David And The Old Man, by William Zemba
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/WestBow Press in exchange for an honest review.]
As a writer all too familiar with works about dysfunctional families , this book strikes me with a sense of wonder mainly in the fact that it was written at all. What is most remarkable about this book is not its quality–it is a fairly average self-published memoir in terms of how well it is written–but rather that it was written with the blessing of the author’s brother, the David of the book’s title. Given the way that the author writes so honestly and unsparingly about the failures of his brother to live as an ordinary human being, and his tendency to blame everyone else but himself for the difficulties of his life, it is remarkable that David gave his permission and blessing for his brother to write about him in such a brutally honest fashion. I think I can say pretty safely that my brother would never give me permission to write about him in such a fashion, and my permission and blessing would not be forthcoming if my brother ever asked to write about me in such a fashion. In a sense, this book, as harsh as it is about a dysfunctional family as it is, is an unwelcome reminder that my own family is still yet more dysfunctional yet. The blame for such unwelcome tidings can hardly be laid at the author, who is writing for his own therapy and out of a desire to make sense of his own complicated legacy, and far be it from me to blame someone else or criticize someone else for doing what I have done so often and at such length, and for the same purposes.
This book basically consists of a somewhat repetitive memoir of the relationship between the author’s father and elder brother, trying to make sense of the generational burden of sin and the fact that their church-going Catholic family nevertheless did not have Jesus in their lives. In many ways it reminded me of a sermon I had heard at the Feast of Tabernacles from a gentleman whose children I know relatively well who discussed the slow change of people generation after generation within a dysfunctional family, in that the author shows how the same sort of mulish stubbornness and lack of concern for other people that came from the author’s Slovak grandfather were carried generation after generation within his family, focused on the issue of food and the lack of trust in others. Some parts of the novel are hard to take, like the slovenly nature of the author’s brother and his struggle with anorexia. As I come from a family where eating disorders have left a trail of intense suffering, this did not make the memoir any more pleasant to read. At least it can be said that the book has a happy ending with family members resolved to follow Christ, and with a great deal of forgiveness over verbal abuse between family members, a picture of reconciliation and peace that may hopefully be shared by at least a few of this book’s readers, if not all of them.
It seems almost superfluous to comment on this book’s commercial potential as a memoir to a wide audience. There are a lot of memoirs of crappy childhoods, and as someone who has contributed to this genre myself , I can hardly criticize other people for writing their own, especially when these efforts are pretty easily justified. This is the sort of book that is written as a sort of therapy and evangelism, when the life of the people involved (in this case, David) have reached the point where the uglier moments and periods of lives can be written with a happy ending that raises the efforts from tragic to melodramatic. And when one has the sort of childhood discussed here, with brutally harsh and immensely critical parents, themselves the survivors of scarred childhoods of privation and difficulty, melodrama is the best case scenario to be had. If you read this book, I cannot promise that you will enjoy it, but if you are the sort of person who has empathy and compassion on those who feel compelled to write about what they and their relatives have endured over the course of a difficult life with the hope of salvation and reconciliation with those they have been estranged from, then you will certainly have compassion on the people in this book, which ought to give the author and his family some sense of accomplishment.
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