With an engaging vitality, second-novelist McFadden (Sugar, 2000) explores a familiar subject—a daughter’s troubled relationship with her abusive alcoholic father.
McFadden has perfect emotional pitch and tone, telling it like it is when, in December of 1999, Kenzie Lowe’s father Hy-Lo, unconscious and hooked up to tubes, lies dying in a hospital. As Kenzie finds herself visiting him with increasing frequency, she not only recalls her childhood in Brooklyn, but also the reasons why she hates Hy-Lo so much. An Army veteran, he had a good job, and initially the family lived well, but Hy-Lo began drinking and was soon beating his wife Della, as well as Kenzie and her younger brother Malcolm. While she now sits by Hy-Lo’s bedside or takes the bus to the hospital, she remembers his way of ordering them to choose one of his three belts and how the children “agonized over which would hurt the least”; the time he killed her cat with a hammer; and the day when, at13, she tried to stop him from hitting Della, who by now was also drinking heavily. Instead, she was so badly beaten herself that her ribs broke. Later, the family had to move to public housing when Hy-Lo lost his job, but a supportive grandmother encouraged Kenzie to get a good education. Which she did, though she had begun hitting the bottle too and was soon both unemployable and unable to sustain any relationship with a man. Now 35 and living on Social Security, Kenzie is a recovering alcoholic, still fighting temptation, and, as the days wind down to Christmas, beginning to understand why her father couldn’t stop drinking. A chance encounter that tells her something more about his childhood also helps, and she’s finally able to accept that her hatred is being sculpted “into understanding and forgiveness.”
A well-rendered tale of a not-so-pretty family.