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Mad to Live

Randall Brown


" My son sucks at soccer. Look at him—playing with the string on his shorts, chewing his lip, watching the ball roll by. Pathetic. The coach looks back at me, sitting in my lawn chair, PowerBook on my lap. As if it were my fault. As if I am one of those fathers."
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Reviewed by Barry Graham

Randall Brown’s Mad to Live, a collection comprised of eighteen short fictions, is an intense, haunting excavation of the American landscape and her inhabitants, each one unforgettable, whether it be Maggie, the pregnant woman who dines on ants, or the wannabe swingers, Matt and Lucy, or the father and son throwing a football together in the front yard. It is evident that Brown cares deeply for each and every character he creates, and when these folks sprung forth from his heart and mind and found themselves implanted on the page, that a little bit of Randall Brown’s soul went with them. 

He proves on every page that he knows what it means to be human. 

“My mother didn’t allow us to believe in God, or an afterlife. ‘Remember, those things are for people not in their right minds,’ she’d say. She negated that world, but never told us what to believe instead. A world full of meteors that could crash down at any moment, without purpose or meaning.” 

Brown’s brand of humanity involves thinking and acting then contradicting those same thoughts and actions with the very next sentence, the very next word. His sentences are perfectly constructed, each word chosen carefully for its rhythm, the image it creates, the way it feels bumped up against the words beside it. Brown’s command of language seems natural, like he does very easily what other writers struggle with for hours: 

“I found my father’s collection of Playgirl magazines in his closet. They weren’t there when mom lived with us. Bats looked like giant boners—and I pictured my father holding the bats of the men in the magazines and heard the playground names for him, felt a deep fear, as if he had a sickness we had to keep secret.”

As the title indicates, this collection lives and breathes and struggles and loves but never hates. Mad to Live is divided into four parts; what is, what for, what not, and what if, and contains stories that feel like home, capable of existing anywhere at any time in America. These stories feel like family secrets, like tall tales you’ve heard your grandpa tell over and over, stories you feel fortunate to have heard, that became a part of who you are. 

In, perhaps, the most powerful story for me, Good Kid, Corey and his Pap, “long silver hair in a ponytail, leather hands like an old baseball mitt, the power to read thoughts, eyes with the force to push you back against a wall,” find themselves alone in Pap’s pool hall, in the lonely mountain town of Huntingdon, Nowhere, when Corey’s pinball game is interrupted by two men looking for any easy robbery. Corey finds himself all alone after Pap is knocked cold and one of the intruders makes it clear he is there for more than just money. “Corey stands in front of the man with his purple thing that looks like a swelled-up bruise and its pumped-up head he keeps shaking. Pap groans…Corey kicks the guy’s balls hard…” Corey’s effort is not enough and both men are after him quickly. That’s all you’re getting from me. If you want to hear the rest of this story, if you want Corey and Pap and Randall Brown’s Mad to Live to consume you, to imbed itself in your soul, to live inside you forever, you’re gonna have to read it for yourself. I promise you, this collection is unforgettable.

Read one of the stories from this collection in Right Hand Pointing.

 Barry Graham is the author of The National Virginity Pledge (Another Sky Press). He teaches at Adrian College. Look for him in Hobart, Frigg, Elimae, Smokelong, Storyglossia, Wigleaf, and others. He is the recipient of the 2008 Jumpmettle Award for excellence in fiction and was recently nominated for a Puschcart.

PublisherFlume Press

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Winner, Flume Press 2007-8 Fiction Prize 

Author bio: Randall Brown teaches at Saint Joseph's University. His work has appeared in Cream City Review, Quick Fiction, Concho River Review, Connecticut Review, The Saint Ann's Review, and others. His stories have been nominated for Pushcart and O.Henry awards.

Read an interview with Randall Brown

Read Randall Brown's guest post on the Short Review Blog: Giving Thanks


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What other reviewers thought:

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Quick Fiction

Whidbey Writers Workshop