In fictionalized episodes ranging from Wayne's first love at sixteen to his deathbed conversion to Catholicism, this novel offers a surprisingly intimate vision of John Wayne. The Bardens are the perfect observers, guileless enough to retain an unabashed admiration for a man they consider a hero, perceptive enough to begin to see him as he really is--a man struggling to come to terms with the myths that define him.
In their own way, the Bardens are coming to terms with these same myths. Frank Barden, trapped by alcoholism and the masculine ideal embodied by his friend Wayne, begins to lose touch with his family. Lillian Barden, disappointed by the impossible promise of the men around her, questions her faith in the manhood that men like Frank have to offer. As John Wayne lies on his deathbed at the close of this heartbreaking story, the Barden children have grown up, and Lillian and Frank are facing the dissolution of their marriage. With wit, intelligence and sympathy, Dan Barden "manages at once to humanize John Wayne and to expose the mythmaking apparatus that is as vital to American family life as it is to American cultural life" (Jennifer Egan).
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||1 ANCHOR|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Before the live bn.com chat, Dan Barden agreed to answer some of our questions:Q: Do you feel that there have been any cultural icons of Wayne's enormity since his death? Does anyone today come close?
A: Its hard to imagine anyone that huge, although there were about three and a half months after "Dances with Wolves" when I wanted to believe that Kevin Costner could be that influential. No, it's hard to think of anyone. Bruce Springsteen? Nicolas Cage if he plays his cards right? There was another three-month period after "Tin Cup" when I thought Kevin Costner...no, never mind.
Q: What particular movies -- aside from Wayne's, of course -- have influenced you? What movies do you watch over and over?
A: The movies that I will drop everything to watch are: "North by Northwest," "The Dead Zone," and "The Empire Strikes Back," although nothing matches my appetite for Wayne movies, particularly those directed by John Ford or Howard Hawks: "The Searchers," "Rio Bravo," "Fort Apache," "Big Jake." Although I must say that I've been obsessed with "North by Northwest." I think the whole movie's about Cary Grant's perfectly tailored blue suit, and I can't get enough of watching it.
Q: How about novels? Who are the writers you return to again and again?
A: Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, which has often seemed to me like the perfect American postwar novel. I love many of his books -- Lancelot, The Second Coming, The Last Gentleman -- but that's my favorite. I read it first when I was 16, and it made me want to be a writer as much as Joyce's Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man made me want to be a writer. Two books I'm crazy about and am about to read again are Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose and Robertson Davies's What's Bred In the Bone, both of them books about obscure people who lead awesome lives.
Q: What have you read recently that just knocked you out?
A: My world was severely rocked by James Carroll's American Requiem just a few weeks ago.
Q: What kind of books do you give as gifts?
A: I usually give one of three books, which everyone should have, but many of my friends -- happily for me -- don't: The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property by Lewis Hyde. This is one of the best and most useful books ever written. It's about the nature of art in a market society. This book is a completely elegant and mind-blowing examination of the idea of gift-giving as a model for the artistic economy. Changed my life, as I would have to imagine it would change the life of anyone who read it. Selected Poems of Ranier Maria Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell -- a wonderful gift for someone who's afraid of poetry or never read a good translation of Rilke. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner -- a great book about a 19th-century New York bohemian artist who marries a mining engineer and spends the rest of her life in the West. My family is from New York, but I grew up in California, and this book told me more about the country between than I ever thought it was possible to know.
In this moving first novel, Dan Barden crosses in and out of that myth-making apparatus, infusing the factual and the fictional with equal life, blurring their edges until it is impossible -- and purposefully so -- to know where one begins and the other ends. Young Danny Barden's father was Wayne's contractor, and so their lives crossed at moments that seemed crucial, shining, as though the star's mere presence made everything more real than before, made them all a little more alive. But Danny watches the anguish his parents experience when their lives don't measure up to that silver-screen ideal, and sees his family crumble under the weight of that impossible-to-sustain image. As his mother looks over the wreckage of her marriage, she comes to the shocking realization that "John Wayne himself was an illusion, and Frank Barden was even further from the truth than that."
Running parallel to this story of the emptiness of the Hollywood dreams surrounding the American family is the story of the man himself, told in sparse, evocative moments of love and grief, as Duke Wayne repeatedly attempts to place himself within the ideal that has been created of him. From his first love to his deathbed, Duke moves across the southern California landscape in search of the reality behind the myths. Barden brilliantly captures both the American icon and the man underneath, who struggled to manage the burden of his own image.
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