When you look at the father-daughter photo on the cover of Kelly Carlin’s raw and reflective memoir, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up With George, you wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the shadow of the fast-talking, fast-thinking and fast-living comedian George Carlin. And then you begin reading, and you realize that Kelly’s reports from the trenches sound familiar to anyone who grew up amid the whirlwind social changes of the 1960s and ’70s.
As much a profile of the times as a peek inside the Carlin household, Kelly Carlin’s memoir captures both the intellectual and societal spaces opened up by freethinkers like George and his wife, Brenda, and the confusion inherent in such explorations, especially for a child growing up with parents who didn’t always act much like parents. Someone had to step up, though, and like many a child from a dysfunctional home, Kelly became the de facto parent early on, shepherding her father through bad LSD trips and her mother through severe alcoholism.
Carlin takes a chronological approach here, expanding on her one-woman stage show of the same name, and though she never co-opts her father’s biting style of comic commentary, she is an excellent storyteller in her own right. Each scene draws on the sometimes unbelievable drama playing out before her as well as the complex emotions she experienced within. So when a young Kelly decides to stop her parents from fighting by finding her father’s hidden stash of cocaine (hidden in Ram Dass’ classic book Be Here Now, of course) we understand both the heartbreaking absurdity of the situation and just how ridiculously normal this scene seemed to young Kelly. This dual awareness serves her well throughout her memoir, allowing her to truly show us the ins and outs of growing up with George.