The Whole Staggering Mystery

A Story of Fathers Lost and Found

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Book Description

Critically acclaimed author Sylvia Brownrigg’s memoir reconstructs a poignant story of fathers lost and found, and of children rebuilding bridges burned by their own parents

When Sylvia Brownrigg received a package addressed to her father that had been lost for over fifty years, she wanted to deliver it to him before it was too late. She did not expect that her father, Nick, would choose not to open it, so she and her brother finally did.

Nick, an absent father, was a hippie and would-be Beat writer who lived off the grid in Northern California. Nick’s own father, Gawen—also absent—had been a well-born Englishman who wrote a Bloomsbury-like novel about lesbian lovers, before moving to Kenya and ultimately dying a mysterious death at age twenty-seven. Brownrigg was told he had likely died by suicide.

Reconstructing Gawen’s short, colorful life from revelations in the package takes her through glamorous 1930s London and Pasadena, toward the last gasp of the British Empire in Kenya, and from there, deep into the California redwoods, where Nick later carved out a rugged path in the wilderness, keeping his English past at bay. Vividly weaving together the lives of her father and grandfather, through memory and imagination, Brownrigg explores issues of sexuality and silences, and childhoods fractured by divorce. In her uncovering of this lost family, she finally makes her own story whole.

About the Author

Praise For This Book

"The Whole Staggering Mystery is just that: at its heart is the secret of Brownrigg’s particular family—which takes us from Northern California to New Mexico, to England, Asia and East Africa, from the 1810s to the 1930s to the 1960s straight through to today. But there is also the universal tangle of fathers and sons, dads and daughters: the possibility and impossibility we all feel of knowing and understanding and healing our pasts, of making peace with those who have gone before, or at least making peace with ourselves. Brownrigg tells it all in prose that is gorgeous and wry, slipping seamlessly between the real and the imagined, layering stories—which, in the end, are all we have—upon stories, to arrive at something that feels deeply, urgently true." —Peggy Orenstein, New York Times bestselling author of Girls & Sex and Cinderella Ate My Daughter