Second-novelist Eisenberg (The War at Home, 2002) follows a neurotic woman as she searches for her father—presumed dead for 20 years.
Nearly 40, Betsy Ross Vogel is at a crossroads: she can stay in her dingy New York apartment, keep her uninspiring job at a mediocre magazine, and continue to thwart her lovely boyfriend’s attempts to sweep her away. Or, she could let said lovely boyfriend sweep her away—to Guatemala, in fact. David, a photographer with a social conscience, has been assigned to Central America and wants to take Betsy to the happily-ever-after she deserves. So she says yes; after all, little holds her in New York: her brother Tom works in Africa for famine relief, her mother is institutionalized and doesn’t even recognize Betsy, and her father has long been dead. Just a quick trip to the cemetery to see his grave (she’s managed to put it off for 20 years)—and, lo and behold, he doesn’t have one, and, with a little more snooping, Betsy finds that he may not even be dead. Sam Vogel was a union leader dedicated to the rights of the “little man” and targeted for his un-American activities. In and out of prison (for refusing to sign a loyalty oath) and sometimes on the lam during Betsy’s childhood, he was righteous, bigger than life, and not just a little selfish, sacrificing the sanity of his fragile wife and the upbringing of his children to further the cause. When Ma was “sick” and Daddy in prison, the children were cared for by an assortment of relatives and like-minded activists and were tormented by other children. Although David fears that Betsy will never join him in Guatemala, she has to find her father. It’s plausible that he would fake his own death, but not to have contacted his daughter in the last 20 years—what kind of father is that? Indeed.
The mystery here never overwhelms the charm of Betsy’s story, a comfortable balance between seriousness and sweet-natured humor.