Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book Review: "Our Town: A Novel" by Kevin Jack McEnroe

Addiction is a powerful, dangerous force, one which often leads to tragic outcomes. And when children are raised by addict parents, the likelihood of their also falling prey to addiction, traveling down the same dangerous path as their parent(s), increases exponentially. It's a vicious and sad cycle.

Kevin Jack McEnroe, the son of Tatum O'Neal and John McEnroe, tackles the effects of addiction on a family in his debut novel, Our Town, which he has said is a fictionalized account of his grandfather Ryan O'Neal's first wife, Joanna Moore, and another female relative.

Joanna-Rae Cook lived an idyllic life in Americus, Georgia in the 1940s, the daughter of a scientist and his wife, when her entire family is killed in a car accident. When she was adopted by a doctor and his wife, she changed her name to Dorothy. "Because she felt different here. Happier, somehow. And she thought it'd be nice, and fitting, to recognize that change. Starting over would be a theme in her life. She always felt she could be better than she was."

After winning the Miss Americus beauty pageant, she caught the eye of a talent agent and moved to Los Angeles. It is on the set of a television show that she meets Dale Kelly, a handsome young actor also making his debut. The two fall quickly and passionately in love, get married, and when Dorothy gets pregnant, she puts her acting career aside to raise their family. But as Dale's star slowly rises, the couple find themselves in the thrall of alcohol and drugs, especially when Dorothy tries to restart her career after giving birth twice. It isn't long before Dale's jealousy and anger turns to violence, and the two, constantly fighting addiction, divorce.

Our Town follows Dorothy through her life as she struggles with trying to stay beautiful, trying to appeal to men, although she constantly seems to pick the wrong ones. She needs alcohol, cocaine, uppers, downers, and other drugs to make it through her days, keep her weight off, and soften the rough edges of her custody battles with Dale and her frustrations with her children, Clover and Dylan. As frustration turns to neglect, her treatment of her children scars them in countless ways.

This is a tremendously bleak book which mirrors the real struggles of addiction—glimmers of hope and recovery follows by long periods of decline and relapse. These characters are not likeable, but even as you are disgusted by their behaviors you see what fuels them. You know they are headed toward danger, and you are powerless to stop them; you can only hope they'll find their way before it's too late.

The premise of this book is a powerful one, but unfortunately, it didn't work for me in the storytelling itself. McEnroe is a talented writer but his style is scattered, and it is difficult to follow the plot because he often alludes to or foreshadows events without them actually occurring. I found the book very slow moving, but I wanted to see how McEnroe would tie everything up, and the ending of the book definitely provokes emotions. I just wish the rest of the book did the same.

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