I was sort of right. As he does with every character we meet, he provides good reasons for why Sharon is the way she is. At thirty-one-years-old, Sharon didn’t live the kind of life and work the kind of job to be happy with. Working for a debt collection agency, she could hardly compete with her older sister Robin, a Harvard Law School graduate. The money her mother made sure she wouldn’t get her hands on could finally be hers.

Considering that Sharon, who went through not one, but two abortions, is the Wolff sister with obvious issues, I found it odd that Robin is the one who regularly saw a psychologist. Or maybe it was just another way for the author to show me that Robin was career-wise more well-off than Sharon: she could afford to see a psychologist and Sharon couldn’t. Robin’s sessions with her head doctor allowed me to learn more about her and her family, so I liked this whole touch to the novel. So was the possibility, albeit small, that something could be rekindled between Asa Adler, a character the author only gives readers a glimpse of at first, and Robin.

I laughed a lot in the beginning of the book and it was mostly thanks to Henry and his tout de suite childish silliness. In a scene with him and his daughter Robin, the author had me wondering if there was some possibility that Henry, the real Henry that Mary fell in love with, who gave her “two of the most exciting weeks”, and stuck to him even after he changed, could come out of his childish mental prison cell. For a reader who has a family member who is more or less like Henry, a scene like this would definitely give them hope and inspire them not to give up in a situation like this.

For a teenager like Danny, the son of an alcoholic father and a mother who ran away, life would be bleak. Even more so if Danny didn’t have a neighbor like Henry. Danny knows how silly Henry can be, but one day, when he spends a day with Henry and Dixie, the drug addict that Henry is trying to help, he has a lot of fun and for that day, his life wasn’t bleak at all. I liked this part about the novel a lot, but what I didn’t like was that the author went a tad too far with Danny’s own childish nature. I also had a hard time coming to grips with Dixie thinking of Danny “like the brother she never had” on that same day, a detail revealed too soon.

Let me tell you, this book makes you want to grab everyone you love and hold them for as long as you can. Inspires you to speak properly too! Robert Gately has not just written a story that can bring out the compassionate side in everyone, but he has made a fictional town come alive to such a degree that I wished I could be in it just so I could shake hands with a true good person and a protagonist that I will never forget. I can recommended this book only to the soul who needs it.

I can’t conclude this review without revealing my favorite Henry Wolff quote (He is a wise man and I wonder if the author would consider sharing Henry’s wisdom on something like, I don’t know, coffee mugs!). Huh, Mr. Gately? Would ya? The quote: “A rich person is not someone who has the most money. He’s someone who needs it the least.”

Kindle Edition:

Publisher: Entrada Publishing
Date Published: October 10, 2016
Genre: Family Life
Pages: 272
View on Amazon
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