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Phoenix: a Brothers Life

Dolen, J. D.

27 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0375403426 / ISBN 13: 9780375403422
Published by Knopf, 2000
New Condition: New Hardcover

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Phoenix: a Brothers Life

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:New

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


A memoir of impeccable beauty--funny, sad, wise--about brotherhood, family, and the domestic arc of American life since the shiny-bright fifties.

At the edge of the desert, in Los Angeles, J.D. Dolan grew up in the postwar boom of hopeful plenty, in a family not unlike those everyone watched on TV: Mom at home, Dad at work, the kids tantalized by teenage freedoms and adult responsibilities. The youngest of five, J.D.--Jay--found a second set of parents in his oldest brother and sister, whose great advantage was in being far cooler. John, in particular, was his hero, teaching him to fish and shoot, to ride motorcycles, to want to be a grown-up, a soldier, a man.

Such dreams aren't made to come true, or not for long. Despite all this glorious promise, the Dolans were eventually battered by silence, resentment, misdirection, and, years later, by John's death in a horrific explosion. In re-creating both expectant childhood and adult regret, Dolan confronts and redeems his family's complications and failures, and grants literary permanence to a personal history--at once elusive, distressing, and magical--at the heart of the American dream. "This book rises from the ashes," Mary Karr has written, "and takes a reader with it."


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

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