An imposing 30-room mansion provides the backdrop for a “boys will be boys and drunks will be drunks” romp through the 1950s and ’60s.
Through the eyes of a young boy steeped in comic books, we see how former adman Sullivan (Advertising/Savannah Coll. of Art and Design; Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads, 1998) and his five brothers survived their abusive, alcoholic father, a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. The author peppers the text with the comic-book characters who helped him live within the chaos. He recounts the family legends of BB guns, cherry bombs strapped to arrows, poison ivy–infused squirt guns and a bowl of urine tossed in one brother’s face. Sullivan mined decades of letters between his mother and her father, together with his brothers’ diaries and journals to provide the narrative and emotional content for his father’s slide into rage and addiction. Few lifelines existed for his family. When his father tried to smash a locked door that he, his brother and mother were hiding behind, Sullivan climbed out the second-story window and ran next door for help. However, the neighbor was drunk and couldn’t comprehend the danger: “The world reels a little bit and the lesson tattoos itself inside: there are no sane adults in power anywhere.” His mother finally moved them out of the house, but she was allowed only a quarter of her husband’s salary to support the seven of them. The author mostly explores the brothers’ story, but we also understand the trauma his mother endured.
Sullivan ably captures the culture of the 1960s with the advent of TV, rock ’n’ roll and the limitations of addiction treatment.