Books and stories with strong, influential, or missing father figures

Image: Pixaby

Fatherhood is a powerful theme in literature and what better day to look at some of the strong, influential or missing father figures in these titles:


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A story full of great characters, including Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a young blind girl in Paris, whose entire world revolves around her father. This Pulitzer Prize winning story embraces important themes, and a plot that’s a wonderful mix of reality and fairytale. Set during World War II in the walled coastal city of Saint Malo, France. Check it out – one of my all-time favorite books!


Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate is a fifteen-year-old boy from the Bronx who becomes a protégé of the notorious Dutch Schultz, a hot-head New York mobster who made his money during the 1930s running beer and controlling the numbers racket. Published in 1989, this book won both the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The 1991 movie stars Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, Steven Hill and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire).


Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly Golightly and her search for a father figure. If you have only seen the movie starring Audrey Hepburn, read the book to get a better understanding of what Holly is all about. For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film.


I Refuse by Per Petterson

A grim story about a lost friendship between Tommy Berggren and his boyhood friend Jim.   It begins when, after thirty-five years, the two meet unexpectedly on a bridge near Oslo, Norway.

Petterson’s narration then jumps back to 1962 when Tommy is thirteen. His mother has abandoned them and the father regularly beats Tommy and his three younger sisters.  Everything changes when Tommy takes a bat to their father.  On their own, the children are sure they can manage.  But the siblings are separated when town officials send them to be raised in different homes.


Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Historical novel about the charismatic American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his creative style and innovative designs and his failed marriage to Catherine Tobin, whom he deserted (along with six children) to continue an affair with Mameh Cheney, the wife of a client. He created many amazing houses, but his personal life was a mess.


Onion John by Joseph Krumgold

Everything changes the year Andy Rusch turns twelve.  Until then, being a kid was easy in the 1950s.  And in the small New Jersey town of Serenity, baseball, friends, school and helping out in his dad’s hardware store fill Andy’s days.  Then one day, he befriends the town’s hermit, Onion John.

Mr. Rusch has big plans for Andy, including college at MIT and he doesn’t approve of the friendship.  He wants Andy to get out of Serenity and be the first man on the moon. Andy wants to please his father, but whose dream is it?


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There is no stronger father figure than Atticus Finch. Set in 1935, in the fictional town of Macomb, Alabama, Harper Lee writes of people and family, of prejudice against blacks, of judgment and justice, of lost innocence, and of heroes.

Young Scout Finch gives an insider’s view into the complicated relationships that exist between blacks and whites, between the poor and the poorer, and between the educated, the illiterate and the ignorant. Forget how Atticus is portrayed in Go Set a Watchman. That book should never have been published. It’s obvious to me that Harper Lee was trying out, and revising characterizations in what is clearly a rough draft for To Kill a Mockingbird. Read my full opinion of Watchman here.


The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Is there a god in a world that is nearly destroyed and left covered in gray ash, dotted with wanderers and hunted by people who stop at nothing to survive? How does a father keep hope alive in his young son, except to say that they are the “good guys”, the ones who carry the fire? “This is what the good guys do,” he tells him. “They keep trying. They don’t give up.”


“The Year of Getting to Know Us” by Ethan Canin

A great short story about an adult son who visits his dying father in the hospital. Lenny, now middle-aged, forces himself to tell his father not to worry, that he loves him and that his father did all right by him. These words are met with the type of shut-down that plagued his small family during his childhood: “Don’t talk about things you know nothing about.”


When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Nathan and Flora McCann have no children. That was their arrangement. But when Nathan goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, his life changes in unimaginable ways. “I want to adopt that boy,” says Nathan, but his wife does not want a child…

I enjoyed this book very much, which takes many unpredictable turns. The author does a great job highlighting the contrast between bad choices and the need to be loved.


What books can you add to the list?

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7 thoughts on “Books and stories with strong, influential, or missing father figures

  1. I always thing of Elizabeth Bennett father in pride and prejudice. He can be a little out of touch, but he tells E that she doesn’t have to marry Mr Collins, and she doesn’t have to marry Darcy. I always thought that was courageous given the time. Love some of books on your list too!

  2. I’ve read two on the list–All the Light We Cannot See and To Kill a Mockingbird. My husband’s favorite book is The Road, but I can’t bring myself to read it. I’ve heard it’s so sad. I find enough sadness in the world. I tend to stay away from it in my reading. Of course, many books have elements of sadness, but if there’s a happy ending, it’s easier for me to get through! 🙂

  3. I really liked Don’t Let Me Go by Catherine Ryan Hyde and will have to read When I Found You. All the Light We Cannot See and To Kill a Mockingbird are all-time favorite of mine too.

  4. Great recommendations and you mention one of my current favourites, All the Light We Cannot See – a book that seems to be underrated! I saw The Road (well most of it, when I didn’t close my eyes!) and not sure I could read it -Carrie, there is a glimpse hope, after all the deaths and gore, at the end though (in the film at least!).

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