Ginder (This Is How It Starts, 2009), in his second novel, enlists three generations of an American family to illustrate the way myth and fantasy penetrate everyday lives.
The patriarch, Alistair McPhee, a structural engineer working on bridges, used to live in a Hudson Valley town with his wife, Lucy, and only child, Colin. In 1956, when Colin was 8, the family would watch movies every week at the newly opened Avalon Cinema, but within a year, Lucy died of breast cancer; Colin’s father started disappearing on long road trips; and Colin practically lived at the cinema. At 16 he started work at the concession stand with a girl called Clare; he also tracked his father to a neighborhood bar and listened to him entertain a skeptical audience as he recalled fantastical exploits on the road. Eventually, Colin moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter; he sold one screenplay, which was a hit but after that, terminal writer’s block. By chance he met Clare again; they married, had a son, Finn, and then Clare split. The awkwardly constructed novel begins in 2010. Finn is a young man in New York City, editing reality TV shows. His grandfather, Alistair, has had a stroke and is being looked after by Colin in San Francisco. (Finn and Colin alternate as narrators.) Finn gets a call from his granddad: Drive my battered old car across the country and retrieve my memories. The mission is urgent, though much diluted by the flashbacks. Finn motors west with his camcorder and a new buddy. As he admits at the end, he’s an unreliable narrator, so he’s layering a new set of fictions on top of the old. This might be intriguing, or at least good fun, if there was some passion behind the inventions; but only once, in Chicago, ringing the changes on a baseball story, is there a sign of that.
Tall tales need larger-than-life characters; Alistair and Finn are on the small side.