The International Writers
Book Reviews 2007
by Dirk Jamison
Chicago Review Press, 2006, 212 pp.
Charlie Dickinson review
Jamison's childhood memoir, PERISHABLE, is about, among other
things, a dad who decides a few minutes of daily Dumpster diving
will put food on the table for the family. That frees
up the rest of the day for anything (or nothing). Dirk's
dad seems the classic California flake, a worn hip-pocket copy
of Carlos Casteneda giving him enough rationale to keep on the
"Path with Heart" of the warrior who believes responsibility
is a stupid word, while dragging a whole family, three kids included,
through the truth and consequences of such anti-heroic antics.
Besides a father whose life-changing discovery was Dumpster diving (at
a recent Sundance Film Festival, Jamison showed a documentary film about
his father still Dumpster-happy at age 71), Jamison has other childhood
hurdles to get past: Mom whose disconnects in the name of religion and
food don't seem to serve her well in countering Dad's obsessions, an older
sister whose violence against her younger brothers seems mentally unhinged,
and Dirk's Mormon Scoutmaster whose pedophilia lands him in prison.
Jamison narrates much of PERISHABLE with the matter-of-fact, Dad's-a-crazy-character,
resilient tone kids come by naturally. But, of course, Jamison knows
he's living anything but a normal childhood. It's no small wonder
one of his childhood heroes is Evel Knievel (the man who has "broken
every bone in his body" and still performs).|
Written from the vantage point of adulthood, however, Jamison can add
backstory elements to suggest how his father came to his uncompromised
stance toward the world. One might speculate drugs figured in the
dad's amotivation. But Jamison mentions no drugs in PERISHABLE.
Perhaps, his dad's dad, Grandfather Orville Jamison was a cautionary
example against drugs: an addict who committed suicide years earlier.
What is telling, however, is mention of an instance of his father's cruelty
to animals as a child. That foreshadows one of PERISHABLE's more
poignant scenes: Dad and Dirk clash over the former's abandonment of the
family dog Buffy at a highway rest stop. The obvious question hangs
in the air, did Jamison's father give his children much more consideration,
being content to feed them from Dumpsters?
While PERISHABLE accounts for only seven years of Dirk's childhood-- Huntington
Beach to a Mammoth Lakes ski bum interlude to Mom's retreat to her Mormon
extended family in La Grande, Oregon--the path to divorce is obvious from
the start. If anything, however, Mom giving up on Dad doesn't lessen
Dirk's affection for his peculiar dad.
Oddly, Jamison doesn't appear to identify strongly with his mom. He's
quick to characterize her Mormon ways as off-putting and skims the inherent
stability she brings to the family. That is, Mom is dull, compared
to Dad's Evel Knievelesque, go-for-broke lifestyle. The great hunger--fittingly
in a memoir about Dumpster diving for food--is nonmaterial and emotional.
Dirk really wants a father with whom he can identify. A male
figure to help fend off an evil older sister and who will make things
happen when his passive mom won't, shy of being pushed to a breaking point.
Once, when his father invites him into a Dumpster, Dirk openly sums up
what it's all about: "Dad credits the strange solace of getting
something for nothing, but it's just the sensation of finally being with
him. The actual father. This feeling weighs more than the
Some years after the divorce, Dirk gets a postcard from his dad, camping
out in a Mexican jungle. In a postscript, Dad advises: "Be
a winner, son. Always give between 65 and 70 percent." That's
the quirky--and the reader realizes, loveable--dad who got Dirk Jamison
through childhood. PERISHABLE is the author's compelling story of
endurance for both father and son and, I suspect, in the final sorting
out, a portrait of a dad for whom Dirk has both pride and gratitude.
See family portraits of the Jamisons http://www.dirkjamison.com
© Charlie Dickinson Jan 2007
read "stories and more' @ http://charlied.freeshell.org
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