The disturbing story of a passenger on the doomed Pan Am Flight 103, written by the victim’s younger brother, an editor for PBS’s Frontline.
Dornstein was only 19 when his 25-year-old brother David was killed in the terrorist attack over Lockerbie, Scotland. In this grim, often depressing account, the author digs deeply into his erratic brother's past, seeking not only to recreate his brother's final days, but to burrow into his mind and soul. David Dornstein was a would-be writer whose craving for fame and success far outstripped his talent, and his life had been spiraling downward even before his graduation from Brown in 1984. Although he filled notebook after notebook with his meandering, autobiographical prose, David was far better at imagining himself a successful author than in focusing on the task of becoming one. His personal life was equally troubled. Though handsome and likable, he bounced from one squalid apartment, menial job and failed relationship to the next, while his college friends moved on. When David boarded the Pan Am flight, he was on his way home from Israel, fleeing a promising relationship with an attractive woman. There's a strange, almost creepy element to Dornstein's near-obsessive pursuit of his dead brother's ghost: The author initiates a close friendship with David's former Israeli girlfriend, then later befriends—and eventually marries—his brother's college sweetheart. Dornstein's search also uncovers a childhood secret that helps to partially explain his brother's self-destructive behavior. There are powerful, chilling moments in this story: Dornstein's visit to Lockerbie, where he treads the very ground on which his brother's body fell to Earth, and his final goodbye to the rebuilt skeleton of the 747 in a remote hangar in England. Elsewhere, the narrative stalls, as the author gets buried under the rambling, unfocused writings that grew in unfinished piles in his brother's rooms. Eerily, David had often imagined himself dying young in a plane crash—he presumed it his quickest ticket to fame.
Given the downward spiral of David's brief life, we're forced to ponder whether the Libyan terrorists eventually charged with the bombing didn't spare him an even sadder end. It’s the most disturbing part of this penetrating but uneven story.