Home is Burning by Dan Marshall

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Home is Burning Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: dying, parents, motor neurone disease, cancer, hilarious

Home is Burning is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. It is a brutally honest description of what it is like to look after someone who is terminally ill. It manages to combine the grief and horror of the situation with humour, showing that love can survive the harshest of trials.

Dan Marshall was only twenty-five when he moved back into his parental home in order to care for his dad, who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. His mother had been battling cancer for 15 years, so was unable to cope with the strains of caring for her husband on her own. Dan left his friends and career behind, putting his life on hold to spend as much time as possible with his father. This book describes the roller coaster of emotions as one family try to cope with an incredibly difficult situation.

Home is Burning was shocking in its honesty. I was impressed by the way Dan Marshall included the details of his flawed personality, whilst simultaneously amazed that his family allowed him to reveal their innermost secrets. It is rare to see someone’s true thoughts and feelings, not only about their resentment of being forced into a caring role, but also about their stormy relationship with other family members.

This book won’t appeal to everyone – there was a lot of coarse language, a sprinkling of drug taking, and numerous sexual references. The black comedy was extreme, but the situation faced by the family mirrored this. I found myself laughing out loud almost all the way through this book – a bizarre thing to do when reading about terminal illness.

“Pee” meant he had to urinate. We’d grab the bedside urinal, get his cock out, and he’d have a little piss right there and then. We also kept some Kleenex beside for the wipe up. The urine would be dumped on my sleeping mother. Just kidding. It would go in the toilet with any used Kleenex. We’d flush and wash our hands.

Most memoirs of this kind concentrate on the grief and difficulty of day-to-day life, but this book went further than any I’ve ever read. It gave a complete picture of this entire family, dealing with problems as diverse as autism, drug taking, adoption and homosexuality. It didn’t hesitate to show their personality flaws, or their disagreements with neighbours. I loved seeing how Dan’s siblings interacted with each other – they continually wound each other up and it was fascinating to see how this helped and hindered their situation. 

I must also praise the structure of this book. Memoirs can often lose their power because of their linear nature, but it was skilfully arranged so that key facts were revealed sporadically, maintaining interest throughout. The book also contained a lot of wisdom, and it brought home the harsh reality of our short lives. 

When we’re born, life is really simple. It’s all about keeping stress to a minimum. As we grow into adulthood, we just complicate our lives with junk: kids, mortgages, marriages, cars, insurance, jobs, drugs, stairs. As we head for death it is all about making things simple again. No more stairs. Big, safe, easy-to-drive cars. We only engage in a few simple, mindless activities that relax the brain. No jobs. No sex. No problems.

Overall, I cannot praise this book enough. It was refreshing in its honesty. If you can stomach the sexual innuendos, you’ll find yourself reading one of the most accurate depictions of a modern family ever written. I laughed and I cried, and I will remember this family forever.

 


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3 Comments

  1. Diane says:

    Oh wow, I’m even more anxious to try this one now. Thanks Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  2. Priscilla says:

    Wonderful review! This sounds interesting because of his humorous approach, but the subject matter (not the sexual innuendo part–the coping with two terminally ill parents part) overwhelms me. I’m not sure if I could manage my way through it, but it certainly sounds worthy of at least a try.

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