By John Grogan
I expected better from John Grogan. I loved the pithy insights from his first book, Marley and Me, as well as his richly textured three-dimensional word pictures, nimble pacing and quirky chronicling. Cynical, sour, and almost suffocatingly self-serving, The Longest Trip Home is a like a stiff shot of castor oil after a Florida-sized slice of cherry cheesecake.
Grogan’s “memoir” is coarse, self-absorbed and worst of all, tedious, eliciting the pizzazz of a plate of overcooked cabbage. It’s essentially 300-plus pages of an anti-Catholic rant in which the author chronicles – and chortles at – his parents’ “Medieval interpretation of Catholicism, with its literal belief in guardian angels hovering over our shoulders to protect us from the dark agents of Satan,” which, among other things, “strikes both him and his wife, Jenny, as “as almost comically superstitious.” This narcissistic romp though the author’s sexual conquests – both real and imaginary – also includes the horrors of Catholic school, altar boy service, and so on until the author smugly self-identifies himself as a “non-practicing Catholic.”
After grinding out twenty-four chapters running down his parents’ faith while simultaneously patting himself on the back for deceiving and misleading them about his behavior, mores and mindset for most of his growing up years, Grogan then seems baffled by his parents’ sense of hurt and betrayal when he finally comes clean as a thirty year-old about to be married to a non-Catholic. He crows about how he has “Finally broken free from my parents’ influence” and “no longer felt the need to lie and obfuscate” and seems to think a crate of champagne is in order. While Grogan crows about being “unapologetically my own person now…,” readers may wonder why we should care. (I’m not Catholic, but still found this stuff tedious and bloated.) And did we really need to know every sordid detail about his Sister Mary Lawrence fantasies – as a second grader?
Although Grogan spends two-thirds of the book – 234 pages- ridiculing and belittling his parents’ staunch Catholicism and conservative views, Longest retains a glimmer of Grogan’s past panache. In Part Three, Coming Home, the author seems to be trying to make up for the past 24 chapters by devoting 91 pages to some sort of penitential “maybe they were right” musings. A trace of Grogan’s former prose prowess shines forth in the final chapters as he softens his stance while his mother and father succumb to old age, frailty and illness. His tenderness toward his dad who is dying of leukemia and pneumonia is heartfelt and deep, but in a case of “too little, too late,” Grogan doesn’t quite pull it off. Instead, he leaves the reader wondering if he’s “come home” to stay or if this is just another pit stop en route back to the land of “lies and obfuscation.” What’s puzzling – and disappointing – is that the author is capable of much better.