09 February 2010

Book Review: A Way of Life, Like any Other by Darcy O'Brien

 
A Way of Life, Like Any Other
Darcy O’Brien


Writer and sometimes college professor Darcy O’Brien was the son of movie stars George O’Brien (whose films span from silent pictures in the 20s to 1964) and Marguerite Churchill (who was John Wayne’s first leading lady). Don’t worry, I had never heard of them either until I looked them up on Wikipedia. And speaking of Wikipedia, raise your hand if you think this phrase is missing a comma:

…the couple had a son, Darcy O’Brien in 1939 who would become a successful writer and a daughter, Orin O’Brien who…
When I first read it I thought it was a clever way to say that Darcy O’Brien had had a sex change.

At any rate, back to the book. A Way of Life, Like Any Other is an autobiographical and funny novel of a kid trying to cope with faded movie star parents who have become caricatures of faded movie stars. Eccentric, sometimes bitter sometimes nostalgic husks of their former selves. For their son (whose name I entirely forget at the moment, maybe the reader is never told), is a childhood and adolescence of riches and rags and back to riches before returning again to rags just in time to go off to college. Intertwined with the broken family’s economic fortunes are his serial monogamist divorcee mother’s alcoholic and mercurial behavior, and his father’s unrequited love for his ex-wife channeled into constant fest of nostalgia, ever-increasing devotion to his Catholicism, and a flirtation with the John Birch Society which is to politics what the Flat Earth Society is to science. The dysfunction in the family reminded me a bit of a more benign version of Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs. Except that O’Brien’s novel is much more a piece of literature than Burroughs’ David Sedaris-like regurgitation of his childhood. Plus O’Brien isn’t gay, which I only mention now because his attempts at wooing females and his quest to get laid are pretty comic.

(And by the way, my husband tells me that the Slim Aarons cover photo of C.Z. Guest is in Palm Beach, not Los Angeles.)

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