A largely epistolary debut memoir about a shocking family secret.
After his father’s death in 2000, philanthropist and gallery owner York writes, he discovered a boxful of letters and newspaper clippings in his parents’ shed. When he read its contents, he says, he learned that in the 1950s, when York was 2 years old, his father, Bob, spent two months in a Miami jail after his arrest for sexually abusing a minor in the Boy Scout troop that he led. During his father’s incarceration, he and York’s mother, Joyce, exchanged letters nearly daily. In addition, most evenings, the young author and his mom would park on the street outside the jail, so that Bob could see them from his window. He and Joyce exchanged signals—mostly about the status of his case—by flashing car headlights or lighting matches. In the letters, both parents communicated their frustration with the slow progress of the legal process but also affirmed their love and devotion to each other. Joyce also related news about the young author, as well as of other family members and friends. These family relationships were complicated, however, by the fact that Bob’s accuser was his nephew—Joyce’s sister’s son. York brackets this collection with his own commentary; the chapters before the letters provide background and brief biographical information, and those following relate what happened after Bob was released from jail. The author says that he didn’t learn of his father’s crime and incarceration until after both his parents had died, and that despite his efforts, he couldn’t find much information beyond what was in the letters themselves; as a result, readers will be left to wonder about some aspects of the story—for example, if Joyce’s support and forgiveness were as complete as the letters suggest. York’s inclusion of numerous family photographs, however, effectively illustrates how the author’s mother strove to make his life as normal as possible, and images of the documents add visual interest. York writes that he was a victim of unrelated sexual abuse himself, which made it difficult for him to process this previously unsuspected information about his father, whom he loved. Indeed, he neither makes excuses nor questions his parent’s guilt in this narrative. Instead, he presents the facts as he knows them and allows readers to draw their own conclusions.
A provocative collection of family correspondence, but one that will leave readers with unanswered questions.