Songs for your Mother – Gordon Macmillan

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A beautifully written piece, covering a multitude of emotions. The characters are, without realising it, in the midst of a terrible emotional tangle, reminiscent of Mauriac’s ‘Noeud de Viperes’, full of tragedy and misunderstandings owing to a unique chain of events. The book brought out so many emotions in me, I found it difficult to put down, seesawing between wanting to know what happens next and dreading what terrible event might happen next! This book exudes a rare sense of fragility and sentiment.

Lauren never imagined her future self being a single Mother, working in a restaurant, but then how many of us would have been able to predict our future accurately, when asked as a teenager? Equally Johnny never imagined being ‘outed’ as a father to a small child that he knew nothing about, especially several years after the child was born. Who knows where the links that make up your life story might lead!

Picture the zemblanity which leaves you, through no fault of your own, waking up to a perfectly normal day, only to find yourself left to look after a child that you had no idea existed. Johnny’s sequence of events were more than unlucky – more like downright tragic, yet as a reader it all seemed to gel together as a cohesive story, one which left me feeling empathetic towards both Johnny and Lauren.

This author is imaginative; of that there is no doubt. You must have imagination to come up with the name Trees Serenity Pure (TSP). She was nothing but kind towards Johnny, when it would have been all to easy for the author to present her as the obvious bitter, resentful soul. I found it refreshing that the author doesn’t always take the obvious path, and is prepared to tackle more difficult, emotional scenarios. Equally the author didn’t take the obvious routes with potential romance, for example between Johnny and TSP or between Johnny and Lauren. Much contemporary fiction is rather formulaic, which made this book all the more refreshing with its original storyline.

The book starts with Johnny and Will, two great friends on a ‘last hoorah’ road trip before Will settles down with his Girlfriend, ‘TSP’; Will however leaves Johnny feeling let down though, when he declares his intention of abandoning the road trip, after speaking to TSP and her begging him to come home.

I love the analogy the author uses about life and the Rickety looking 1920s rollercoaster – the implication that life can be like a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs, and if it’s a rickety wooden one, it can feel as though your life could just fall apart at any moment, such is its precarious fragility. (As I read, I could picture Forrest Gump saying ‘Life is like a rollercoaster’), A sobering thought, made exponentially more sobering as the sequence of events unfolds, such is the clever layering of pieces of the story as the reader progresses through the book. I think that Johnny’s rollercoaster ends up having more troughs than peaks.

Cheesed off at Will imminently abandoning him, Jonny embarks on a solo boozy night out in Santa Cruz, where he meets Lauren. They immediately click, partly thanks to their mutual love of music, a theme which is a constant throughout the book. Johnny ends up spending the night with Lauren, and they part with the agreement that he knows where to find her, once he is ready, and he will come back for her. Lauren is adamant that there is no need to exchange surnames, social media details or phone numbers, as he knows where to find her. Will then drops a bombshell; that he has spoken to TSP and he’s staying for the road trip after all. This of course puts a dampener on Johnny’s plan to go back and be with Lauren. 

In an attempt to calm their mutual unease, the two lads make the cataclysmic decision that before continuing on their trip, Johnny should nip back and get Lauren’s details and explain that whilst they are continuing with their road trip, he will be back; shockingly disaster strikes, in the form of a terrible RTA. Johnny wakes up from a comatose state three months later in hospital in the UK. Akin to the two lads, I certainly didn’t see that one coming! Johnny’s friends and family are very supportive. He feels bad that he never got back to Lauren, but life moves on. TSP is especially supportive and seemingly desperate for a happy ending, buys him a ticket back to LA to try and catch up with Lauren, but for various reasons he never goes.

Fast forward 5 years and Johnny quite literally has his five year old son dumped on his doorstep one morning! Crikey, a real ‘Oh my gosh’ moment! It really is hard to imagine Johnny’s emotions at this point, ranging from love through to fear and anger. One presumes that on the one side Johnny would feel betrayed that he knew nothing about the child, Luke, whilst on the other hand Lauren would have felt her own betrayal at Johnny never coming back, when he promised he would. Fate certainly was working against the pair of them, that ‘morning after’. Luke has been left because Lauren is unable to look after him herself.

I found myself rooting for Johnny as he learns to look after Luke and such was the emotion in the book, that I felt each bump along the way and found myself yearning for a happy ending to an already tragically sad story. At times I just felt deluged with emotion and cried real tears.

I mentioned that this book made me cry real tears at times, but the end was emotional and I found its quiet simplicity utterly heartbreaking.


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