Sitting at the Wrong Dinner Table, written by local author Stephen Nauta, tells of homecoming and healing. The book’s central character is Fran who faces the impending death of Richard, her abusive husband of forty years. Seeing a therapist, she is transforming herself and exploring possibilities for her future. Most importantly, she wants her three grown sons to return home to say goodbye to their father and to reestablish their severed bonds. During her marriage, Fran found solace and peace in her kitchen – the one place Richard didn’t enter or rule. And, so, from the kitchen, Fran cooks up the recipes that will bring her family back together.
The three sons are unique, but somewhat one-dimensional. The “loved son,” John, earned a Master’s of Divinity from Calvin Theological Seminary, moved to India for mission work, became disillusioned with religion, fell in love, and married an Indian woman, and now writes. He’s a vegetarian and has a shaved head. Next, the “prodigal son,” Thomas, who like his 1962 VW bus, is “an odd duck that refused to bow down to convention.” He is a hippie who never grew up. He left home to attend Humbolt State University in Arcada, California, and eventually became an art professor there. Finally, the “good son,” Peter, who followed his father’s religion and became a minister of a church in Florida.
The father, comatose and in hospice care in the guest room throughout has no lines in this book; but, remarkably, he plays a prominent role. His abusive nature has affected everyone around him, and each character has to come to terms with the damage. Surprising secrets are revealed that shed light on a wholly unknown side of him.
The story takes place in the White Lake area (the author refers to Whitehall as “White Lake” and Montague as “Montague”). Local readers will recognize familiar haunts from Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Duck Lake, and the White Lake area, including the old (now closed) bowling alley in Whitehall.
The author includes much of his own personal history in the book: a missionary’s child in the Dominican Republic; a social worker for troubled youth; telling stories from the pulpit of a conservative Protestant church; and, currently a working as a therapist at Isabel’s House in Spring Lake. In fact, there is a lot of therapy going on in the book – not only between Fran and her therapist Marcia, but also between the siblings and mother as they analyze each other’s motives. With all this therapy going on, does every character find proper resolution for the issues created by the father’s abuse and its consequences?
Author Stephen Nauta will be joining Bryan on the Book Nook’s Book Club on WZZM TV Channel 13’s “Take Five” morning show at 9:00 a.m. Monday, October 6, and at the Book Nook Book Club monthly meeting at 6:00 p.m. Monday, October 6, at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague.