The Hollywood emblem becomes a very personal symbol for a dysfunctional, all-American family, as first-novelist Barden weaves memories of his own real-life childhood acquaintance with John Wayne into a heartfelt meditation on manhood, family, mortality and myth. Although Wayne and Barden's father, Frank, became drinking buddies late in the star's life (when Frank worked as the contractor on Wayne's Newport Beach home), the novel skips easily between Wayne's teenage stardom on the football field, his Hollywood glory days and the disillusioned last years when he witnessed the bitter end of the Bardens' marriage and Frank's descent into alcoholism. Like Garry Wills's recent study, John Wayne's America, this novel evokes a far more thoughtful version of the Duke than fans of his movies might expect, a sensitive, solitary man beneath the bravado, deeply affected by early relationships with Marlene Dietrich, John Ford and (most of all) his own father. Barden insightfully demonstrates the need and use for icons like Wayne in the sadly commonplace drama of his own family's dissolution. His credible rendering of Wayne's inner life and the wistful, but never maudlin, tone of the novel make for a touching, memorable debut. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/02/1997 Release date: 06/01/1997 Genre: Fiction
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