About the Book:
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.
“Our parents were like ghosts in Synanon, haunting us then disappearing again, leaving us to wonder what their connection to us was supposed to mean. What is a mom and what is a dad and what is a family and if it’s so special then why did you leave me?”
Raw. Unique. Poignant. Heartbreaking.
Mikel Jollett, of The Airborne Toxic Event, has written stunning memoir that is a testament to survival. The son of an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother, Mikel was separated from his parents as an infant and left alone in the infamous cult Synanon’s “school”. He would later come to terms with the fact that he suffered from attachment disorder as a result.
Both parents were members of the violent cult which originally started as a way for addicts to beat their addictions. Once his mother left the cult with Mikel and his brother Tony, they were subjected to a life of abject poverty and often, violence. Mikel writes about his childhood in lyrical, flowing prose that is at odds with the harsh realities of his young life.
“I’m defenseless against the intensity, invisible next to something so thoroughly thought out, small next to this mountain of reasons. Because the reasons are endless and I know every one by heart: that we are a close “family” now that we left Synanon together and I am her special smart boy who will take care of her and make sure she’s not lonely and it’s my job to grow up to be special enough to explain to the world all the sacrifices she made for me, to dance with the quiet ones whether I want to or not, to be the cowboy who never leaves, to be her revenge on the cowboys who did.”
Mikel and his brother grow up with a parade of men in and out of their home with their mother. Unable to provide a stable home for them, both boys eventually go to live with their larger-than-life father and his wife Bonnie. Their father and stepmother provide the only semblance of stability in their young lives. That Mikel could grow up to attend Stanford and eventually find acclaim as the member of a successful band is truly a testament to the human spirit. His brother and many family members battled addictions and Mikel spares no detail about the ugliness and hopelessness that addictions bring. His pain is raw and heartbreaking and absolutely gripping. Mikel struggles as a very young child to please his mother and to keep his very un-traditional family together, burdens no child should have to carry.
“Who made you such an old soul?” she says. I shift my weight. She likes to say this but all I ever do is repeat the things I hear the adults say.
Mikel is bullied for being poor, for being an outsider and just being different. He finally finds his stride in high school where he feels challenged and intellectually stimulated for the first time in his life. To read this transformation is fascinating. Mikel Jollett is a truly unique individual and I’m so glad he decided to share his life story with the world. His memoir is not to be missed.
“To know this thing exists, to go somewhere else and hear these words, to conjure them, is a relief, like I can breathe and it quiets that other voice.”
(Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for a review copy of the book.)