One can't help thinking that Dan Marshall would be Dave Eggers's and David Sedaris's literary love child, if they were to have one. In Home Is Burning (Flatiron Books, Oct.), Marshall's debut memoir, he recounts dealing with his father's diagnosis of A.L.S. eight years ago, when Marshall was just 25 years old. Not only did Marshall have to leave the life he'd built for himself in L.A. after graduating from college, but he was returning to Utah, a place he thought he'd left forever, except for family visits. On top of having to deal with his father's terminal illness, Marshall and his four siblings, who ranged from their teens to mid-20s, had always lived with the knowledge that their mother was battling cancer. And did we mention that the Marshalls were the only non-Mormon family on their street in Salt Lake City?
"We were spoiled assholes, still trying to figure out who we were, and how to be adults," Marshall says of himself and his siblings. "And we had to make a switch that usually comes later in life, when you're in your 30s, 40s, or, if you're lucky, your 50s." It was "surreal," Marshall recalls of the two years between his father's diagnosis and death, seeing the transformation of a marathon runner into an invalid. "The rapidity of the disease, that was part of the shock," he says. And as anyone with brothers and sisters knows, there was all that sibling drama. "My older sister and I, we hated each other," he recalls, hastily adding that now they are "incredibly close."
Those two years may have been difficult, but there is a silver lining to every cloud: not only did his siblings emerge from it a family united, but their neighbors, who previously had not wanted anything to do with people who guzzled hooch and peppered their conversations with profanity, now embraced them. "Our neighbors were so kind to us after dad got sick. They brought over food and were so friendly," he says. "It used to be us versus the Mormons. We made peace with them." And their mother is still alive.
Flatiron is giving away galleys of Home Is Burning at the Macmillan booth (3056, 3067) today at 2:30 p.m. Marshall will also be one of the authors featured at the Buzz Panel, in Room 1E12/ 1E13/1E14, at 4:15–5:30 p.m. Tomorrow he is on the Downtown Stage, 10–10:45 a.m., with the other Buzz authors.
This article appeared in the May 27, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.