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Fine. With a seamless weave of letters, reminiscences, poems, and journal entries, Eleni Sikelianos creates a loving portrait-and an unblinking indictment-of her father, Jon: a talented musician, a high school dropout, an autodidact descendent of Greek nobility, and, for much of his life, a drug addict. An eccentric visionary, he emerges as a brilliant, irresponsible, frustrating, and ultimately tragic figure. In 2001, after three years of homelessness on the streets of Albuquerque, he died in a motel room from an overdose.
In this genre-bending enigma that is not quite memoir, not quite biography, Eleni Sikelianos comes to terms with her tortured, genius and heroin-addicted father. While detailing Jon's colorful (mostly blood red, icy blue and bone white) life, Sikelianos also reveals the "sort of life" lived "among the children of the birds," the offspring of creatures who continuously escape this world by flying high (pun intended). Their life is largely shoved aside to make room for the whims and fancies, narcissism and seductive voice of addictive personalities. But rather than bitterly lamenting or blaming Jon for past transgressions, Sikelianos takes an honest look at a man she barely saw until age 13. A man who died in a hotel room from an overdose. A highly sensitive and artistic soul who loved to view the world from high above the mundane ground, where his family and friends remained and to which they prayed he would return.
Sikelianos cleverly uses a multi-genre approach to mirror as well as explore the many facets of Jon. Reflective letters, allegorical dreams, poignant memories, humorous lists, beautiful poems, strategically-placed photographs and even an experimental screenplay are the patches she lovingly stitches together to describe this complex man who was at once a poet, animal lover, tree climber, absentee father, brilliant musician and homeless drug addict. All writers will appreciate the creative way in which the work's form reflects its content: both Jon and his book are hybrids, comprised of multiple identities and voices that combine to create something bohemian, revolutionary and strangely beautiful.
To compensate for any overwhelm caused by genre overload, Sikelianos ensures that similar chapters have consistent tones. For instance, sections that discuss Jon's extensive experience with and knowledge of animals are predominantly positive, light and uplifting. Letters to Jon, on the other hand, are more solemn and sometimes heartbreaking. This structuring helps the reader navigate both the disparate texts and Jon's crazy life.
Despite the fact that each section depicts Jon in a slightly different manner, they all work together to create this patchwork quilt of Jon and in fact complement each other. Juxtapositions between memories and the present, between humorous stories of her father crushing potato chips over someone's head and him telling his grown daughter she has a "fat ass," reveal Jon's unpredictable moods and wild, seemingly random desires.
While Sikelianos focuses primarily on Jon (it is his book, after all), she also critically analyzes herself and her complicated relationship with him. In a particularly powerful passage, she describes a trip to Albany, New York that both she and John took, albeit thirty years apart. While he was an irresponsible teenager with "a nine month old daughter on the other side of the" country at the time, she traveled as an introspective woman contemplating her father's lonely and restless journeys as a "bird."
The Book of Jon ends with "Book of the Dead," wherein Sikelianos records her family's dreams about Jon after his death in 2001 and reflects on her grief as well as his multifaceted being. In this epilogue of sorts, SIkelianos includes a photograph of herself as a young girl holding a goat above a picture of her father as a young Boy Scout hugging a cat to his chest. He smiles shyly at the camera while her face is downcast, and they face opposite directions. Although this juxtaposition largely describes their contentious relationship, Sikelianos ends the book with a touching photograph of Jon and her hugging to remind the reader that, like Jon himself, their relationship was far from simple and conventional.
This introspective and powerful work poetically details the complex relationship between addicts and their children, genius and madness, idealistic dreams and soul-crushing reality. With great integrity and a multi-genre approach Sikelianos paints an imperfectly perfect portrait of both her estranged father and herself, one that acknowledges their similarities without condemning him for their differences. Recommended for anyone who has experienced the wild fancy, intellectual discourse and restless movement of these "blue-footed, iridescent . . . Herons with sleeking feathers" or observed their grounded offspring watch them fly away forever.
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