J.D. Dolan's latest autobiographical work exposes the author's journey from a young child's dream world of innocence and extreme brotherly adulation into the sobering, bitter realization and loss associated with adulthood and tragedy. Dolan was born into an all-American family, though 11 years younger than his brother. Along with his two older sisters, his brother practically raised him. As a result, the brother became for Dolan an idolized figure along the lines of John Wayne. But as American idols live large and hard, occasionally, so too do they fall. Sadly, this is the case with Dolan's brother. From the beginning, everything he sees in his brother is the definition of cool the Corvette, motorcycles, the Marlboros and Old Spice, the guns, and the girls and Dolan's infatuated recollections of him are to the point and real. In my earliest memories of my brother, writes Dolan, he'd seemed to me a gigantic figure, a grown-up, an inscrutable god. His vivid descriptions of family life and growing up in the shadow of a restless soul give readers a glimpse of this larger than life figure coming of age, being shipped out to Vietnam, and returning home more mature, quieter, older. Suddenly, the deep brotherly bond becomes an almost painfully mute relationship.
The progression from a healthy, happy family in the midst of the American dream into years of self-imposed silence and growing distance between members is told as if this fate is common to all families to a certain degree. The innocence of youth and physical health steadily decompose, and readers are left feeling the tragic loss which has been Dolan's all too real experience. Phoenix: A Brother's Life captures the love and admiration some brothers feel for each other, as well as the changes they undergo as they mature into individuals with separate lives. It would be more comforting in the end (though certainly less realistic) to see something rise out of the ashes, something other than a relief that suffering is finally over, and only a numb feeling of loss remains. Jamie McAlister writes from his home in Charleston, South Carolina.