A portentous epistolary exercise in which a Minnesotan father explains himself to, and ultimately reunites with, his ten-year-old daughter in Los Angeles.
The story opens as little Angela watches the fires from the 1992 riots flicker from her bedroom window. She’s frightened and wants to die, now that her summer visit to Minnesota has been called off by her mean old grandmother. A girl of assiduous literary habits, Angela notes all these things in her journal, whose entries are interspersed with the meditative letters she receives from her father. Steve not only speaks excitedly about their forthcoming meeting, he also recalls both his marriage to Angela’s mother, Penny, and his own father’s life and struggles. Anglo Steve from the Midwest made a splash when he married beautiful, African-American Penny and fathered Angela. (Cue Angela’s diary entry about being taunted as an “oreo.”) But Penny died tragically from sickle-cell anemia shortly after the baby’s birth, and Steve lit out for home, leaving Angela with Penny’s folks—most prominently, Penny’s bitter mother, Nana, who has many extramarital affairs and beats her granddaughter for no reason. Meanwhile, Steve relates the story of his father, “Zeke,” WWII veteran and all-around good guy who was forced to abandon Steve when his mother took him away to her second, disastrous marriage. (Cue more diary entries: Zeke’s this time, illustrating his goodness, his perseverance, and his neglected virtues.) Finally, back to the main plot: one of Angela’s concerned neighbors writes Steve about a beating she saw the girl receive; he decides the vacation can’t wait and plucks Angela from her dismal situation. It helps not at all that Thayer (Silent Snow, 1999, etc.) includes a confusing letter to his own real father, confessing that when he was being treated for depression he was supposed to write to Dad, but wrote this novel instead.
Slight and forgettable