The Lost Father

Mona Simpson, Author Knopf Publishing Group $22 (505p) ISBN 978-0-394-58916-9
Again displaying the assurance revealed in her remarkable first novel, Anywhere But Here , Simpson continues to chronicle the life of her protagonist Ann Stevenson, now in her late 20s, who has reassumed her birth name, Mayan Atassi. Having pried herself away from her manipulative, destructive, irresponsible mother, who has remained in California, Mayan is in New York, flunking out of medical school because she has become obsessed with finding her father, an Egyptian professor/gambler/wastrel who deserted his family when Mayan was 12. Where the earlier book was the story of her mother's deranged search for happiness, this one focuses on Mayan's phobic need to fill the void in her life that opened when ``my father's leaving . . . fell like a stone in the center of my childhood.'' A series of frustrating dead ends, the search takes Mayan back to Wisconsin, her childhood home; to Egypt, where she finds remnants of her father's family; and eventually to California, where she discovers that ``maybe by the time you find somebody, they are beside the point.'' Mayan's odyssey is also her belated coming-of-age, for she gradually matures in areas of social and emotional development that were starved and stunted in her eccentric upbringing. Her introspection about these inner changes, combined with the relative lack of action in the plot, sometimes results in a static narrative, one that lacks the hypnotic pull that her mother's bizarre behavior gave Anywhere But Here. This novel has its own power and meaning, however. Conveying character and atmosphere in intense, often breathtakingly trenchant observations, Simpson constructs a poignant story with resonating implications. For as Mayan realizes, some questions can never be answered, and life has to be lived all the same. 40,000 first printing. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1992
Release date: 01/01/1992
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