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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grogan's Memoir All About Coming Home - Via the Scenic Route

(Image courtesy of TLC Book Tours)

Long before John Grogan fell in love with the world's worst dog, he lived life as, quite possibly, the world's worst Catholic. Despite his parents' obsession with keeping him on the straight and narrow, he wandered. A lot. He marred his idyllic childhood by (frequently) partaking of Marlboros, marijuana, sacramental wine, and R-rated thoughts about nuns and neighborhood moms. Terrorizing suburbia became the specialty of what Grogan calls his Secret Society of Smokers, Swearers and Sacramental Wine Swiggers - along with his buddies, he almost managed to burn down a neighbor's house. His early descent into deviancy naturally led to an adulthood of living in sin and skipping Mass, the result of which was a whole lot of Catholic guilt. By the time Grogan's dying father insisted the only thing John could do for him was pray, his heathen lifestyle had caught up with him - how could he possibly fulfill his father's last requests when he no longer believed God answered prayers?

The Longest Trip Home, Grogan's second memoir, traces the author's spiritual journey from altar boy to truant to skeptic to, well, something else. He describes his parents' complete - sometimes comical, sometimes absurd - devotion to the Catholic church. Says Grogan, "To say my parents were devout Catholics is like saying the sun runs a little hot. It defined who they were. They were Catholics first, and then Americans and spouses and parents" (14). As a boy with "abundant energy and few tools to contain it" (9) growing up in the turbulent '60s, Grogan constantly found his baser nature overcoming his Godly one. He was, he admits, "a tireless troublemaker" (289). Reading the first half of his book reveals just how tireless. Perhaps it stems from his childhood ritual of lying in confession, but Grogan seems intent on revealing every sin he committed from about age 7 on. Much of it is self-deprecating and funny, even if most of it is of a sexual nature (the parts about John's busty girlfriend, Becky, are hysterical). Still, the raunchy bits got distracting. I mean, really, I don't need to know how many times lusty young John "self-polluted" (61).

As Grogan matures, so does his memoir. The second half of the book is less about boyish pranks and more about his growing disillusionment with the Church. Despite his blossoming doubt, John could no more confess it to his parents than he could to a priest. Knowing his falling away will devastate his faithful mother and father, he keeps it to himself. When the truth comes out, the issue becomes "our taboo topic ... suffocating our relationship, [as] we all pretended it did not exist" (217). Even as Grogan grew into his own man, becoming a successful journalist, husband, father and memoirist, he lived with the certain knowledge that by abandoning his faith, he had broken the hearts of his parents. By the time his father issues his humble request - pray for me - Grogan has been so far away from the church that he can't even remember the words to the once-familiar entreaties. With his father hovering between the here and the hereafter, John must come to terms with the man he loves and the faith that has kept them apart. What results is a heart-twisting search for understanding, a quest that will, ultimately, lead John Grogan home. Even if it is via the scenic route.

The Longest Trip Home is warm-hearted and witty, tender and true - the perfect choice for children who have strayed from their parents' expectations, and for the folks that love them anyway.

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: Okay, I admit it - this book did not come from the library. It arrived on my doorstep free of charge, courtesy of the folks at TLC Book Tours. I received no compensation for this review other than the pleasure of enjoying a good book and the knowledge that I'm doing my part to keep the love of reading alive. That's enough for me.


  1. I'm on this tour in a couple of weeks, and I'm enjoying the book a lot so far. I'm a few years younger than John Grogan, and also grew up Catholic, so I can relate to a lot of what he's talking about. I have to admit I really didn't expect that to be so much of the book's focus, but I'm interested in seeing how it develops.

  2. This was such a great review, Susan! Thanks for being on the tour!

  3. This looks like an excellent memoir. It sounds like it has a nice balance of humor and seriousness. I look forward to reading it.


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