PAGAN'S FATHER by Michael Arditti


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 Tackling a worthy subject, but with a long-winded polemic loosely disguised as a novel, British writer Arditti explores the question of proper parenting in a knock-down, drag-out custody battle between a child's legal but gay guardian and her grandparents. When free-spirited photographer Candida dies in London after wasting away from a degenerative motor disease, her will dictates that care of her six-year-old daughter, Pagan, be left to Candida's best friend and longtime companion, Leo, a national celebrity and TV talk-show host. Since Leo isn't Pagan's father (Candida never revealed his identity), her adoptive, archconservative parents, from whom Candida has long been estranged, object; after losing the first round of legal encounters, they weigh in with evidence of Leo's homosexuality. Forced to admit being gay, turned into food for scandal in the tabloids, Leo loses custody, which proves to be only the beginning of his humiliation. When Pagan (renamed Patience) exhibits bizarre behavior after three months of living with her grandparents, Leo suspects sexual abuse, but his discreet inquiry into the matter backfires when he finds himself charged with the crime. Arrested and jailed, vilified in the press and on the street, with his career in a shambles, Leo becomes despondent; eventually, however, he has his day in court, where Pagan's videotaped testimony, seemingly so damaging to his case, points the finger at her grandfather instead. Society's darling once again, innocent Leo has the satisfaction of seeing the real villain, who proves to have abused Candida and her brother too, locked up, while Pagan and he resume their former life together--but not without some fresh surprises. Force-feeding a message, no matter how laudable, makes it distinctly unpalatable; the problem is compounded here by a tale told at excessive length, featuring a protagonist almost unbelievably pure of heart.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1996
ISBN: 1-56947-062-6
Page count: 436pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996