Although readers of The Broken Road: George Wallace and a Daughter's Journey to Reconciliation shouldn't expect an image rehabilitation of its subject, Peggy Wallace Kennedy writes with some sympathy for her father, who had a rough childhood. For that matter, so did his daughter.
George Wallace, the notorious segregationist and four-term governor of Alabama, was an absent father in both senses; he was also a womanizer. His restlessness kept the Wallaces largely in poverty until he finally won the governorship in 1962. Before he ran for office, Wallace was known for his progressive views, but "Daddy was willing to bend his moral universe toward power," Kennedy writes. She is also clear-eyed about her father's cynical tactics: "Daddy understood the power of hate and fear and exploited these feelings to gather support." Although Kennedy doesn't draw an explicit connection, it will be hard for readers not to link her father's apparent megalomania with her own mental health challenges, which she describes with devastating frankness.
Even as a teenager, Kennedy knew that her father's politics were ugly, and in The Broken Road she intermittently expresses regret that she didn't confront him: "Was I lost in the trappings of the advantages I now see?" (Some of those advantages are evident in the book's two dozen black-and-white photos, which include posed shots of Alabama's first family.) Kennedy explains that her activism on behalf of civil rights during her adult life is "part of my commitment to make things right." So is this courageous, unblinkered memoir. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer