By Mark Doty
HarperCollins, Hardcover, 9780060193744, 224pp.
Publication Date: October 1, 1999
Though five volumes of poetry and his award-winning memoir, Heaven's Coast, Mark Doty has produced one of the most important bodies of work in contemporary literature. In his powerful new autobiography, Firebird, Doty tells the story of a ten-year-old in a top hat, cane, and red chiffon scarf, interrupted while belting out Judy Garland's "Get Happy" by his alarmed mother at the bedroom door, exclaiming, "Son, you're a boy "
A self-confessed "chubby smart bookish sissy with glasses and a Southern accent," Mark Doty grew up on the move, the family following his father's engineering work across America--from Memphis to Tucson, Florida to California. With Doty's rebellious sister already heading down a road that will bring her more than the usual share of teenage troubles, and his parents bedazzled by their own isolate disappointments, Firebird presents us with a heroic little boy who has quite enough worries without discovering that his dawning sexuality is The Wrong One. Attracted not to baseball gloves or space travel but to textiles and opera, horror movies and free-form dance, he finds that his confusion and fear are shared by those around him as he tries to make his way into the world to the sound of Petula Clark singing "Downtown."
A heartbreaking comedy of one family's dissolution through the corrosive powers of alcohol, sorrow, and thwarted desire, Firebird is also a wry evocation of childhood's pleasures and terrors, and a comic tour of suburban American life in the fifties and sixties. Lyrical and shattering at once, alive with vivid characters and a beauty of language and detail that are the hallmarks of Doty's miraculous prose, Firebird is unsparingly truthful and compassionate, a testament to how it is possible to save oneself through the transformative power of art.