cover image My Phantoms

My Phantoms

Gwendolyn Riley. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-68137-681-3

Riley (First Love) returns with an affecting story about the complicated relationship between a daughter and her two parents. Bridget, the 40-something narrator, cut off contact with her father when she was 26 and limits her interactions with her mother, who left her father when she was two. Still, memories of both parents—their self-involvement and staggering immaturity—come back to her vividly. The narrative begins with scenes of Bridget’s father, who, on court-ordered visitations when Bridget was 10, regales her and her older sister with dubious tales of accomplishment, such as acing job interviews by putting his feet on the desk of his potential employer. (“It is strange when somebody [is] lying, but somehow you’re on the spot,” Bridget reflects.) The recollections shift to a series of encounters with her mother, Hen, who, after another divorce, has settled into a kind of frenzied gadabout, keeping herself busy with volunteer work and “daft crushes,” in Bridget’s view. Riley’s incisive dialogue and astute observations of family dynamics offer a sympathetic and painful perspective on both estrangement and the choices people make in order to survive parents who maybe should have never been parents at all. The result is a fine addition to Riley’s notable body of work. Agent: Zoë Waldie, RCW. (Sept.)