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Perishable: A Memoir

Perishable: A Memoir

Author:Dirk Jamison
Release Date:2006
Publisher:Chicago Review Press

By J. Bowers | Posted 5/3/2006

While other boys his age were playing in sandboxes, Dirk Jamison was climbing into Dumpsters, chasing inbred male puppies away from Buffy, the perpetually pregnant family dog, and watching his eccentric hippie father sting his arthritic, overweight mother’s joints with angry honeybees.

Perishable, Jamison’s memoir, is a slim volume about being raised by a man who eschewed typical fatherly responsibilities—holding down a job, owning a house, buying groceries, taking sick kids to the doctor—in favor of a Dumpster-diving, garbage-eating, mendicant lifestyle that would allow him to “experience the heart of life,” despite the effects that this self-centered approach might have on his wife and three children. Amid passages that outline his father’s bizarre philosophies, either through word or action, Jamison paints a believable picture of his frustrated Mormon mother, at first forced into complacency by her belief in the sanctity of a nuclear family unit, but eventually shamed and irritated into getting a divorce from her perpetually unemployed husband. More minor “characters”—such as Jamison’s psychopathically cruel older sister, or Gary, his barely closeted scoutmaster—are far from flat, but the narrative keeps coming back to the crux of the matter: his parents’ relationship, and how his father’s refusal to accept adult responsibility slowly tore the family apart.

Rendered in deft, unpretentious prose, Perishable is as humorous as it is heartbreaking. Jamison readily invites readers to laugh at the absurdity of stuffing Dumpster food into store-bought packages in an attempt to “fool” his mother, and numerous other strange situations where his father turned his children into accomplices. Jamison’s lingering embarrassment about being the kid who helped his father lug home squashed containers of cottage cheese and half-rotten vegetables is palpable and real, but he also manages to convey a sense of childlike wonder at his father’s wide-eyed philosophies. And fittingly, as the book progresses, this wonder gives way to an age-tempered brand of teenage resentment and confusion, then a resigned, half-amused acceptance of his father’s strange society-bucking ways. Highly recommended.

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