The Son of a Certain Woman
It doesn’t take readers of award-winning author Wayne Johnston’s latest novel, The Son of a Certain Woman, to recognise all the elements of a Greek tragedy – the fateful hero with a healthy Oedipus complex, mythological endeavours, historical references, a small but complex central cast together with a large and boisterous chorus, religious and political chicanery and actors wearing masks, both physical and psychological. But what may take readers a bit longer to recognise is Johnston’s deft hand at interlacing the tragedy with less frequent but much welcome Greek comedy.
Percy Jones is our eponymous hero, born in 1950s Newfoundland to the wildly attractive but single mother, Penny Joyce. Percy’s ‘mask’ is a large port wine stain and misshapen hands and feet, characteristic of his False Someone Syndrome, a disorder both physical and prophetic. His life amongst the small town, small minded folk of the Mount is not an easy one. The children, often egged on by the adults, think nothing of jeering, name calling, physical assault and invoking the sacred name of Penny Joyce in their efforts to rile him. He, in turn, sees nothing wrong in creating myth after myth about himself in an effort to protect his fragile existence and entertain his audience.
Johnston complex portrayal of Percy and his highly dysfunctional extended family is lightened considerably by the delicate thread of comedy which is also woven through the novel. This comedy primarily takes place between Percy’s paternal aunt (and Penny’s true love), Medina, and Pops, the purveyor of unrequited love for Penny but who sleeps with him nonetheless in exchange for rent. In what might otherwise become a very disheartening, disquieting read, this quick fire banter allows the reader a moment of classic Greek comedy to effectively set off Percy’s tragedy.