“I’m a bastard.”
Could you ask for a better opening line?
But the narrator in Todd McNamee’s debut novel, Drifting, isn’t speaking figuratively or self-depracatingly: he means this literally.
“My name is Patrick Mulligan and I was raised an only child in Portland, Oregon, by a mother who loved me,” the narrator continues. “My father’s name is Ray and I’ve never met him.”
When I was twelve a letter arrived from my half-sister, Mary. I had only met her once before when I was six years old and was in the middle of a cross country trip with my mom. [. . .] By the time I was twelve I had a lot of questions about Mary. I knew that Mary was also raised without our father, and that he had been married to Mary’s mom long before I was born. There were many questions that I wanted to ask my mother and Mary about Ray, but my mom always shifted, paced, and rolled her eyes whenever the subject of Ray came up and I gave up trying to learn anything from her.
But soon, the narrator begins to learn bits and pieces about this mysterious other family out there, until finally he forces his mother to confess:
Mom pulled over to the side of the road, lowered her head and placed her right hand on her brow as if to wipe away sweat. “When I met your father,” she said, “he told me he’d never been married before. After we were married, he told me he’d been married several times before. Tonya is another sister of yours. Like Mary is.” At that she started the car and we drove to the store and never spoke of it again. [. . .] But I continued wondering about it for years, thinking about whether or not I should call Mary up and ask her if she knew anything about our other family members. I never got up the nerve. But the questioning started then. I could imagine a whole brood of family members meeting each other for the first time. But mom had trained me very well. She’d trained me to be just as tough and emotionless as she was. I’d learned early on not to trust my feelings or give in to them.
Many years later, at the age of thirty-three, my half-brother, Dan, whom I had never heard of before, called me on the phone and soon many of the questions I had would be answered.
So begins McNamee’s novel, a twisted saga of a family dispersed across the world but connected by their relationship to one mysterious man, a father that none of them had ever known. Eventually, all these scattered offspring decide to meet in a huge family reunion, and when they do, according to the novel’s write-up, “they discover they have more in common than just a sense of being abandoned. While aboard a ship heading through the Hawaiian Islands they share stories, drink to excess, and build a connection they never had before.”
There’s something classically Portland about this novel, not quite the same as a Chuck Palahniuk or a Monica Drake but certainly in their emotional wheelhouse, and it promises to be both a fun and a serious ride, one I trust the author to navigate with us expertly. (I know Todd from my local Buddhist sangha; he and I took refuge together a couple of years ago.)
I haven’t read the whole novel yet but I’m eagerly awaiting it, and I hope you’ll grab a copy, too. [UPDATE: Now available on Kindle, too!] If you beat me to it, tell me how it is. Otherwise, look for a review here in the near future. And Todd? Congrats, my friend.