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.)
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