Father Melancholy’s Daughter tells the story of one young woman’s search for her own best self. Margaret Gower defines herself—and is defined by others—primarily in relation to her father. Walter Gower is an Episcopal priest who is subject to serious bouts of depression, and over the sixteen years covered by the novel, he comes to rely more and more on his daughter for his physical and emotional well-being. Unlike her mother, Ruth, who abandons her family, Margaret is never able to escape the demands of her father’s neediness—until his sudden death. At this point, near the end of the novel, she is forced to cast about for her own direction in life.
The story is narrated by Margaret herself, who begins by recounting the events of the day that her mother left home. The story is told with careful attention to details: the shape of the buttons on the dress that Margaret wore as Ruth walled her to the school bus, the angle of sunlight on Ruth’s face at breakfast, the name of the book that Margaret and Walter were reading together. For Margaret and Walter, the small details of a life are instructive. The progression of the novel is not linear: Often Margaret will stop her story and back up to explain a key point, share old letters, or repeat conversations.
While Margaret is at school that day, Ruth decides suddenly to drive to New York with Madelyn Farley, an old friend. Madelyn is a theatrical set designer, unmarried and independent,...
(The entire section is 606 words.)