Author: Mikel Jollett
To Be Published: May 26, 2020
Reviewed By: Jessica
Jessica’s Rating: 4 stars
Dates Read: April 11-26, 2020
Hollywood Park is a remarkable memoir of a tumultuous life. Mikel Jollett was born into one of the country’s most infamous cults, and subjected to a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, and emotional abuse. Yet, ultimately, his is a story of fierce love and family loyalty told in a raw, poetic voice that signals the emergence of a uniquely gifted writer.
We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they’d disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion. …
So begins Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett’s remarkable memoir. His story opens in an experimental commune in California, which later morphed into the Church of Synanon, one of the country’s most infamous and dangerous cults. Per the leader’s mandate, all children, including Jollett and his older brother, were separated from their parents when they were six months old, and handed over to the cult’s “School.” After spending years in what was essentially an orphanage, Mikel escaped the cult one morning with his mother and older brother. But in many ways, life outside Synanon was even harder and more erratic.
In his raw, poetic and powerful voice, Jollett portrays a childhood filled with abject poverty, trauma, emotional abuse, delinquency and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Raised by a clinically depressed mother, tormented by his angry older brother, subjected to the unpredictability of troubled step-fathers and longing for contact with his father, a former heroin addict and ex-con, Jollett slowly, often painfully, builds a life that leads him to Stanford University and, eventually, to finding his voice as a writer and musician.
Hollywood Park is told at first through the limited perspective of a child, and then broadens as Jollett begins to understand the world around him. Although Mikel Jollett’s story is filled with heartbreak, it is ultimately an unforgettable portrayal of love at its fiercest and most loyal.
I had not heard of Mikel Jollett before receiving my arc copy of Hollywood Park, but his is a story where you do not have to be familiar with the person to see how much they overcome. Mikel started life in the cult of Synanon and was taken away from his parents at 6 months of age, as all children of the cult were. Several years later, his mother gets away from the cult with Mikel and his older brother but they still experience a very hard life.
Jollett writes his memoir in a unique way: He starts off the novel at five years old and ‘talks’ as that age with everything that is going on around him. As he becomes older and understands more, so does his telling of his story, in the age he is at that time. Even as a small child, he was wiser than his actual age. Not many would be able to tell their story in this way with success. This memoir shows the addiction that occurs and the devastating effects of it on the addict and also the effects on the addict’s loved ones. There is also loss that occurs and we can really feel the emotions that Jollett expresses. He is a musical artist after all, so those words come well to him.
Memoirs are always hard to review, as it is someone’s life and their experiences/ interpretation of events, but this one reaches a cord with the reader. We all have different life experiences and those experiences shape who we become as a person. Jollet sharing his story with the reader through writing or through his lyrics of the songs his band performs can help others with their experiences and interpretations.
Jollett’s band The Airborne Toxic Event has a new cd coming out on May 22nd. It is also titled Hollywood Park, just as this memoir. It is the band’s first album in three years.
Many thanks to the publisher, Celadon Books for sending me an arc copy to read and review.