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.