THE PHANTOM FATHER by Barry Gifford

THE PHANTOM FATHER

A Memoir

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Gifford's baffling but enjoyable memoir of his father, a Chicago bookmaker and hoodlum, is stitched together with material from his earlier books and, admittedly, ``contains elements of fiction'' and is ``somewhat embroidered and colored.'' It's not always easy to discern the factual from the apocryphal, but novelist Gifford's (Baby Cat-Face, 1995, etc.) lively material makes that beside the point: Rudy Winston, owner of the Lake Shore Liquor and Drug Store at the corner of Chicago and Rush streets, was a fascinating, elusive character. Rudy ``was a good man to know,'' as they said. During the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, he had connections to everybody from John Dillinger to Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. Willie ``The Hero'' Nero and Johnny Reata, a man reputed to have made his money running guns to the Dominican Republic, were among his known associates. His own rap sheet was fairly modest, the worst being a one-year suspended sentence for being an accessory to the receipt of stolen goods. Gifford writes of all this in short takes, with some pieces scarcely mentioning his father, focusing instead on his oft-married mother (she divorced Rudy when Gifford was five years old); or his ``listening to the news'' on the radio, i.e., ``the real news of blues, jazz and R&B''; or his penchant for telling wild stories as a child. Gifford catalogues his own set of misfit associates: Cueball Bluestein, who became a hitman for Dodo Saltimocca; Chuck Syracuse, a teenage cab driver who torched his own taxi so the dispatcher couldn't read the meter; Magic Frank, with whom he spent time at Bebop's Pool Hall. But mostly, it's about a father who took him to ball games and the fights, or brought him along on the occasional mysterious trip to small town to ``see a man on business.'' Perhaps appropriately, Gifford riffles through these images of his ``phantom'' father as if they were old photographs of someone he scarcely knew.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-15-100250-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1997




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