A son searches for insight into his father, who died in 2005, by probing his fascination with the Depression-era Bonus March.
Novelist Langer (Ellington Boulevard, 2008, etc.) is the son of the late Seymour Langer, doctor and dutiful but distant father. The author vividly remembers his father talking about writing, but never completing, a book about the 1932 Bonus March, in which World War I veterans were rousted from Washington, D.C., after demanding early payment of a promised service bonus. Langer dubs the March his father’s “Rosebud,” the mysterious clue hinting at the man’s soul, and he spends most of the book trying to discover why this long-ago event meant so much to his father—did he feel unworthy because he hadn’t served in the military?—meditating on a man he never fully knew and on the meaning of unfulfilled dreams. The author hops around in time, alternating scenes of his childhood, early manhood and the present, as he researches family and friends’ memories of his father while dishing out relevant history about the March. Elements of the story will touch readers with similar experiences, like caring for an aging parent or seeking closure for unresolved parent-child questions. Unfortunately, large sections of the narrative, such as the dead-end leads that Langer pursues, become tedious and self-indulgent. The author concludes that his father was a contented man who may not have wanted to write a book. Indeed, his brother tells him that the uncompleted book probably matters more to him than it did to their dad.
Poignant, but would have worked better as a long-form magazine piece.