A collection of essays on the father-daughter dynamic.
Editor and novelist McMullan (Literature and Writing/Univ. of Evansville; Sources of Light, 2010, etc.) presents 24 ways of “knowing” one’s father by accomplished, independent daughters, each with a folksy introduction to help situate the relationship in place and time. For many of these authors, the father was a tall, handsome, impossibly romantic character in the family, removed from the quotidian, often remote, and whose approval the daughters tried to maintain. In a twist on this theme, Jane Smiley writes how ultimately relieved she was not to know her father—who perhaps suffered from PTSD and divorced her mother when the author was a toddler—because his absence allowed her the space to grow up “free of preconceptions.” Some of the contributors offer reminiscences following their fathers’ deaths—e.g., Jill McCorkle in “My Dad.” In “My Father’s Daughter,” Bliss Broyard fills in a deeper portrait of her philandering, brilliant, bookish father by talking to his lively, lifelong best friends in Greenwich Village, concluding ruefully that she should have paid more attention to her father when he was alive. Melora Wolff offers an excellent view of the glamorous world of visiting fathers from the first-person, plural view of young ladies at New York City’s Brearley School, while Barbara Shoup describes her father’s vanishing into alcoholism in her excruciating essay “Waiting for My Father.” Throughout, fathers often represent the world of work, whether in the “special places” like the gambling house that Maxine Hong Kingston describes in “The American Father” or the sacred writing den that was strictly off limits to boisterous children, as depicted in Alexandra Styron’s “Reading My Father.” Other contributors include Jayne Anne Phillips, Antonya Nelson, Ann Mason and Alice Munro, and Phillip Lopate provides the introduction.
Consistently elucidating portraits.