The stories in this new printing of Randall Brown’s debut chapbook, Mad to Live, absolutely sparkle with desire—for life, for love, for something unnamable. They are stories about sons and fathers and husbands and wives and lovers—all burning with want. I found words for this want in one of the “bonus track” stories entitled “Out of Love” in which the narrator says:
“The ache of longing is better than the nothingness of before.”
Within that line is the kernel behind all of the stories. It is better to want and not receive than to feel no desire at all or, worse, to feel your self unworthy of even desiring another person or thing. To live without desire is not to live at all.
Brown writes with such brave honesty in this space of these lives in flux—children who are lost, parents who are needy, parents who are cold, husbands who leave, come back. Wives who were never there. But mostly, he writes about love. About those people who love the people who hurt them and those people who love the people they will hurt or are hurt by. And from this love comes understanding, growth. This is living. This is truth.
From the title story, we see a man who becomes a boy once again in wake of his father’s death—revisiting the scenes from their past in his father’s empty classroom where he teaches himself the truth about his father:
“I begin to sense the irony of my father’s position, drenched in uncertainty, yet convinced of the rightness of his beliefs. He thought he knew, but he was just guessing. And what if he guessed wrong?”
I invite you to be mesmerized by these stories. Hopefully, you will see some glimmer of yourself and find that you, too, are mad to live.
Great review, Myfanwy! I need to get the new edition.
I loved it, Kath!