Fathers, many fathers, wish that they could explain themselves to their children, perhaps most of all to their sons, provide a written record so that the gossamer connection between themselves and their progeny might be sustained beyond their lives, and that their children might be able to return to this written record as a reminder of who their father was.
In A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family, Peter Dimock creates such a letter from a self-appointed father to his twelve-year-old nephew and a ten-year-old who is possibly the narrator’s half-brother or his illegitimate son. With the intent that this explanation will also provide them with a guide to live by teaching them the forms and methods of classical rhetoric, the narrator’s hidden agenda—reminiscent of Ford Madox Ford’s narrator in The Good Soldier—is to have them turn against his and their family.
The examples that he draws upon for instructing them in rhetoric are his family’s sordid history, particularly that of the head of the Lanham family, the narrator’s father, a special assistant to the President during the Vietnam War. In telling his story, the narrator reveals not only his own emotional inadequacies but also the corruption underlying his family’s history, and that of the country itself.
A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family is both a brilliantly written investigation of family relationships and a scathing attack on the political rhetoric that guides American politics.