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.
...a memoir that’s dangerous, immediate and lyrical from the jump ... Before his band’s first-ever gig, Mr. Jollett gives himself a pep talk. 'You have to show them. You came all this way. Now just show them.' In Hollywood Park, his first book, Mr. Jollett shows us how far he came. We see him banged-up and transcendent in the pursuit of learning that magic trick, of turning what is broken into beauty and making it useful.
In his frank and poignant first book, Jollett tries to capture the path to discovering the forces that shaped him. He writes from the perspective of a child and adolescent who slowly grows aware of his circumstances. Jollett has an innate sensitivity and eye for detail. You sense that any novel he’d write would be a good one, a Denis Johnson-esque tale rife with drifters and drugs and couples hitting the skids ... As he gets older he sometimes works himself up into the kind of rhetorical lather best suited for teenage diaries. Airborne Toxic Event songs aren’t verse-chorus-verse so much as verse-verse-increasingly-anguished-verse, and Jollett can get equally overdramatic on the page ... He takes his time, but he’s never boring; it’s a curious but pleasant surprise to notice that by the halfway point of this nearly 400-page book he hasn’t even hit puberty yet ... Jollett doesn’t miss his childhood — nobody would regret escaping what he has — but he writes with an understandable affection for the kid who made him who he was.
Notably, [Jollet's] earliest years were spent at Synanon, a drug rehabilitation program that devolved into a notoriously violent cult. As a result, the earliest parts of his memoir contain chilling anecdotes about the repressive, bizarre, and dehumanizing experience of life there. What narratively works is that Jollett, being only a small child at the time, didn't know a world outside Synanon — so the scenes of cult life have a sheen of innocence to them, lending a real eeriness ... Jollett's account of his life in music — as a musician and a journalist — is less compelling than the story of his family, but is not without interest. As he finds meaning in music, it's often about how it helped him overcome the pain, the emotional deprivation, the stolen childhood. While this is meaningful and important life experience to share, I really would have liked to have read more about his thoughts on music as an art form, more on the craft of songwriting, or maybe even just more about the ideas that guide his life. He's capable of it; the memoir has clear literary ambition ... Hollywood Park succeeds most in compassionately depicting the suffering and struggle of others with addiction: those left to obscurity; those barely holding on. Jollett's life story shows that you can pass through the gauntlet of pain and trauma to self-reliance and sustainable meaning. But most importantly, it shows that whether suffering is redemptive or pointless, the pain is the constant. Overcoming it is managing it.