In The Darkroom recounts the author’s long quest to figure out who her father really is, a father who abandoned his family and who, after a long estrangement, informs her that he is now a woman. (She continues to refer to her as “my father” but uses feminine pronouns throughout, which makes for confusing sentences!) It turns out that her father, who moved back to his (her) native Hungary later in life, had a charmed upbringing in Budapest followed by a harrowing escape from the Nazis. It all comes out, very, very slowly, along with the sex-change operation in Thailand and the questionable bureaucratic games s/he played to get there.
I much preferred the parts of the story that were personal and centered on the father rather than the more general historical references. Such a complicated personality!
I was disappointed by First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama, perhaps predictably since, after all, presidents are people too so their approach to parenting cannot be too different from everyone else’s. Except that they have little time for their offsprings, and that many push their massive ambitions onto their children, with unsurprisingly grim results. There are many carefully researched stories in the book, but a surprising lack of analysis so here is my take. Given a choice, don’t be the child of a president. Most likely, you will be shunted aside for more important things, and pressured to achieve as much of your dad — and even if you are lucky to have a great dad (which is unlikely) you will live your life under the harsh light of 24×7 media scrutiny. Sad.
My Father, The Pornographer is a tough memoir to read, of the author’s sifting through his father’s prodigious output as a writer of science fiction, and, mostly pornography. While he labors, he reminisces about a difficult man, an always neglectful and often cruel father, and tells outlandish true stories about tagging along with his parents to science fiction conventions, only to be left to his own devices, or, worse, in charge of his marginally younger siblings.
After such a childhood, I’m not sure I would have lugged the (literally) tons of books left in his father’s study to my own house, let alone inventoried them, or read the private papers that showed his dad’s darker side. But the author writes powerfully about both his growing up and the experience of sorting through his father’s estate.
Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities is the story of a group of men from a housing project in Watts who are brought together to become better fathers. It’s a harrowing story, as most of them grew up without fathers and have criminal records, most are unemployed, and they are living in a very violent environment. But there are also wonderful moments, moments when they support each other in words and in action, and when they express their concern for the young men around them in general, not just their sons.
The book is an interesting counterpoint to Ghettoside, and left me with a similar feeling of hopelessness, with just a few beams of optimism.
Let Me Explain You starts with a Greek immigrant’s strange email to his family that he will be dead in ten days — which is judged to be a prank until he disappears. The story moves between him, his three daughters, his ex-wife, his mistress, and his business partner (lots of women, most not talking to each other!), as well as between the US and Greece, skillfully unspooling from today to his childhood. It’s a family saga, albeit packaged in a deft series of flashbacks and with many unexpected twists.
It took me a very long time to get into the story, so if you decide to read it you will need to push past the apparently aimless first half…
Loving Day is over-the-top comedy, but, starring an almost-white man and his newly found teenage daughter, it fearlessly tackles race relations with a vigor and courage that are both refreshing and sobering.
Puzzlingly, the copy editing seems to be lacking, and the details of the story are often bawdy, outlandish, or both, but the tone is unerring and the father-daugher relationship is wonderfully chaotic. This book is easy to read, but deep, in a good way.
Thrumpton Hall: Elegy of an Obsessive Love is a rather strange memoir. Its title refers to the grand house the author’s father inherited and dedicated himself to maintaining, but the focus is on the father rather than the house. He was far from a wonderful father, nor was he a great husband, and the author’s determination to get her mother to admit his faults is embarrassing at times. It seems, indeed, that her father married for appearances’ sake, both to mask the fact that he was gay and, perhaps, to acquire the financial means to maintain his beloved Thrumpton. All this makes for a rather disagreeable, sad, and vindictive story, amongst wealthy people who keep to their set and serve as a good advertisement for hefty inheritance taxes.