T-Rex by the Tail by Michael Turpin
“When 81 year old neo-conservative Karl Patton dies, his four sons must gather up his bones and dredge the river of their own lives lived in the shadow of their father—the T-Rex.
‘The T-Rex father possessed an abnormally large mouth from which he would chew out loud, belch, curse, and devour any weaker form of life. He possessed a great sweeping tail that could strike with unusual dexterity, hitting anything, including his own children, for the slightest infraction…’”
No, T-rex by the Tail has nothing to do with dinosaurs, and yes, being a dinosaur enthusiast, I did initially make that mistake. But I quickly got over the lack of actual dinosaurs and got sucked in to this story that chronicles a family with four boys and how they grew up under “Jurassic parenting.”
The book opens with Karl Patton, a tough but loving dad who is coping with the fact that he had to move his wife Susie to a nursing home because of her Alzheimer’s. At 81-years old, the opinionated and conservative Karl has begun to feel that America, his beloved country, is getting lazy and stupid. He goes to bed one night thinking about his wife and four boys, but he doesn’t wake up.
The rest of the story revolves around Karl, a man who has had a large effect on his family and friends’ lives. Through flashbacks we learn about each of Karl’s four sons: Matthew, John, George, and Freddie. Matthew was the rebellious one, John the charming one, George the funny one, and Freddie the baby and hypochondriac.
Although the boys were close growing up, as adults they drifted apart for years. Each brother has his own set of problems. Matthew is in a loveless marriage and struggling to parent his out-of-control son, Karl Jr. John has a long-term boyfriend but is afraid to tell his family. George is still recovering from a brutal divorce that left him suicidal. And Freddie has to deal with a controlling and verbally abusive wife. The four men reunite for their father’s funeral, where they must learn to put aside their differences to help their mother, who snaps at the news of Karl’s death and starts thinking she is Louise Jefferson from the TV show, The Jeffersons.
Michael Turpin said in his author’s note that he wrote the book after the death of a close friend, and that it is loosely based on his own life. Because of this, the story feels authentic, and Turpin does a great job of depicting all the different relationships in a family of six.
But at times, it feels the author reveals too much and doesn’t trust the reader enough to make connections between the characters. Sometimes the characters even sound the same, especially when they speak for paragraphs at a time. A little tweaking and trimming of dialogue could really make the story pop. There are also a few minor copy-editing errors, such as naming the wrong character at the wrong time.
On the other hand, Turpin can bring out emotion. Reading some of the flashbacks made me tear up—I was able to empathize with the characters and relate to their situations. Showing Susie as a tender mother throughout the book and having a magical way with boys was also a nice touch.
Overall, T-rex by the Tail is grabbing and authentic, and a book that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys literary fiction and/or stories of family life.
Genre: Fiction / Family Life
Published: July 2012 by Michael Turpin (via CreateSpace), ~254 pages