August 02, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Shadow Man

Current Status
In Season
Mary Gordon
We gave it an A-

Here — among the recent profusion of memoirs — is, at once, the best and the worst of the genre. Mary Gordon, the author of Final Payments, brings her considerable talents as a novelist to bear upon the story of her father, who died when she was 7 and left her with romantic memories of a dashing, talented writer who attended Harvard and later made his home in Paris. Her search for the truth about his life reveals an astounding tissue of lies and betrayals. Regrettably, the riveting story of David Gordon’s deceptions (including his anti-Semitic writings after converting from Judaism to Catholicism, his work as a pornographer, and his abandonment of his immigrant family) is diluted by sections that read like excerpts from her analyst’s notes. In chapter 4, for example, she talks to her dead father, takes on his voice to explain his behavior, and submits his memory to a mock police investigation. Skip The Shadow Man‘s annoying exercises in psychological self-indulgence, though, and you’ll find a remarkable story. A-

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