Fathers are complicated creatures, absentee fathers in particular. The daughters they leave behind often attempt to define themselves within the context of an absence, resulting in bad relationship choices, insecurities, and an insufferable state of constant questioning and seeking.
Part fiction, part memoir, Sarah Dearing’s genre-bending new novel opens with the death of the protagonist’s father, then dips into themes of family history, sexuality, philosophy, and connection. The novel creatively explores the nature of art and notions of truth, tracing a non-relationship between the narrator and her father, a silent film actor in 1920s England.
Dearing’s compelling language and sure-footed narrative mark her as a writer possessed of great flair who goes straight for the marrow. For example, Dearing’s narrator confesses that if her grade nine chemistry teacher had been “less fond” of adolescent girls, she might have gone into science. Dearing uses the fact of a predatory male as a springboard to examine the effects of a father’s presence (or lack thereof) on his daughter: “It didn’t occur to me that they selected the unprotected, that more obvious, well-built girls had fathers in their corner, for vulnerability had no place in my notion of self.”
I devoured The Art of Sufficient Conclusions as if it were my first meal in days. I understood the protagonist’s quest as if every emotional extreme was a mirror of my own search for answers to life’s riddles. The experience of reading Dearing’s novel is like finding a long lost piece in a puzzle. It’s a healing, a cleanse, a transcendence, and a catharsis. Dearing moves beyond her father’s absence, and dives into the depths of herself.