Picks and Pans Review: The Lost Father

UPDATED 03/09/1992 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/09/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

by Mono Simpson

On the surface, Mayan Stevenson has her life in order. She's a determined medical student. People seek her advice and company. She seems to have made the transition from wayward teen to confident adult easily.

Mayan, however, is never at ease. She is haunted by a man who disappeared from her life when she needed him most. That man is Mayan's father, who left her in the care of her mother when Mayan was about 8. She recalls clearly the last time she saw him: "He tied one of my shoes—I remember the strict upward pull of the bow-knot thrilling like all rectitude. He straightened my collar, lay his palm over my neck, as if that were where the heartbeat felt. He touched the serrated edges of my two new front teeth, growing in.

" 'Don't forget I am your father. Nobody else can ever be that.' "

She never forgets. Indeed, for years she has saved things to show him should he ever reappear at the door: a favorite doll, a cup, a lock of hair. Though absent, this lost father dominates Mayan's life. Resolving to find him once and for all, she enlists the aid of detectives and family members, new boyfriends and old foes.

The Lost Father is the haunting, beautifully written record of Mayan's search, in the course of which she reevaluates all her relationships and her sense of self. In Anywhere But Here, Simpson's well-received first novel, the reader followed Mayan's childhood travels with her capricious mother. That breakthrough book was touching, funny and heartfelt. Yet it is no match for the emotional range and power of The Lost Father.

Here Simpson writes with mature skill and energy about a character fueled by complex aches and longings. Mayan desperately feels the need to find her father, if only to prove to him that she made a life for herself, despite his absence. At book's end she does find the understanding she seeks. She finds her safe place within herself.

With The Lost Father, Mayan Stevenson will become one of those rare and special characters who enter a reader's heart and remain there for years after the book is put back on the shelf. (Knopf, $22.00)

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