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Rich Man

The Rich Man's Table
Scott Spencer
Knopf, $23

How many times must a son ask a man
if he is really his dad...

(CNN) -- In "The Rich Man's Table", Billy Rothschild finds out at an early age that his father is the legendary folk rock singer/protester Luke Fairchild.

As Billy matures he takes the reader on a journey, both physical and mental, trying to discover himself through the well-publicized life of his father, who has a history similar to a real-life singer -- from coffee house folk-music roots, to Christian conversion and challenging social injustice through his folk-then-electric music. Even the cover photograph leads the reader to Dylanesque conclusions.

But the novel is confusing as Billy skips around, interviewing people he believes were important in Luke's personal and professional life. Spencer needs to offer more about some of the characters -- a priest, an accused murderer -- and a lot less about others -- mother's ex-lovers and musicians. There are periods in the book where I didn't care about Luke's history, and would have preferred for more focus on Billy's relationship with his immediate family.

At the climax there is some dramatic tension which ties past and present stories together, but overall "The Rich Man's Table" leaves the reader wishing the entree was as tasty as the dessert.

-- Jim Argendeli

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