Hey everyone! Welcome back and I hope you are doing well. I’m here with a review of a riveting memoir about the story of Mikel Jollett and how he spent time living in the Cult known as Synanon from 6 months of age to about 5 or 6 years. Thank you to Celadon Books for sending me an Advanced copy of Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollet. I love how the books I receive from Celadon always push me to read outside my normal boundaries and always pleasantly surprise me.
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.
My Review– I have to say that I never felt such a roller coaster of emotions with a book before I read Hollywood Park. Sure I’ve cried a few times or gotten angry or laughed with books, but not in the way that I was invested with this book. It was shocking to me that Mikel’s parents were ok with how he was raised, that they didn’t think it was wrong. My heart broke for him when it became clear that he though it was a little boy’s job to take care of his mother, when realistically it is supposed to be the other way around. Everything he went through, the deeply depressed mother and rough around the edges father, drugs, loss, coming of age…. all of it was expressed in such a poetic way that it made you feel. I felt like I experienced it all with Mikel, yet I was sitting on my couch in the safety of my own home in the year 2020. I had never heard of Synanon before, but that doesn’t surprise me as I was born in September of ‘89 and don’t know much of cults and other big events outside of what was taught in a classroom or that I’ve stumbled across in serial killer documentaries. This was truly an amazing work of art! In his interview with Celadon Mikel was asked “What do you want people to take away from Hollywood Park?”, and his response was “I guess there are some fancy things I could say about emotional resonance, landscapes of the mind, and the sob in the spine of the artist-reader (that’s how Nabokov put it), but any first-time author is lying who doesn’t simply say, I really hope people like my book.”. Well Mikel, I really liked your book! So congrats, you’ve achieved that with this reader.
Thanks for stopping by for my review. As always, please let me know if you’ve read Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett and how you liked it. If you have any suggestions for books I might like based on this one, please drop them in the comments. Stay happy and stay healthy my friends.
Positive Vibes and Happy Reading!