My Father’s Voice

Born a Jew and reared a Christian, MacKinlay Kantor grew up in the Midwest. His father was a rogue who soon abandoned the family and went to live in Chicago, where he enjoyed a liaison with Sophie Tucker while Kantor’s mother supported her children working as a department-store cashier in Webster City, Iowa. Soon, John Kantor was arrested for stock fraud, his first in a succession of criminal offenses.

Maintained emotionally by a young wife and materially by his mother and her family, MacKinley Kantor gradually developed his writing skills and emerged in the 1930’s as a popular, prolific novelist. During World War II, he reported European operations for THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, even entering aerial-gunner training so as to fly bombing missions on B-17s with the Eighth Air Force. Written in the form of a long poem, his book GLORY FOR ME was adapted to film as THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. He won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for ANDERSONVILLE.

Tim Kantor recounts this material in the context of personal perceptions that do not skirt such matters as MacKinlay Kantor’s alcoholism and his history of marital infidelity. As the father’s fortunes waxed, his prose style turned increasingly ornate. When popularity waned, he cannibalized earlier, unpublished work, with alcohol failing to provide the creative crutch it once promised.

Forever under his father’s shadow, Tim Kantor fought in Korea, worked as a commercial photographer, and finally became a television talk-show host in Sarasota, Florida. His autobiographical injections underline continuities of experience spanning the three generations, while pointing up the variance of individual responses. Additionally, Tim Kantor’s awarenesses serve to elaborate the contradictions of his father’s generation respecting issues such as sex, racial prejudice, and politics.

Much of the writing is journeyman journalism, itself almost evocative of an earlier time. People’s feelings that would clearly be unknown to the author are described; their interior monologues appear with some frequency. Yet such failings are balanced by candor, and by a richness of anecdote that testifies to a lifetime of family storytelling. Tim Kantor has fashioned a compelling portrait of a man who failed to mature into the writer he might have become.