A difficult father’s difficult final years, affectingly told by a son who, along the way, experiences just about the entire range of human emotion.
Cooper, a novelist, memoirist and essayist (The Year of Rhymes, 2001, not reviewed, etc.), begins with an account of an offer from a publisher to write the story of his father. But the younger Cooper finds the task impossible: His father—a retired Los Angeles divorce lawyer—does not like to talk and protects his emotional life with Cerberean tenacity. Years later comes this narrative, written after his father’s death in 2000. The tale is framed by two films. The first was one his father had showed him, an 8mm production about a so-called “miracle chicken” that lived without its head. The second is a video called To Hell and Back, produced by a Christian evangelist, that dramatizes the near-death experiences of five men who saw visions of Hell. This was a gift his father’s nurse, Betty, had given her patient as he neared death. (Nurse and father were also lovers.) She was a hard-core Christian; he, a casual Jew. In between are many other stories about dealing with Dad, about suffering through the deaths of three older brothers, about beginning his writing career. Cooper includes some scenes with his lover/therapist, Brian, who seems ever flawless and unvaryingly wise—a real-life counterpart to Robert B. Parker’s Susan Silverman, that cloying lover/therapist who threatens to vitiate each of the Spenser PI novels. Cooper amuses with accounts of trying to conceal from his father some passages he’d published about the man’s marital infidelities. And there are painful episodes—taking his father to doctors, enduring his sharp sarcasm, suffering through a three-year estrangement, receiving a $2 million bill from him for “paternal services.” And then the final shot to the solar-plexus, the epitaph his father had selected: You finally got me.
A graceful memoir filled with pain, regret, confusion and wonder.