The Whole Staggering Mystery: A Story of Fathers Lost and Found (Hardcover)

The Whole Staggering Mystery: A Story of Fathers Lost and Found By Sylvia Brownrigg Cover Image
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Sylvia Brownrigg's “wise, intimate, and deliciously entertaining memoir" (Carol Edgarian) reconstructs a poignant story of fathers lost and found

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. A few years later, she and her brother finally did.

Nick, an absent father, was a would-be writer and back-to-the-lander who lived off the grid in Northern California. Nick’s own father, Gawen—also absent—had been a wellborn 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 Gawen had likely died by suicide.

Reconstructing Gawen’s short, colorful life from revelations in the package takes her through glamorous 1930s London and staid 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 writes movingly of daughterhood and of parenthood, gradually making her own story whole.

About the Author

SYLVIA BROWNRIGG is the author of several acclaimed works of fiction, including the novels Morality Tale; The Delivery Room, winner of the Northern California Book Award; Pages for You, winner of the Lambda Award; and The Metaphysical Touch; and a collection of stories, Ten Women Who Shook the World. Brownrigg’s works have been included in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lists of notable fictions and have been translated into several languages. Her novel for children, Kepler’s Dream, written under the name Juliet Bell was published in 2012 and turned into a feature film. Brownrigg lives with her family in London and in Berkeley, California.

Praise For…

The Orange County Register, A New Spring Book You Won't Want to Miss
Bookshop, A Most Anticipated Title of the Year

"A legacy of absent fathers haunts Berkeley author Sylvia Brownrigg, who traces the story of her father, who lived off the grid in Northern California, as well as her grandfather’s far-flung, colorful life, in this probing memoir." —Hannah Bae, San Francisco Chronicle

"Engrossing . . . Brownrigg’s skillful interweaving of slippery narrative threads adds up to an immersive reading experience." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Brownrigg delves into the facts and fictions that shaped her family for generations, weaving the newly discovered revelations with the copious correspondence her father kept up during his lifetime and her own evolving understanding of her father. The result will especially resonate with those whose own family histories contain secrets." —Laurie Unger Skinner, Booklist

"Sylvia Brownrigg’s wise, intimate, and deliciously entertaining memoir delves into that great mystery we call family and, in particular, fathers—the ones we come in with and those we acquire. This book affirms that while you can’t pick your ancestors or the secrets they harbor, a writer with a keen eye and open heart can have the last word." ––Carol Edgarian, author of Vera

"Brownrigg takes us on an alluring and absorbing voyage through the roiling generations of her family as she pursues the central mystery of her paternal grandfather—in death and life—and its ramifications for her father and herself. A deft and engaging storyteller, she navigates four continents' worth of secrets, silences, and absences in scenes fleshed out with warmth, wit, and vivid immediacy. The story that unfurls invites us to explore the fierce power of parental and filial love that, by its relative presence or absence, reaches across eras of history and lives." ––Leta McCollough Seletzky, author of The Kneeling Man

"The Whole Staggering Mystery is a remarkable achievement. Spanning decades and continents, yet psychologically intimate and precise, bringing to vivid life the unforgettable characters that people Sylvia Brownrigg's family, this haunting book offers at once the satisfaction of memoir and the revelations of fiction." ––Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs

"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

"With its colorful and eccentric characters, Sylvia Brownrigg's book reads like a Graham Greene novel—her father Nick and grandfather Gawen were peers of the realm. Like others of that adventuring class, these are men so widely traveled as to remain mysterious to their children, cloaked from intimate knowledge by lapses too in generational time.

As our luck provides, however, each man was a writer, making Brownrigg's memoir a voyage of literary discovery in which we're taken from posh 1930s London to Nairobi during the last days of Empire to the counterculture wilds of off-the-grid Northern California. Each a changeling, each leaving clues to his true and soulful reality in published and unpublished work—their letters, novels—fascinating men who come tantalizingly close before vanishing, as in the best of thrillers, into mystery." ––Jane Vandenburgh, author of A Pocket History of Sex in the 20th Century: A Memoir

Product Details
ISBN: 9781640096561
ISBN-10: 1640096566
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English

Sit 'n Knit