Reviews for John Wayne : A Novel
Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 June 1997
John Wayne became a symbol to the world of American toughness, swagger, compassion, and determination. Recently the subject of Garry Wills' cultural criticism in John Wayne's America , Wayne is now the hero of his own novel, which mixes fact and fancy in the creation of a Duke we didn't know but wish we had. Through first-person narration, the fictional Wayne reflects on his itinerant childhood, his charming but unsuccessful father, and his eventually bitter mother. Barden portrays an introspective Wayne, a man very aware of his strengths, his surroundings, and above all, the passage of time. During an eerily realistic deathbed scene, Wayne and Henry Fonda discuss director John Ford and God interchangeably, with both drawing a measure of comfort from the comparison. No one will ever know what it was like to be John Wayne, but Barden's fictional foray inside the Duke's head is a compassionate, thoughtful attempt to understand the burden of being treated as a legend when you are really just a man. ((Reviewed June 1 & 15, 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews
Library Journal Reviews 1997 June
Author Barden's father was John Wayne's contractor on his Newport Beach, California, house in the early 1970s, and it is his family's peripheral acquaintance with the "Duke" that spawned this spare first novel. The Bardens were starstruck at being included on Wayne's guest list for a Christmas party, and contractor Frank became caught up in Wayne's boozy reminiscences of life with Ward Bond and John Ford. In the novel, as Frank's relationship with Wayne deepens, alcohol destroys Frank's marriage and causes deep disillusionment in his young son Dan. But for Wayne, this is a time of reflection and self-discovery that leads to his deathbed conversion to Catholicism in 1979. Fans of the Duke may revel in this ordinary family's brush with stardom, but most readers will likely feel it falls short as a novel, lacking both depth and substance. Not recommended.?Susan G. Clifford, Palos Verdes Lib. Dist., Rolling Hills Estates, Cal. Copyright 1997 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 1997 June #2
The Hollywood emblem becomes a very personal symbol for a dysfunctional, all-American family, as first-novelist Barden weaves memories of his own real-life childhood acquaintance with John Wayne into a heartfelt meditation on manhood, family, mortality and myth. Although Wayne and Barden's father, Frank, became drinking buddies late in the star's life (when Frank worked as the contractor on Wayne's Newport Beach home), the novel skips easily between Wayne's teenage stardom on the football field, his Hollywood glory days and the disillusioned last years when he witnessed the bitter end of the Bardens' marriage and Frank's descent into alcoholism. Like Garry Wills's recent study, John Wayne's America, this novel evokes a far more thoughtful version of the Duke than fans of his movies might expect, a sensitive, solitary man beneath the bravado, deeply affected by early relationships with Marlene Dietrich, John Ford and (most of all) his own father. Barden insightfully demonstrates the need and use for icons like Wayne in the sadly commonplace drama of his own family's dissolution. His credible rendering of Wayne's inner life and the wistful, but never maudlin, tone of the novel make for a touching, memorable debut. (July) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews