When choosing a book to read, I am primarily drawn to two genres: fiction and memoirs. Recently, I read Home is Burning by Dan Marshall which tells the story of a two-year period of Dan’s life during his mid-20’s. Dan’s mother, who had been battling cancer for most of Dan’s life, has a relapse, and his father is diagnosed with ALS, amytrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
While the Marshall family suffered tremendously, I like reading about ordinary people going through extraordinary situations.
Told from Dan’s point of view, obviously because he is the author, he starts the story with his dad’s diagnosis, and ends with his dad’s death. Not a spoiler because ALS is a fatal disease (only about 10% live longer than 10 years). In the preface, he relates the back story of his family and himself.
It is also in the preface that he discloses that there is a lot of bad language in the book. He’s not kidding. If it offends you, don’t read it. I certainly noticed it, and frankly, for me, it was fairly easy to tune out most of the time. Other times, the way he spoke to his parents made me want to smack him.
Dan moves from California back to Utah to help his parents with his other siblings. It is a story of family dynamics, function and dysfunction when faced with a tragedy. Part of the problem I had reading it is that I am not a male in my 20s or 30s. I didn’t find the parts that he was writing to be funny, as funny as he thought they were. His running gag throughout the book was when he was in a particular situation, he would first say what he had wanted to say, and then follow it with what he actually said. It gives insight into his experience, but it became tiresome. Again, I doubt I am Dan Marshall’s usual target audience.
The bottom line? I kept reading until the end because there are more than a few nuggets of goodness in Dan and his family despite the self-deprecating and family-deprecating writing.
And, despite knowing there would be no happy ending, I was rooting for his dad.