We gave it a B+
In the fall of 2006, Dan Marshall and his girlfriend were spending some booze-assisted quality time by the pool of the Palm Desert Marriott—where the Marshall family had a time-share—when his parents called with the news that his father had been diagnosed with ALS. It would be fair to describe Marshall’s reaction to the bombshell as not entirely selfless. “This news meant we might lose the guy who made our lives as awesome as they were,” he writes in Home Is Burning, recalling his first thoughts about how his father’s illness would affect the family. “It might mean no more time-shares in Palm Desert. It was a scary thought.” This self-damning reminiscence appears early in Marshall’s story of how he relocated from L.A. to his family’s home in Salt Lake City so he could help nurse both his father and his cancer-stricken mother—and it is far from the last time he points out his own inadequacies. Indeed, “nurse” doesn’t seem quite the correct word to use here, given the levels of reluctance, squeamishness, and near-patricidal ineptitude the first-time author brought to the task.
What keeps you on Marshall’s side is his black sense of humor as he anthropomorphizes the alarm on his father’s respirator (“BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. F—ing do something or your dad will die”) or recalls the phrases he mischievously programmed into Marshall Sr.’s communication device (“Boy, I could use a bl– job.” “There’s a knife downstairs. Please kill me.”). It is also obvious that Marshall deeply loves his increasingly incapacitated dad, even when he has to do things like wash “the place where my life had started with a triumphant orgasm some twenty-four years earlier.”
The author does push the boundaries of taste—and is, at times, unwinningly keen to throw other family members under a succession of buses—but Home Is Burning should act as a funny, reassuring tonic to anyone who has had cause to doubt their own caring abilities. Which is to say: everyone. B+
OPENING LINE “ ‘I f—ing love it here,’ I said like a spoiled white a–hole as I looked up at the cloudless sky, seeing only palm trees against the perfect blue.”