In his debut memoir, former GQ managing editor Smith pays underwhelming homage to his father.
As interior decorator to Miami’s rich and famous, Lew Smith was celebrated for fashion-forward designs that ranged from “tropical-fantasy” to “Zen-inspired.” Wife Esther threw lavish dinner parties with swinging gay men, and the couple frequently graced the local newspapers’ society pages. The author’s early childhood in the 1950s included getaways to Havana, where his parents danced the night away while six-year-old Philip nursed rum cocktails at the bar. Gradually, Lew eschewed the ritzy nightlife in favor of a macrobiotic diet, esoteric forms of yoga and a relentless commitment to the study and practice of spirituality. To his family’s disbelief, he became a local psychic, using his “gift from God” and a trusty pendulum to heal Miami’s deaf, blind, crippled and cancer-ridden, never charging them a dime. The repetitious healing scenes fall a little too neatly into place and don’t explain much about Lew. Meanwhile, teenaged Philip began dabbling with girls, boys, electroshock therapy (to cure him of his attraction to the boys) and even Scientology, but his stabs at adolescent rebellion were continually thwarted by his father’s psychic abilities. Indeed, Smith seems more interested in Lew’s development than his own, giving only passing mention to such potentially rich subjects as his confusion about his sexual identity and his struggle to cope with his parents’ divorce. The author provides colorful descriptions of Miami, beginning in the ’50s, when it was “a big ol’ cracker swamp due east of the Everglades [where] Dixiecrats, blacks, and coral snakes summed up the population, in that order.” Regrettably, the city is a more fully realized character than any of the Smiths. By the time the author injects more of himself into the text, as he unravels the mystery of his father’s untimely death, it’s too little, too late.
A distanced portrait of an eccentric family that fails to engage.