A sometimes exasperated, sometimes joyful account of a daughter’s reconnecting with a father across lines of generation, ethnicity, geography and family history.
The genre of memoirs by adult baby-boomer children tending to their infirm, elderly parents is likely to be a growth industry in the near future. Funderburg (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race, 1994) sets the critical bar high with this account of homecoming, in this case to her father’s farm in the Georgia countryside. Born in 1926, a light-hued African-American who passed for white farther north, George Funderburg had fled from there decades earlier. He “picked tobacco in Connecticut, sold cookbooks in Columbus, and...took the job I most liked to hear about, on a Detroit Night Boat,” writes his daughter, to say nothing of gaining a Wharton education and marrying across a then strict color line to produce three daughters. Dad explains his trajectory with an admirable motto: “I never wanted anybody to tell me what to do.” Along the way, though, he lost his family. Now, as Dad, ailing with cancer, prepares for his end, he passes along some of the other lessons he has learned in life, most along the lines of respecting other people, paying as well as you can and keeping mind and body active. Dad is a character, and his daughter is a gracious storyteller who holds his eccentricities at a humorous but never ironic distance. For instance, he is a man of deeply felt if transient enthusiasms who makes projects of all sorts of things (“If there’s an instructional video, all the better”), including an ingenious meat smoker from which the book takes its title, producing pork so sugary that it’s like candy. As Dad begins to decline, daughter finds more in their past to wrestle with, lending tension to an already perfectly plotted and well-paced memoir.
Charming and often moving—will appeal to a broad range of readers, from fans of Wendell Berry to those of Toni Morrison.