Stephen Rodrick is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine and is also a contributing editor at Men's Journal. His writing has been anthologizes in the Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Reporting and the Best American Political Writing. He lives in Los Angeles.
In The Magical Stranger, Stephen Rodrick explores the life and death of the man who indelibly shaped his life, even as he remained a mystery: brilliant but unknowable, sacred but absent-an apparition gone 200 days of the year for much of his young son's life-a born leader who gave his son little direction. Through adolescence and into adulthood, Rodrick struggled to fully grasp the reality of his father's death and its permanence. Peter's picture and memory haunted the family home, but his name was rarely mentioned.
To better understand his father and his own experience growing up without him, Rodrick turned to today's members of his father's former squadron, spending eighteen months with VAQ-135, "The World-Famous Black Ravens," as their duty took them around the world and thousands of miles from home. As he learns more about his father, he also uncovers the layers of these sailors' lives: their loves, friendships, dreams, disappointments-and the consequences of their choices on those they leave behind.
I am not a a big biography or non-fiction reader but sometimes a synopsis catches my eye and I feel I should give the story a chance. Same with this book. Though I do not have anything with the army or fighter jets or carriers. I see them on tv some times and obviously I saw top gun but more for the romance and not the planes. I got attracted due to another part that caught my eye. The dead of a father that is hardly know but still everywhere. I lost my father at young age and struggled with the same questions Stephen Rodrick struggled with and I was very curious how he got his answers and what that meant to him.
As soon as I had the book in my hands I started reading and though the awards Stephen Rodrick received for his writing should be a signal it was clear from the start that this would be a great read. Stephen Rodrick managed to make the pilot/navy gibberish understandable for everyone with a few extra words. The abbreviations are worked out in the text, explained and placed in context in one go making it easy to grasp the concept and not be disturbed when it comes back further in the story.
The book is build up in two stories. The one is of Stephen Rodrick and how he grew up with his dad and how the family experienced it and what happened to him and the rest after his father died. The other story is that of James Hunter "Tupper" Ware a Prowler pilot and skipper who is introduced to Stephen and explains to him throughout the book how the life is experienced from his point of view. What really made this a very strong story is that Tupper is at that point in his life where Pete Rodrick was when he died. Just a bit older but the same plane, same role and a family at home. You get a lot of background information on Tupper too, like how he was in school and his career making it look as if he and Pete Rodrick are total opposites but during the investigation the question arises if that is really so. What was strong in this story too was the part where Stephen Rodrick tells the home front story while Tupper tells the at sea mission part giving space to all the emotion from both sides.
I did recognize a lot of the questions Stephen Rodrick had and the struggle he felt with parts of his life where he was in need of his father. Though as a daughter I was obviously aiming for different advices and experiences the main feeling is the same as is described at some turning point in the story by Stephen Rodrick as "I faced some of the hardest decisions of my life. As usual, I felt unprepared and alone". There are more comments and questions I could relate to and I will admit I did spend parts of the book crying.
Though this book is clearly about the search for the myth that his father became in his head I think The Magical Stranger also serves as a great view into the army life and how the missions have impact on the whole family and I very much enjoyed the whole ride.
The Magical Stranger: A Son's Journey into his Father's Life
Author: Stephen Rodrick
Publisher: Harper Collins
Format: Paperback (uncorrected proof)
Harper Collins: eBook | Hardcover | Large print