In Dear Fang, With Love, the second novel from Rufi Thorpe, Lucas is given a singular opportunity to show kindness to the daughter he doesn’t know all that well, even though she’s 17. He and his ex-girlfriend, Katya, had Vera when they were teenagers themselves. Lucas didn’t meet Vera until she was 5 and has been in and out of her life ever since. It is only when the mind of this beautiful, strange and brilliant young woman finally breaks that he steps into the gap, as it were. His solution is to take her to Lithuania, the home of their ancestors, including one who escaped the Nazis and Lithuania for a prosaic life in America.
Even though Vera doesn’t know much about her traumatized great-grandmother, the effect Lithuania has on her is dramatic. Thorpe’s depiction of mental illness is painfully accurate. She shows how Vera’s intelligence and imagination are tangled up with her mental issues, through both her ramblings on her laptop and her increasingly desperate and delusional emails to Fang, the boyfriend she left behind in California. Thorpe also understands the utter helplessness felt by a sick person’s loved ones. Lucas, who doesn’t even know how to parent a teenager who’s psychologically normal—are any teenagers psychologically normal?—is out of his league with Vera.
But Lucas is a kind if flawed man, and he uses that kindness to lead his unhappy daughter from the brink. In one astonishing, terrifying scene, he does so literally. This is what a parent does, says Thorpe’s wise and sad book.