(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father is a true story. Because he died when she was seven, Mary Gordon’s father was indeed no more than a shadowy presence in her life. Her image of him was derived from her limited memories and from the scraps of his writings that she had in her possession. Gordon had used her impressions of him in creating fictional characters, and she also had written meditations about his death. However, in her middle forties, she still did not know who he really was. Gordon could not obtain any information from her mother, who was in a nursing home, her memory largely gone. However, as a skilled researcher, Gordon knows how to search out facts. This memoir is the account of her search.

The book is divided into five sections. “Knowing My Father” is a collection of her recollections. Gordon begins with his death and a description of the changes that took place in her own life as a result of it. She then moves on to what she calls “films,” fragments that show him with his daughter, taking her places, talking with her. Unfortunately, she is no longer sure about the accuracy of these memories, and therefore she does now know whether her father really was the man she thinks she remembers.

One way to solve the mystery, Gordon realized, was to read what her father had written. She knew that he could translate Vergil; she believed that he had gone to Harvard and then immersed himself in bohemian...

(The entire section is 556 words.)