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by Alexs D. Pate

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1997
ISBN: 0-399-14200-2
Publisher: Putnam

 Journal entries in the form of letters to a father from his daughter, along with an imaginary dog/wolf named Mate who symbolizes the forces that drive couples apart, help Pate (Losing Absalom, not reviewed) establish himself as a stylistic innovator who can also tell a story--in this case about the as yet largely uncharted territory of modern-day African-American fatherhood. In the prologue, 19-year-old Makeba Crestfield shows up at a crowded book signing in Philadelphia; when she finally reaches the front of the line, she confronts the author--for the very good reason that it's her long-lost father who, Makeba thinks, walked out on her a decade before. The rest of the narrative alternates between the background story of Makeba's father, Ben, and her mother, Helen, and entries from the journal Makeba has kept while reading her father's autobiographical novel about fatherhood and about a lifetime spent away from the daughter he supposedly loves. We learn that Ben and Helen met at a Valentine's Day party in 1975, fell in love, and, when Helen got pregnant months later, married. At the time, Ben was an aspiring writer; as soon as he and Helen marry, he finds himself torn between his soon-to-be family and his all-consuming career. After Makeba is born, the tension between Ben and Helen--who resents the fact that Ben can't make a full commitment to marriage or fatherhood--reaches the breaking point, and Ben leaves for a few days to clear his head. When he returns, Helen and Makeba are gone; he doesn't see his daughter again until she appears at his signing. Lena, Helen's mother (who has mystical powers), plays a significant role; for the most part, however, Pate focuses on the misunderstandings and lack of communication that are hallmarks of most broken unions. A topical but effectively engrossing read by an author with the ability to say things in a new way.