Leyde’s debut takes readers on a painful, funny and shocking journey through her family’s life after her father suffers brain damage and exhibits a drastically altered personality.
In 1996, when she was 14, Pennsylvania-born author Leyde’s father, John, survived a car wreck that violently whipped his head into the windshield. The author had seen the 1991 movie Regarding Henry, in which a bullet in the head transforms a coldblooded yuppie into a gentle family man, but reality didn’t have a Hollywood happy ending. Before his traumatic brain injury, John Leyde was a water- and snow-skiing enthusiast, avid photographer, recreational marijuana smoker and mellow dad in the mold of his hero, the musician Jimmy Buffett. But after he emerged from hospitalization, he lacked most of his long-term memories and executive mental functions; he was an uncoordinated, impulsive drug addict/alcoholic. He became an alternately angry and apathetic layabout, but he still remained a Jimmy Buffett fan; indeed, one of the achingly few times his daughter saw her beloved father’s old personality resurface was while he was listening to Buffett sing. The narrative is divided between John’s chronic misbehavior (and its soul-wearying effect on his wife, Claudia, the author’s mother) and the author’s own coming-of-age as a teen juggling various boyfriends and, later, as a journalism graduate roller-coastering around the NYC magazine scene with her friends. Bad news from Pennsylvania repeatedly drags Janna back into her father’s drama. At one point, she announces to the long-suffering Claudia her plans to write a book about John, and periodic diary excerpts tip us off that this is that book—making it, in part, an act of therapeutic catharsis. But if this is a product of crisis-related journaling, it’s a specimen of the highest order—a hard-to-put-down inquiry on the extremes of love and family.
An accessible, dramatic narrative of brain damage and its toll on caregivers that deserves a broad readership.