THE FIRST MAN IN MY LIFE: DAUGHTERS WRITE ABOUT THEIR FATHERS edited by Sandra Martin (Penguin), 254 pages, $24 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In the era of the confessional memoir, you might pick up this book expecting some of Canada's best-known female writers to deliver accounts of trauma and brutalization at the hands of their fathers. Forget about it. These dads are for the most part inspiring or benign.
That doesn't make the book any less interesting, though like many collections of this kind, it's not all fabulous.
Some of it packs a punch, starting with editor Sandra Martin's introduction, which lays the groundwork for the project.
The writers' recollections appear in alphabetical order, which works well. This allows Martin to begin with Katherine Ashenburg's arresting account of what happened after she learned that her dad was Jewish. It also puts the piece by Emma Richler - the best writer in this collection and the one with the most famous father - two-thirds of the way through, where a climax belongs.
Rachel Manley delivers a lovely but strangely ambivalent vignette about visiting Berne, Switzerland, with her father, former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley. And Eden Robinson's tale of driving with her dad will resonate with anyone who's had to convince a father that it's time to give up the car.
Even when charged with writing about their fathers, some people can't stop writing about their mothers, usually as a means of detailing what Daddy had to put up with. Christie Blatchford's account of her mother's alcoholism has a fine fierceness.
Jane Finlay-Young's gorgeous ode to the father who abandoned her to her mentally ill mother and then returned to become a caring parent when her mother died.
All in all, excellent dipping material.