Master your Minecraft
 
 

Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, March 8th, 2006


 

The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky: A True Story

by Ken Dornstein

Brother, Interrupted

A review by Benjamin Alsup

Reading a memoir is often like sharing an excruciatingly long cup of herbal tea with a particularly dopey stranger who has a life-affirming story to tell. But there is little solace to be found in Ken Dornstein's investigation into his older brother David's life and horrifying death aboard Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. In fact, I can't remember a single passage in The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky that traffics in empty sentimentality or easy cliché.

The series editor for PBS's Frontline, Dornstein has written a memoir that reads with the unflinching factual intimacy of a coroner's report. Want to know how a bomb goes about its gruesome business of ripping apart an airplane? So does Dornstein. Ever wondered if the passengers remain conscious when the plane begins to go down? So has Dornstein. He pursues the answers to these questions with a grim determination that is both uncomfortably obsessive and entirely fascinating.

Then, once he's satisfied with the terms of his brother's death, he turns his eye to his life. And here, too, he doesn't pull any punches. What emerges is far from hagiography—more portrait of the artist as a young fuckup. Boy wants to write. Boy's ambitions are greater than his talents. Boy is sensitive, thoughtful, petty, petulant. What we get is a particularly compelling account of a 25-year-old man's life. In this case, a 25-year-old who was seriously confused about the usual topics—love, work, family. Probably not a whole lot different than you were at 25. That is, until he wasn't.

In his exploration of this most universal bummer of a life interrupted, Dornstein has written a book that transcends its subject, becoming a meditation upon not only his brother's life but his own. All of ours.


Click here to subscribeSubscribe to Esquire and Save 75%

Get 12 fantastic issues of Esquire magazine for only $8. The best culture, entertainment, style, financial advice, women and more delivered right to your door every month ? at an incredible 81% savings off the newsstand price! What could be better... or easier?

Click here to subscribe now!

spacer
spacer
  • back to top

FOLLOW US ON...

     
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.