I'm sitting down to review this book, and I'm thinking about a book store. A certain big name bookstore that I'm thinking of (One word! Starts with a "B"!), as some may know, has no established biography/memoir section. Instead, it haphazardly lumps its memoirs and biographies among its other categories which, is, for all intensive purposes, abysmal. If it's a person associated with music - you'll find that biography amid books about learning to play the guitar and the like. Literary figures' biographies/memoirs fall under the literature and fiction category of the store despite being neither (though this categorization is, perhaps, closer the mark) - likewise are filed the memoirs of people with no fame or preconceived notions to draw on. This practice leads to memoirs popping up in the unlikeliest of places with little or no attention to subject matter when it comes to categorization, only a passing thought to what the author or figure might be associated with.
Imagine my utter lack of surprise, then, while browsing at this store's little brother store to find The Longest Trip Home, a humorous and touching depiction of John Grogan's rather ordinary life nestled among the rest of the books in the - can you guess it? - animal section. But for a passing mention of a childhood pet and, of course, a brief mention of the infamous Marley that has little to no bearing on the rest of the memoir, this book has nothing at all to do with animals. While I love this store, this is one of the more irritating things about it. What a disservice they are doing to this book and many like it by mercilessly mis-categorizing them in order to avoid doing something so practical as creating a memoir/biography section which customers are often asking for leaving booksellers blundering about in their attempts to explain why so large a bookstore would fail to have such a section. Hiding books where no one would guess they would be and creating an impression that a book should have a certain subject matter that it really doesn't contain certainly doesn't do authors or readers any favors.
But, that's enough of me on my soapbox. I've got a book to review here, you know?
In The Longest Trip Home, John Grogan maps his journey from his idyllic suburban childhood with his fiercely Catholic parents into his adulthood as a journalist attempting to reconcile his own worldview with his parents' faith. Grogan's childhood in suburban Detroit is the epitome of everything his Catholic parents didn't have in their own childhoods' and wished for their children to have. Their chosen neighborhood is full of green backyards, features a private beach of sorts shared by the whole neighborhood, and most importantly contains a Catholic school to educate their four children.
Grogan's childhood is marked by his rebellions both small and large against his parents' rigidly held but well-intentioned Catholic morals. Though Grogan loves and respects his parents and sees them for the good people they are despite and perhaps because of their pious meddling, he can't seem to grasp their faith. Nonetheless, he paves over his indiscretions and lack of belief with lies big and small until, as he grows older and leaves for college, he realizes that he is living two lives in a desperate attempt not to disappoint the people he loves most. When the truth begins to come out, John and his parents will have to find away to cross the divide between his two lives.
The Longest Trip Home is a finely wrought tale of growing up. Grogan's anecdotes of his childhood and teenage antics as well as his pleas to God to deliver him from the consequence of his comical missteps are laugh out loud funny. Much more profound, though, is his chronicle of growing up and beginning to understand his parents for who they are and to understand himself in what he cannot share with them. Even so, his story is filled with the love and respect he has for his parents both as a child under their discipline and as an adult who knows that he will never share the intense faith that pervades his parents' lives. Grogan's story comes full circle as he returns, with his brothers and sister, to sit at his father's death bed, and it is here that the book is at its most powerful. John's last moments with his father are rendered so poignantly that I found myself crying as if I knew them both personally. Grogan's memoir is a quiet but powerful tale of what would be an ordinary life and an ordinary family were they not made extraordinary by their great love and Grogan's exemplary writing.
Standing there, I thought about spring's glide into summer, and summer's march to autumn, and the reliable promise of dawn in every setting sun. I thought about the old maple tree that fell in the yard and the young garden that flourished in its footprint. Mostly I thought about Dad and the exemplary life he had led - and, for all our differences, the indelible mark he had left on me.
This book was released in October 2008, and if you're looking for it at *cough*Borders*ahem, cough, cough* you can find it in the "Animal" section. ;-)