Friday, July 9, 2010

A father's confession

Howard Norman's latest "What is Left the Daughter" is one of two books I've just finished that are constructed as letters. The other is "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows. (Both also are set during World War II.)

Today's focus is on Norman's work, a missive composed by a father to the daughter he's never known.

Wyatt Hillyer is writing in 1967, but begins his story when he was 19 in 1942 with his parents' suicides.

He moves in with his aunt and uncle and begins to learn his uncle's trade.

It's a beautiful novel, full of lines I wanted to remember.

Like this from his uncle: "Two, three, four months earlier? I couldn't found a day like that on the map. And now that hellish day's my permanent address."

Don't you love it?

Or this from Wyatt to his daughter: "Your mother was the love of my life. I was not the love of hers. You became the love of both of ours."

Or this from the woman involved with his parents at the time of their deaths: "We spoke about the impossibility of a person fitting a secret life within the life they already have."

How true.

Wyatt's confession to his daughter is so moving. For one who's been dealt such a bad hand, it's startling that he feels he has so much to atone for.

Norman has crafted characters that will linger.

Click here for Reading Questions (with a spoiler alert).

Listen to Norman discuss his work on NPR.

- Tricia Ambrose

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