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Publishers Weekly, 2000-09-08 PEN/Faulkner winner Olson (Dorit in Lesbos) attempts to marry mystery, self-exploration and self-discovery in this overstuffed novel set in California in the early 1980s. After his discharge from the navy, 40-year-old Bill, a diver, plans to spend a year in the Antilles. But a letter from an old fling living in Racine, Wis., informs him that he is the father of her 15-year-old daughter, JenDand Jen wants to meet him. Bill was himself adopted by an insatiably curious inventor and his beautiful wife, a theatrical ingenue, and family ties are important to him. To get to know Jen better, he decides to take her on a road trip to California. Once there, they stop in El Monte, where Bill was raised, in order to go through some of his father's things that have been in storage for 15 years. A quick perusal of the boxes and crates reveals a mysterious list written by his father relating to the unsolved drowning death of Susan Rennert, a hotel chambermaid. Jen helps Bill investigate his father's past, touring newspaper morgues and old forgotten sections of California cities, working through his father's list. In the process, the two become very close, forcing Bill to reflect on how empty his life has been. He realizes, too, that he never really knew his parents, as he talks to people who did not hold them in the same high esteem he did. Although the mystery is solved in the end, the plot depends too heavily upon coincidence to truly satisfy. Olson also awkwardly introduces elements of the supernatural and weighs down the narrative with long, drawn-out descriptive passages. Although the novel falls short as a work of self-discovery or suspense, however, it succeeds as an unusual investigation of the nature of fatherhood. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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