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.
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:
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.
Publisher: Flume Press
Publication Date: 2008
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
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