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The Phantom Father: A Memoir Hardcover – May 12, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company; 1st edition (May 12, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151002509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151002504
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,652,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Barry Gifford's father, Rudy Winston, was considered a "good man to know" in the wild and woolly Chicago of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. His list of friends and acquaintances included everyone from the mayor of Chicago and actress Dorothy Lamour to characters with monikers like Willie "the Hero" Nero and Arnold "Suitcase Solly" Banks. To his son, however, he was practically a stranger. Rudy Winston died when Barry Gifford was 12 years old, and Phantom Father is Gifford's reconstruction of a time and a man he never really knew.

Rudy Winston was born in Vienna and moved to the United States when he was 8 years old. As an adult, he ran a combination liquor store and drugstore that doubled as a drop-off point for stolen goods, drugs, and other contraband. Although his family was based in Chicago, he had places in Miami, New York, and Acapulco, and it was widely rumored that he performed the occasional hit for his gangster friends. Even before his death in 1958, Rudy had been something of a phantom in his son's life. According to Gifford's grandmother, his father didn't even speak to him until he was 5 years old; then Rudy walked out on the family when Barry was 8. Much of the material here that deals with Rudy Winston first appeared in Gifford's earlier book, A Good Man to Know. What sets The Phantom Father apart are the unsentimental portraits of family members, family friends, and the various odd characters who passed through Barry Gifford's childhood.

From Publishers Weekly

Rudy Winston, the father of novelist and poet Gifford (Wild at Heart), was a Chicago liquor-store owner with a criminal record. He's remembered by his son in this collection of autobiographical fragments?or, to be more accurate, his absence is remembered. More often than not, Rudy, who divorced Gifford's mother when his son was eight, fails to appear. A typical anecdote describes the time he didn't show up to see Gifford win a bowling trophy. Other anecdotes include memories of baseball; summer camp (the embarrassment of bed-wetting); school (Gifford being publicly accused of smoking by an irate janitor); the author's grandfather; time spent fishing in Florida with a favorite uncle; a Chicago amusement park; death (a neighborhood butcher hangs himself; a Bears football fan?carrying two large beers?drops dead at a game). Rudy himself died when his son was 12, a year after Gifford's mother married for the third time, and his memory becomes a stronger reality than his presence was: as the man who brought Gifford comic books when he was sick, who made it into the newspapers by knocking a guy through a plate-glass window. After his father's death, Gifford goes to live in Florida with his mother's brother. Ultimately, it's recollections of Chicago and the people he knew there that give this free-form but affecting memoir its contours. The concluding section? "My Mother's Story," told in the first person from her point of view?is at odds both stylistically and thematically with everything that comes before. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Barry Gifford has written a book chock full of remembrances of growing up in Chicago with a father who knew " the boys" and their ladies. He brings the city and it's environs to technicolor life and writes the last chapters as thru the eyes of his glamorous and loving mother. A must for anyone who grew up in Chicago in the 40's and 50's.
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By J. KNIGHT on July 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Gifford's fiction is often an unholy pastiche of styles and devices, and this technique is perfectly suited for his memoir PHANTOM FATHER... I highly recommend it. Deserves a space on a short bookshelf that includes Angela's Ashes and The Liars' Club.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Betty Burks on March 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
After reading the two fictional accounts of gangsters by Stephen Hunter, I thought I might read about a real one for a change. I bought this book primarily as the pictures showed the man as a normal human being, more resembling the government men in the old movies than a killer.
It is touted as a 'memoir' but it is merely short remembrances of the author about himself, not so much about his 'good' father. His note about the Japanese form shosetsu being described as "a piece of autobiography or a set of memoirs, somewhat embroidered and colored but essentially nonfiction."
While shosetsu contains elements of fiction, it is "a rather more flexible and generous and catholic term than 'novel'." This book belongs to this genre and should be approached as such, he writes.
Why should so-called historians get away with embroidering and elaborating on the facts and present this as nonfiction. Our local historian does just that constantly, and most folks believe that what he is writing is the truth.
This most-prolific writer does just that with his childhood remembrances. Seems to me he had a privileged and good life; maybe the father moved on to create another family, but he did not abandon or forget his firstborn son.
I just wish he had presented more of the humanness of Rudy Winston whose specialty was the liquor business (man, he would fit in here in Knoxville where the yuppie newcomers sit out on the sidewalk on Gay Street and drink hard liquor openly -- and get away with it).
He was a fine-looking man, and his son is handsome enough to be in one of those movies he has collaborated on with David Lynch.
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