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FIREBIRD by Mark Doty

FIREBIRD

A Memoir

By Mark Doty

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019374-3
Publisher: HarperCollins

A bittersweet portrait of the artist as a young homosexual, coming to terms with his parents and finding that “the thing that harms turns out, sometimes, to be the very thing that restores.” After writing through the death of his lover in his previous memoir, Heaven’s Coast (1996), poet Mark Doty uses the visual tricks of a 17th-century Dutch perspective box as a metaphors for a series of linked autobiographical essays. In the same way the box distorts finely modeled objects so that they appear in perspective when viewed through a lens, so does Doty hope to bring order to the uncertain memories and unresolved emotional turmoil of a peripatetic middle-class youth in the “50s and early “60s, when his temperamental father built missile silos in the Arizona desert while his prodigal sister spent time in jail, his mother drank herself to death, and the incipient poet found aesthetic ecstasy dancing to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Doty is most sympathetic this world’s eccentrics, misfits, and social rebels, from his mother’s meditating art teacher to the nameless gnome of Moon Valley, a Tucson hermit whose fantastic desert playground remains hidden among the city’s suburban sprawl, and finally to Doty’s sister Sally, who, after her Jesus-freak husband takes off with a younger girl in the church choir, avenges herself on the male world as a pocket-picking prostitute, only to straighten up and fly right after finding a true gentleman in a bar. There’s the standard sexual squirming, trite conformity, and barely repressed violence common to Eisenhower-era bildungsromans, as well as a beautifully balanced take on Doty’s mother’s unfulfilled life. All that, and some hilarious, Harvey Fierstein pratfalls in which Doty figures out that he’s gay, relieve Doty’s naval-gazing discursions on art, writing, and the making of a poet. A short, effusive, and wisely compassionate backward glance on a life that, while less than the sum of its parts, has healed as much as it has hurt.