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Phoenix: A Brother's Life Hardcover – March 14, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (March 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375403426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375403422
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,948,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Keeping a vigil at the bedside of his older brother, John, burned over 90 percent of his body in a generating-plant explosion, J.D. Dolan reflects on their troubled relationship and the tensions that seethed within their family. In the author's sensitive portrait, the Dolans seem a fairly typical post-World War II Los Angeles clan: Dad and John bond wordlessly while working on cars; eldest child Joanne struggles for independence; younger siblings Janice and June fight for precedence; Mom sublimates conflicts through relentless homemaking; J.D., the baby, hero-worships his big brother. Yet the author makes each Dolan a distinct and intriguing individual in a narrative penetrated by metaphor and replete with telling details: "my father saved stuff he might someday need, and my mother saved stuff she might someday want"; "'Good morning,' Janice would say, as if issuing a challenge." When John was injured, the brothers hadn't spoken in five years, continuing a family tradition of punishment through silence. There is no tearful deathbed reconciliation, nor do the emotional differences among the surviving Dolans evaporate in the Phoenix hospital where John lies dying. But this beautiful book resonates with the author's compassion and tenderness for his kin, and most especially with his ability to reclaim the love he and his brother once felt for each other. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Dolan's brutally honest, enthralling memoir about his dysfunctional family and the loss of his brother transforms a personal tragedy into a moving meditation on how family relationships shift over time, and how the death of a loved one can become a defining moment in one's life. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s with three feuding sisters, a taciturn older brother whom Dolan worshipped and parents who seemed more interested in their Masonic Lodge activities than in their kids, the author endured a family life of betrayals and punishing silences that lasted for years. By his own account, Dolan in his 20s was a pot-smoking, LSD-popping road manager for rock bands and "famous pop relic" Cher, but gradually straightened out and became a writer whose stories and articles have appeared in Esquire and the Nation. In 1985, when his brother, John, suffered severe burns in a power-plant explosion and lay dying in a Phoenix, Ariz., hospital, Dolan rushed back from Paris, even though John had refused to speak to him for the previous five years. We never fully learn why brooding John was "pissed off at the world," though the reasons seem to lie in his constant need to prove his manhood, his bitter divorce and the emotional armor-plating that was a legacy of his upbringing. Dolan's razor-sharp prose cuts on impact, while his narrative throbs with regret, guilt and unspoken love. This exceptional debut marks Dolan as a writer to watch. Agent, Amanda Urban, ICM. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
J. D. or Jay Dolan has given us a rare gift - a spare memoir of such incandescent beauty and truth that it brings forth nods of affirmation. It is a story of love lost and reclaimed, a reminder of the sure knowledge that is sometimes kept locked within a human heart, and the saga of a family shattered by silence.
An unpretentious, astute writer, Dolan is forthright in revealing his own rugged emotional terrain, as well as his days of womanizing and drug abuse.
He is equally candid in describing flawed familial relationships, yet there is always a note of grace. ...The beauty of Mr. Dolan's book lies not so much in the recounting of a life, although his narrative skills are considerable, but in the redemption found and the love rediscovered. In his hands there is triumph amidst grief and hope derived from sorrow.
Phoenix is an extraordinary debut by one who is already master of his craft.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Whiting on March 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book was excellent. As someone who has also experienced the loss of an older brother, I really admired the author's resistance to simple nostalgia or easy resolutions. The family feels like it is portrayed truthfully. I've not read a book in a long time that I can say connected with me as personally. I wish (if I had any writing talent!) I could put my family and experiences on paper as effectively or as entertainingly as they are here. A pleasant surprise. I look forward to reading more of the author's work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Deceptively simple in manner and topic, this little tome - a memoir about the vagaries of familial love and reflections on the disappointments of the expectations of youth - holds more food for thought than many a treatise on contemporary philosophy. How much of this book is reportage and how much is embellished fiction is realy not an issue: the detailed description of a nouveau California transplant family in all its dysfuntional state recalls tales of immigrants, bits of Steinbeck, and chards of Camus, Wolfe, and other writers of the human condition. Yes, this is a painful tale of the loss of a brother to the burn injuries from an industrial accident. Yes, the coming to grips with death from the various vantages of family members, coworkers, doctors, etc is a line of penetrating thought. But this book is about so much more than these tales. "Phoenix: A Brother's Life" forces us to accept that we are too often a race of beings that fails to communicate, has lost the spirit of Family, has too little time for the work Love requires. And if ever we needed a wakeup call for embracing these losses it is surely now. Though the title defines the place where all of this finds its Golgotha - Phoenix, Arizona is the location of the hospital housing the Burn Unit that becomes the final destination for the slowly but inevitably dying brother - I think that by the end of this book the author subtly shares that this gruesome experience is akin to the mythological bird that rises from the flames to new life and discovery. Bravo, J.D. Dolan. And thank you from those readers wise enough to embrace this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Dolan's Phoenix is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in years. I could not put it down. It reveals the complicated, fascinating dynamics of his family before and after his brother suffers from a fatal tragedy. Yet it never feels maudlin or self-pitying in any way. In fact, the book has such a sharp sense of humor even in its darker passages. Reading this book made me think a lot about my own family: issues of silence, jealousy between siblings, and the need to redeem oneself. I was sad when the book was over. I really cared about these character and their dramatic, interesting lives. I hope Dolan writes a sequel. He creates characters that I want to spend even more time with.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is, by far, one of the best memoirs I've read in years--a brutally honest exploration of family dysfunction coupled with the heartbreakingly tragic death of a big brother. Phoenix is a gripping, absorbing, and illuminating read. It's a book you'll read and re-read for years.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lissy Friedman on May 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Phoenix: A Brother's Life, by J.D. Dolan, is an autobiographical account of the author's relationship with his family, primarily with his older brother who died of severe burns suffered during a devastating workplace explosion. The book spans the abbreviated life of John Dolan, the author J.D. "Jay" Dolan's older brother, and muses primarily on their relationship in a series of flashbacks and reflections that take place during Jay's death vigil over his mortally-wounded brother.
The narrative sets forth the dynamics of the Dolan family, consisting of the parents, the sons John and Jay, and their three sisters, whose characters are slightly less fleshed out and who are more like satellites orbiting the more assertive brothers. The family persona is summarized quickly: the mother is a typical, nondescript housewife; the father looms as a sullen, bitter disciplinarian who passes on to his children the habit of holding longstanding, silent grudges; the oldest sister is defiantly independent while the other two sisters stay closer to home and exchange sibling rivalries; the older brother John is a stoic automotive enthusiast who gets drafted for duty in Vietnam; and Jay is the youngest child born after his parents were in their forties, the forgotten child observing the family drama and being raised more by his siblings than his parents.
The story focuses on Jay's hero worship of John and contains many a male bonding vignette, including forays into the woods where John teaches Jay to target shoot, as well as their shared love of cars and motorcycles and the ceremonial passing of the torch (in the form of a Marine Corps sweatshirt) when John is drafted and goes off to war in Vietnam (he actually gets sent to Japan).
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