THE SHADOW MAN by Mary Gordon


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 In this searing memoir, Gordon, noted as a novelist of Catholic lives in America, searches for the truth about her late father--a Jew who converted to Catholicism. Gordon's is an interior journey as well as an external one as she seeks to figuratively disinter her father and resurrect him. She has always been in thrall to the passionate love her father, who died when she was seven, had borne her (he ``was the source of my knowledge that I have been loved unto death''). Gordon brilliantly and ruthlessly anatomizes the blindnesses we allow, the little lies we tell ourselves, so that as children we can idealize, and idolize, our parents. As she enters the realm of memory, she realizes that the father she visualizes as handsome in fact had a mouth bereft of teeth and wore ripped pants to accommodate his growing paunch. When Gordon finally allows herself to look at the truth about her father, David Gordon, the upheaval is doubly wrenching: Not only had she lied to herself, but virtually everything he had told her about himself was a lie, from the year of his birth to his relations with his family. Even worse, she must confront the ugliness of his virulent anti-Semitism. It is fascinating to see this Catholic-raised woman confront her Jewish legacy, one that had previously been entirely negative: Whenever she did something bad, her mother would say, ``That's the Jew in you.'' Her sense of alienation becomes total: ``He has become someone with whom I can feel no connection. And if I am not connected with him, who am I?'' So dense with anguish is Gordon's writing that her emotion rises from the page to engulf the reader. She is like a lost child racing around frantically to find the father she once knew, the man who gave her comfort, who gave her a sense of herself and her place in the world. Beautiful, painful, shocking, a profound exploration of love, memory, shame, recuperation--a remarkable work. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-42885-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996


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