Philip Smith,
Walking Through Walls
(Atria, 2009)

Reading Walking Through Walls makes you long for the old days, back when editors actually edited and suggested changes to their authors that strengthened books, kept them organized and centered around a theme. Walking Through Walls could certainly have benefited from good editing. There's a fine story lost in it.

Author Philip Smith promises us a memoir about his father, Lew Smith, a Miami interior decorator in the 1960s who had on his client list, among others, almost every Latin American dictator. Smith had a great business going, but it was strictly secondary to his main work, which was psychic healing. He'd spent his days creating fabulous living spaces for the rich, the famous and the infamous, and then come home and spend his evenings conducting healing sessions, doing psychic readings and chatting with the spirits of dead people. He claimed among his best friends a long-deceased psychic named Arthur Ford.

Smith shows us that it isn't easy to live a normal high school life with a father like this who, after his psychic work breaks up his marriage, moves into a guest house on the property and carries on from 50 or so feet away. When Smith concentrates on this story, he does fine and the book is fascinating, but the author sometimes seems confused as to whose story he's telling. He leaves his dad behind for whole sections while he tells us about growing up in Miami during the hippie years, his minor league run-ins with the law, his pot use, sexual experimentation and his flirtation with Scientology.

At time I found myself wondering exactly who was the subject of the memoir. I recognize that Smith wants us to know how living with his father shaped his life, but he loses his balance and the organization of the book suffers. Too often, he simply seems to be fascinated with the events of his own life just because they happened to him and the fact is, they aren't that unusual or that interesting.

When he concentrates on his father's story, the book takes on an energy that is absent when he drifts away from his main topic. A good editing could have kept him on track and given us as readers a better book.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 June 2009

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