Four Fathers – a review
Four sons – Ray French, James Nash, Tom Palmer and John Siddique – talk about their relationships with their fathers and consider their roles as fathers to their own children.
The main problem with a book of this kind is that it might veer towards purely anecdotal reportage, and to an extent that is what happens here. In reporting on their very different fathers the four writers draw on images of a bygone age and rely to a greater or lesser extent on the power of nostalgia to engage the empathy of the reader.
Although never less than interesting, three of the tales in the first half of this volume did not engage me beyond the level of prurient curiosity. But James Nash’s Exile, a memoir, went way beyond this and drew a complex portrait of a deeply ambiguous man, placing him in the context of his marriage and career as well as the relationship with his similarly conflicted son.
The second part of Four Fathers opens with Tom Palmer’s fictionalized narrative, Aspiration, which introduces us to Sam and Libby, a childless couple. Palmer diagnostically trecks his characters through the medical procedures and social situations to which their infertility has brought them. And as readers, we follow haplessly, wondering if we should be told quite so much. The tale is told in the third person and all the more telling for an absence of emotion in an apparently godless universe.
The book is brought to a close by James Nash’s In Loco Parentis, in which he reaches back to his 25th year, in 1974, and describes an event in his classroom late on a Friday afternoon, while outside the window Meanwood dozes like a dog on a warm pavement.
Nash has a telling line for each of his characters. Sean sings Elvis songs at his desk. Today it’s Return to Sender. Sean has the ability to provoke the anxiety of a mother with a premature baby. At the next desk, Ryan, bulging out of his clothes in a daunting, hormonal way, can flip into an incandescent rage within seconds. Philomena’s handwriting is large, open and extraordinarily neat. She has a strong jaw-line and angry blue eyes that say, quite clearly, ‘Get off Me!’
For this story alone, Four Fathers is more than worth the cover price.
Four Fathers is published by Route at £8.99 – ISBN: 1 901927 27 X