All I wanted was a father,"" Billy Rothschild explains, looking back at his fatherless childhood. At the heart of Spencer's (Men in Black, 1995, etc.) dense, rueful, startling new novel is a young man's long search to somehow make contact with his long absent parent. Billy's mother Esther reluctantly tells him, when he's nine years old, that his absent father is in fact Luke Fairchild, the dominant figure on the folk-rock scene in the 1960s and '70s and a man now obscured by many layers of legends. But knowing who his father is, Billy gradually discovers, isn't enough. He needs to know who this man--who seems, at the same time, both an entirely public and deeply private figure--really is and why he seems to have had so little interest in his son. The book is presented as the grown-up Billy's record of this long pursuit, and it covers, with great dexterity, a lot of territory. It shares, with many of Spencer's other novels (Secret Anniversaries, 1990, etc.) a protagonist undertaking an anguished search for the troth, and a fascination with the upheavals and utopian possibilities of the '60s. Billy begins to research his father's life, to track down anyone who has known him and can tell him something authentic about the man. He interviews musicians, former lovers, even a priest who counseled him. Out of this welter of conflicting information, Billy begins to assemble a portrait of a sad, ambitious, deeply conflicted man. And eventually, of course, Billy's search leads him to an encounter with his father, and to a deeply ironic reunion between his parents. The portrait of Luke remains somewhat hazy, but the passion of Billy's search, and the yearning that drives it, as well as the pain of lost possibilities he discovers in Luke and Esther's lives, are all rendered with vigor and clarity. A mournful, moving work.