Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Milkman's Matinee by John J Dorfner

Last night I finished Milkman's Matinee: A Boy Remembers His Father by John J Dorfner, and I experienced that familiar but too rare feeling when you finish certain books: sadness that there isn't more. I also was left with a strong motivation to write a memoir of my youth, and I would aspire to rise to Dorfner's fascinating level of detail and command of poetic prose.

The official blurb about the book is as follows, borrowed from Dorfner's Cooper Street Publications website:
Milkman's Matinee is the story of a young boy's observation of the world through the clean windshield and open doors of his father's milk truck. Hard lessons are learned and life's tough struggles are confronted as 'little john' listens to his father and watches him smoke cigars and laugh at life's simple pleasures. Using flashback mixed with delicate prose, the author takes readers on an unforgettable ride along the city streets of Kingston, New York, during summer and winter mornings of the early 1960's.  
Readers of The Daily Beat will recall that I reviewed two other books by Dorfner, Kerouac: Visions of Lowell and Kerouac: Visions of Rocky Mount. Dorfner is a real Kerouac enthusiast and collector who has met a number of Beat luminaries, and one striking feature of Milkman's Matinee is that it is very much like reading Kerouac. I say that as high praise, because just about anyone can imitate Kerouac, but Dorfner pulls it off in his own "delicate prose" and it is, like Jack's work, immensely fun to read. It's like he channeled Jack as he wrote. Being such a Kerouac-ophile, Dorfner probably has read so much Kerouac that those spontaneous bop rhythms are ingrained and the prose just comes out naturally.

Because I grew up in northern Pennsylvania at about the same time Dorfner was growing up in Kingston, NY (near Woodstock), 229 miles away, many of his memories are similar to mine, from the milk delivery stories (my grandfather was a milkman), to the culture zeitgeist of the time. Consequently, reading this book was like stepping into a time machine and visiting my own past. For me, it was eerily familiar and strangely comforting.

One technique Dorfner uses with skill is popping back-and-forth in time. He does this effortlessly and with great effect. One minute it's 1961 and you're in Kingston peering out of the milk truck at the buildings along Flatbush Avenue, the next you're on the "gray metal deck" of a destroyer in 1945 (his dad's war experience), and then it's 1963 and two of his childhood friends are killed by lightning. Early on, we learn that Dorfner's dad committed suicide "one spring dusk up at the Atwood Peak." It's an important piece of information, and Dorfner treats it respectfully, never dwelling on it as some memoirists might.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it, especially if you like memoirs and a spontaneous style. I'll be reading it again some day just because it was damn fun, and I don't say that about too many books.

I tip my hat to Dorfner on writing a memoir that is both highly descriptive and engaging. He has stated on his Twitter feed (@KerouacJack) that he will never stop writing Milkman's Matinee, and I am hoping for an expanded version at some point in the near future. In the meantime, Dorfner is adamant that readers not buy his books from Amazon and the like, but, rather, contact him directly at johnjdorfner@gmail.comYou'll save money and get an autographed copy to boot.

1 comment:

Baltimore Colts fan said...

John is indeed interesting. I purchased his Rocky Mount book way back in the early 90s or so, and had sporadic communication with him.

John, if you're reading this I want to say "Hey" to ya and also apologize for some of the confusion surrounding my attempts to hook you up with Lowell natives now living in Houghton, Michigan.

I hope you were eventually able to do so but, if not, there's still an opportunity to do so.

Cheers ----- Gerry M.