A review of Here Lies a Father by McKenzie Cassidy

Reviewed by Francis X. Fitzpatrick

Here Lies a Father
by McKenzie Cassidy
Akashic Books
Paperback: 256 pages, May 2021, ISBN: 9781617757570, e-ISBN: 9781617758713

Ian Daly is in for a long weekend. It begins on Friday in a small town in northern New York where he has gone with his sister Catherine to attend his father Thomas’ funeral.  Ian’s mother believes that her alcoholic ne’er-do-well husband has taken all of the family’s secrets to the grave, but Ian has other ideas.  The fifteen year old unreliable narrator unearths new knowledge about how his dad was formerly married to two different women prior to meeting his mom and that Ian has several half-siblings.  

Catherine flees back to her college right after the burial, but Ian accepts his Aunt Marie’s invitation to stay for the weekend. He uses this opportunity to confront the lies he had been told about his father as well as the secrets that his own mother had hidden from him.

Secrets and lies permeate this entire story. “Mom had probably known most of his secrets just being married to him for so long, and he had slowly been filling Catherine’s ears with tidbits, I knew close to nothing.” The author of Here Lies a Father, McKenzie Cassidy, might very well been talking about the process of constructing his first novel when he reveals Ian’s state of mind as well as the main thematic elements concerning all of the lies he has heard his whole life. “The truth didn’t matter as much as the way a story made you feel…”

The fact that Ian is an unreliable narrator fits well with the plot as he had been trained by his mother to lie to teachers, friends, and even other family members about his dissolute father’s true whereabouts and his current employment or lack thereof.  He even lies to himself.  At one point in the story, he has a flashback to when he was five years old and visits his father at a hotel only he now realizes that his father was actually in a rehab or mental institution.

In between tracking down and interrogating his father’s ex-wives and his half-siblings, Ian reflects back on his own struggles with leading an impoverished and nomadic existence as a result of the family’s instability. After returning from a two year stay in Florida, Ian attempts to settle into his new high school and reacquaint himself with his former best friend Scott.  He also develops a crush on another newcomer named Eveline who lives in an upper class neighborhood.  Both of these efforts do not go smoothly which provides an additional undercurrent of conflict as well as an additional theme about social inequality.  Ian laments these differences after a fight with one of his privileged classmates. “The world was full of two types of guys: those who broke the rules and those who paid for it. Guys like Rick coasted through life with no speed bumps or stop signs, while the rest of us clawed our way up from the bottom. Guys like Rick grew up to manage corporations or fun for Congress, Scott and I would be lucky to earn minimum wage at a fast food restaurant.”

Cassidy’s first book shares a few traits with another recent coming of age novel.The protagonist Danny Ysemski in Michael Zadoorian’s novel Beautiful Music also encounters similar challenges as Ian does here. Both narrator’s suffer the loss of their fathers while having to contend with dysfunctional mothers.In Danny’s case, he uses rock music to survive and overcome his difficult adolescence while Ian employs boxing to counter his.As for my overall impression of this novel, I think that Cassidy scores a split decision here. Instead of focusing on his father’s past, I wish he had provided more narrative concerning Ian’s struggles readjusting to his home town with his friends and Eveline as well as how the revelations about his father had affected him. Despite all that, I do look forward to Cassidy getting back into the ring with his next novel. When he does so, I plan to sit ringside again.

About the reviewer: Francis X. Fitzpatrick holds a MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and is currently enrolled in their MFA Program where he is revising his first novel.  He has also written several screenplays for film and television.  He is a native of and resides in Philadelphia, PA.