Book Review

'Gone So Long': A father, a daughter, and some unfinished business

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It has been 40 years since Daniel Ahern last saw his daughter, Susan. She was just 3 years old when she was snatched from his arms before Daniel was cuffed and marched away by the police. He spent 15 years in prison. Since his release, he has built a new life refurbishing furniture in the mornings, and volunteering as a driver for old and infirm residents of a neighboring town in the afternoons. It's a simple life, but satisfying in its routine.

After being taken from Daniel, Susan was raised by her grandmother, Lois. To explain the absence of Susan's parents from her life, Lois has told Susan that they died when their car crashed off a bridge into a river. As a teenager, she learns the truth for the first time. The knowledge shatters her sense of security, and her life descends into a series of brief and chaotic relationships with unsuitable men.

Married for three years to Bobby Dunn, her uncertainties rise again — can someone with such a tragic background ever find love? She takes refuge with Lois, telling Bobby she needs the time and space to work on a novel. Instead, she carefully unpeels the long-buried memories of her childhood, discovering new insights into who she is and why.

Now, Daniel is dying and he has unfinished business with his daughter. It's time to set his affairs in order. He writes Susan a letter and sets off on the three-day journey south to Florida where she lives.

This is a powerful and compelling novel. Dubus writes with great intensity. With a few deft sentences he conjures up scenes so vivid it is as if you are there. His characters are real and heartfelt; their pain and self-doubt are almost tangible. The tension rises thrillingly as the main characters approach the denouement. But will Susan and Daniel find peace?

Andre Dubus III is a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. His novel, "House of Sand and Fog," was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1999. He lives in Newbury with his wife and three children.

Phil Lewis is co-owner of The Bennington Bookshop. "Gone So Long" is available at The Bennington Bookshop, or can be purchased online here: benningtonbookshop.com/book/9780393244106


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