Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Home is Burning

Home is Burning Home is Burning by Dan Marshall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm the kind of person who grasps for books to speak to what I'm going through, and memoir can be really good for that. This came across in one of the emails I get of daily book deals, and I jumped at the chance, because that very day I was planning the books I'd take along when I flew home to be with my family after my father entered hospice care. You might think I'm morbid, but despite the problematic elements of this narrative, I found it somewhat comforting to read the author's account of similar atrocities - becoming the caretaker for a parent even if you aren't 100% responsible, facing the fact that many of the people in your life will withdraw while you are going through it because it is too much for them to handle, trying to have humor in the face of death because, well, can it hurt? I mean maybe it can but will it make you feel better?

Dan Marshall and I don't have the same experience exactly. His mom has battled cancer almost his entire life, and suffered a relapse around the time his father was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that claimed his father's life rather quickly, and required Dan to move back home to help with the care for a year. My parents suffered cancer back to back - my Mom fought off three kinds simultaneously (and successfully, for now, knock on wood) 2014-15, and my Dad was diagnosed with a form of cancer that was always going to be terminal at the start of 2016. What joins us together is the reality of the emotional and physical trauma of dealing with serious illness for such long periods. Yes it effects the people with the disease, but the burden is carried by all the members of the family in different ways.

The tone of the writing won't be for everyone. I'm not sure it's even for me, but there were particular circumstances at play. Here's an example:
"I could just get wrist-deep in this dying-parents shit. Feel everything. Do everything. Roll around in the mud. Really experience the horrible reality of death firsthand. That would make me a wiser and better person, right? That would help me grow up, right? That would give me life experience that would put everything else in perspective, right?"
I'm not sure if you can tell from this passage but unfortunately the author is not overly likeable or mature. But something happens when someone is dying - it absorbs 150% of your energy and attention, while you're in the same room but also when you're away. At the same time there is no escape - the only way out is through. Several readers are critical of how the other children in the family are neglected, and it is troublesome, but one could argue that with a mother perpetually ill, they were already overlooked, something only magnified when the father is also out of the picture. The mother floats through the memoir in a painkiller and yogurt fog.

I put this book on hold for a few days, and in that time my father passed away. I returned a few days after that to read the end, and it's a bizarre ending where suddenly he tries to be poetic and describes a dreamlike death sequence. For a person who was willing to be upfront with the dying part, he seems less comfortable with the actual death. Like his brain could only speak of it in metaphor. Bizarre (and ineffectual.)

So the author is unlikeable. He's a rich white asshole, self-declared. None of these things give you privilege over death, nor do they prepare you any better for it. And no matter that death happens all the time, it always feels like your own unique and lonely experience. I think he captures this between the lines, in his painful jokes that aren't funny, in his desperate constant use of profanity. I think the fact this is present at all may be my own imposition and empathy, and a complete accident otherwise.

Ah hell this is really a 2-star read. But I'm giving it an extra for being there when I needed someone who got it. I'm not sure I recommend it. Your mileage may vary.

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