Noah Hawley’s book “The Punch” is a black comedy telling the story of a family torn apart then brought together by the death of the patriarch and center of the family, Joe Henry. His death brings out the best and the worst in his two sons and wife.
The theme of the book emphasizes how coincidences shape our lives, and as I read, I found myself thinking about how true that is. We may plan to our heart’s content, but often what matters in our lives is shaped by a coincidence.
Coincidences seem to rule the entire events and life’s fortunes of the characters in this book. Seismic shifts in the lives of these flawed, yet believable persons, happen as a result of sometimes daily coincidental occurrences.
Joe Henry’s cremated remains are being flown from the west coast to be interred in a New York cemetery. His two sons and his bitter wife endure an uncomfortable flight from the west coast with the remains kept in the cargo hold (an airline rule). Each family member suffers with their own thoughts as they recall their lives with their father and husband during the cross-country flight.
It’s not just the memories of the father and husband that occupy their thoughts. Doris, the wife, is almost giddy as she thinks about her decision to tell her rude and haughty cousins that she is really their sister at the funeral reception. David is filled with a sickening dread that he will run into his second wife and son, thereby letting out the secret that he is a polygamist; he also has a wife and three children in Los Angeles. He loves them all in equal measure.
Scott is ruing his choices in women and consumed with finding a partner who will understand that he is really just a child at heart who needs some mothering. His job is that of a monitor at a call center (“this call may be monitored”) and he is privy to the misfortunes and attitudes of many disgruntled people. He wants to avoid ending up in a life like those of the customers he hears at the end of the phone, most of whom are on call waiting, and who often reveal their true personalities, unaware that he is a silent listener.
The mother, filled with bitterness for her husband whose last seven years were spent as an invalid, can’t move on from a life that she feels was ruined by her sick husband. Cigarettes and alcohol are her comforts.
The scenarios described do not reveal anything that isn’t brought forth early in the novel. However, the reader will delight, cringe, anticipate, and read nonstop to find out how each character got to where they and how they cope with the ensuing messes they have made of their lives.
By the last chapter, each character has discovered what is most important in his or her world. Many reparations will need to be made, but they will be made in a heartfelt way. One coincidence leads to another, and contentment may possibly be found by characters who seem deserving of happiness only through their awareness and redemption.