Emily Mead
August 06, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Anna Cypra Oliver was 5 when her cocaine-addled, failed-architect father killed himself in Assembling My Father. And she spent most of her young life moving from a primitive New Mexico cabin to a near-by commune to a Hawaii beach and back again. Her hippie-turned-Christian-fundamentalist mother’s entourage included her adopted brother, her mother’s rabble-rousing boyfriend, and, following the boyfriend’s death, her control-freak stepdad. At 25, though, she set out with nothing but a trunk full of photographs to discover her late dad. Her painstaking (sometimes a bit too painstaking) excavation of his life is both an absorbing rumination on the forces that shape and change identity and a moving tribute to a deeply flawed man who couldn’t live with ”the creeping ordinariness of [his] choices.”

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