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My Father, Dancing Hardcover – July 20, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

When your father's a noted literary critic--in this case, the late Anatole Broyard--and you entitle your debut collection My Father, Dancing, speculation on the autobiographical roots of your fiction seems not merely inevitable but self-sought. Thus it is with Bliss Broyard's eight tales of fumbling love and burdensome discoveries, stories that feel like snippets from some greater book, or, perhaps, an actual life. Which is not to deny their power--they are engaging and carefully constructed, graceful examinations of the uneasy, tentative relationships young women often forge with the men in their lives.

Over half the stories feature, to some degree, fathers--intelligent, manipulative men, alternately charming and pompous. In "The Trouble with Mr. Leopold," a girl discerns the shortcomings of both her father and one of her teachers, and discovers her own voice amidst their contending ones. In "Mr. Sweetly Indecent," a young woman confronts not only her adulterous father, but also the superficiality of some of her own romances. The title story offers a young woman sheathed in recollections of her father even as he lies dying. And the final two, "A Day in the Country" and "Snowed In," present girls thrust into uncomfortable, unwanted sexual encounters.

Broyard is particularly adept at coaxing revelations from the intersection of desires. Inevitably, it seems, while her characters seek reconciliation or acceptance, they likewise buttress their countervailing defenses. Broyard's women are wary, ambivalent about men, and apt to view intimacy as alluring in the ideal but somewhat estranging in practice. "Picturing the apartment now," one character reflects, "filled with her and Max's things and all the photos of them--on beaches, at parties, huddled with a group of their friends--she cannot bring herself to go home." Her women, unfortunately, can also become redundant, inflections of a single fallible character: aloof, possessed of an observer's detachment, distractingly and curiously preoccupied with the dancing abilities of others. It's impossible not to feel that, with all their clever, illuminating power, these stories promise larger worlds. --Ben Guterson

From Publishers Weekly

The daughter of the late author and critic Anatole Broyard has written a collection that is partly about fathers and daughters, partly about the many difficult choices facing young women trying to find their place in lifeAand it has to be said that the former stories are more successful than the latter. The title story, particularly, is surely a barely fictionalized reminiscence of a man who wrote clear-sightedly of his own approaching death, and strikes a number of eloquently touching notes. "The Trouble with Mr. Leopold" tells of the conflicting demands made on an impressionable schoolgirl by a teacher and a father who are both manipulative in their different ways. "At the Bottom of the Lake" is about a girl desperately trying to preserve a cherished but irretrievable relationship in the face of an impossible stepmother. Several of the other stories, however, especially "Ugliest Faces," "Loose Talk" and "Snowed In," are sensitively observed but not very revealing accounts of women trying on roles for men friends and lovers, and the touch here is less sure; Broyard has some difficulty in ending her tales on an appropriately conclusive note, and too often they seem to stop in midair. Still, she has an assured style that usually carries her over the rougher spots, and is pleasantly free of the tough, show-off quality common to many younger short story writers. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (August 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375400605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375400605
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,952,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Larry L. Looney on April 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
...overall, this collection left me disappointed -- not from any lack of talent on the part of the writer, but from the choices she made about the characters she portrayed in these stories. The only one that I enjoyed on all levels was the title story -- a touching depiction of a daughter dealing with the soon-to-come loss of her father, dying of cancer.
The rest of these stories focus on people I would avoid like the plague if I met them in real life. The characters are shallow, self-centered, obsessed with sex and status. It's no wonder that the people with whom they interact in these tales are sad and angry and generally disappointed in their lives. There are numerous examples of this -- I'll stick to commenting in detail on the story 'Ugliest faces'...
In this story, a young woman named Bridget, and undergraduate, is involved in a relationship with Ethan, a graduate student that she met while attending a class he was giving. On p.115, she shows that she has little self-esteem: 'Ethan's attention was irresetible to Bridget. She wasn't sure why she'd been chosen, but whatever Ethan thought he saw in her, she certainly wasn't going to give him any reason to amend his opinion.' Nice. She's so concerned about keeping him, about what he thinks of her, that whoever she REALLY is gets shoved aside in order to maintain the image that he has of her. This is a nice recipe for a doomed relationship. Ethan is no prize, either -- an unbridled ego on the loose, as evinced by this from p.117: (He tells Bridget) '"I can't imagin what your life was like before we met...God, who did you talk to?"' He also has a nice view of sex. Rather than being something meaningful and intimate that is to be shared and treasured by a partner, on p.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Mendelsohn on December 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In response to an earlier review, this book speaks to men as well as to women. True, the coming of age awkwardness of the female main character reminds the reader of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John. But that same sense of adolescent confusion has roots in the boy's classic tale, Catcher in the Rye. None of the stories are filler. Each one holds the same level of heart.
-Nathaniel (New York)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Levens on November 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
The eight stories in this anthology are poignant pieces of young women encountering the challenges that lie ahead in their lives. Most of the stories have the girl as the main character, and the father is a leading influence. You can read a sample from this collection online at the Ploughshares web site, a very reputable literary publication and the source through which I found this author. The story, "Mr. Sweetly Indecent," was selected as one of the best short stories of the year a few years ago by Best American Short Stories, a popular annual, and is my favorite piece in the anthology. I hope to see more writing of Ms. Broyard in the future.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alan Scheer on June 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A much less then enjoyable collection of stories. The type of material one expects from a student of the many writing programs around the continent. All of the stories feel incomplete and grounded in the idea of writing about something, but not having really experienced anything in a real life. It isn't that the author doesn't have the ability to construct a story, it's just that she doesn't have anything really meaniful to say. Most of the collection reminded me of the early Ann Beattie. I feel bad, I feel sad, or isn't life a bummer. The passivity of most of the women in this collection was also a real turn-off, in each story their helplessness sounds like a repeat of the past one. And this collection has the strangest group of Daddies around-cold, indifferent, almost always vague. It's interesting that three of the stories were winners of competitions when originally published. It just goes to show that a decent story in isolation does not a great collection make.
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