When Dan Marshall’s father is diagnosed with ALS, Dan reluctantly returns home to help his family out. As his mother undergoes chemotherapy and his father’s health steadily declines, Dan and his siblings’ lives become increasingly complicated. Through illness, breakups, unexpected weddings, possible drinking problems, and more, the Marshalls struggle to extend their father’s life without losing their own.
You’d expect a memoir in which the father is dying from ALS and the mother has cancer to be incredibly depressing, but Dan Marshall’s dark humour, sarcasm, self-deprecation, and liberal use of profanity keep this story from being overwhelmingly sad. Sure, the diagnosis and subsequent decline of Marshall’s father is indeed sad – especially since he clearly means so much to Dan and the rest of the family – but Marshall is so honest and unafraid to illustrate his own (and his family’s) flaws that you get distracted by all the dysfunction and hijinks. In fact, Marshall’s honesty makes it hard to dislike him even though he illustrates himself as a spoiled, emotionally stunted, slob throughout most of the book and admits that his family is basically a bunch of rich white assholes.
Some might not like Marshall’s crude humour, but this memoir clearly demonstrates (and let me channel Marshall here) how fucked up terminal illnesses are. I’m sure there are families who’ve had to deal with ALS or cancer that are not as well off as the Marshalls, who didn’t have their options, or who even did a better job at handling it all, but the beautiful part of this book is that it doesn’t romanticize the Marshalls’ struggle. It’s definitely not the story of a noble son who returns home to selflessly care for his mother and father. It’s a story of imperfection in the face of adversity, of messing up repeatedly, of hating the hand life has dealt you. But even within all of that, it is a story about the bonds that hold a family together when it’s falling apart. If that doesn’t inspire even a little bit of hope in readers, than I don’t know what will.
Final verdict: Don’t pick this up if you’re looking for sentimentality or feel-good nostalgia, because this won’t cut it if that’s what you want. If you’re looking for irreverence, dark humour, and a wealth of cussing, this is it.
Home is Burning goes on sale October 20, 2015. The rights have already been bought by New Line Cinemas, so better read it before the movie comes out.