In a continuation of McPhee’s Bright Angel Time (1997), the strange and lovely life of a man is recalled by all of the wives, children, and assorted others who have gathered around his deathbed.
Previously, Anton came across mainly as a hippie: a 1970s Esalen gestalt therapist who preached free love and practiced what he preached—with a vengeance. Here, his life is looked at from farther back, this in light of his just having been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. From Texas, Anton was raised in a devout Catholic family, entered the Jesuit order in the late 1940s, and spent several years training to be a priest. While studying at Notre Dame, he fell in love with Agnes, an oil heiress, and in 1954 left the order to marry her. The sexual obsessions that had plagued him in religious life weren’t conquered by the Sacrament of Matrimony, however, and his philandering gradually led to much unhappiness, an illegitimate son, and a Haitian divorce of dubious legality. After leaving Agnes (who won custody of their five children and agreed to pay him alimony), Anton takes up with the newly divorced Eve Cooper, who comes to him for psychotherapy. Later, Anton and Eve start a communal farm in New Jersey called Chardin (as in Teilhard), where they live in domestic confusion with Eve’s three daughters, some of Anton’s children, and their own daughter Alice (who was nearly aborted but saved by a family vote). Chardin becomes mildly famous, written up in People and Look and shown on TV documentaries, but the children and Eve eventually leave Anton and go their separate ways. They all return once they learn that he’s dying, however, and collectively argue over how they can or should remember him once he has gone.
Somewhat rambling, but fine work nevertheless: a moving portrait of a foolish, foul-hearted, but impossibly innocent man.