Ellie's father, James, who has children from three marriages, unites the family with humor and charisma, but Ellie has always believed she is her father's favorite. When her father suddenly dies, she finds herself devastated by the unexpected loss. Then, at the reading of his will, Ellie learns that instead of leaving her his prized possession, he has left her a seemingly ridiculous, even insulting gift. In her grief, Ellie wonders who could have possible meant more to her father than she did. Setting out to track this person down, she learns startling information about who her father really was and who she herself is becoming.
... warm and funny ... Fairbrother delineates Ellie’s mind following her father’s death — her obsessive thinking, her attempts to distract herself, her subsequent plunges back into the reality of loss — with well-wrought observation of the rhythm and patterns of grief ... Ellie’s careless behavior represents an underexplored and therefore exciting investigation into a family dynamic — one in which a daughter responds to her father’s reckless entitlement not by shrinking into herself, by becoming ultra-virtuous or self-destructive, but by acting out with similar reckless entitlement in turn ... Though the mystery of the baseball and tie rack leads us through the plot, I found myself wishing the objects played a lesser part. The neatness of that journey and Fairbrother’s steady movement toward closure feel at odds with the strength of this book, which is the depiction of a smart, talented and sexual young woman who is in the process of learning, as adults must, to balance pride with humility, pain with pleasure, and acceptable fictions with uncomfortable truths.
Fairbrother’s debut is characterized by its elegant yet comfortable prose—readers will feel at home with Ellie as if experiencing the story’s events along with her. The mystery drives the plot, but Ellie’s personal growth is the heart of the novel. Her journey is braided in with her new knowledge of her father, and her father’s past impacts hers as she learns who she truly is. This layered coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of Jennifer E. Smith’s The Unsinkable Greta James (2022).
The premise of filling in unknown details of a parent’s life after his or her death is certainly a solid one for a good book. And Alison Fairbrother’s debut novel is indeed a good book. She creates intriguing missteps and unexpected detours for Ellie, who is now trying to make sense of her father’s life ... a great read that addresses a number of contemporary cultural issues and includes rich details about families that shape and reshape. Best of all, though, it’s about a discovery that leads a young woman to grasp the reality of her own life, as well as her father’s. Alison Fairbrother writes brilliantly about how we come to understand ourselves and the people we love.