Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse (5 out of 5)

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This is definitely my second favorite memoir of the year. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart is still king, but Brando Skyhorse is definitely riding close on his coattails. I had seen Brando’s book highlighted in Wendy’s Simon & Schuster email blast, but it fell out of my brain (not difficult). Then I read about it in an online book newsletter (Shelf Awareness?) and realized I HAD to read it. Wendy, as usual, graciously sent this and several other books. I read the blurbs likening it to The Glass Castle and The Tender Bar, both of which are phenomenal. That sealed the deal. I read a bunch of silly books and then dove headfirst into this. I didn’t emerge unscathed, merely stunned by what I had read, and also ridiculously glad that I got the chance to read this before it comes out in June (June 3rd- mark your TBR calendars). Thank you, Wendy, for sending this to me. I am eternally grateful for having read it, and can’t wait to hand sell the bejesus out of it in June. 

Brando Skyhorse, for those unaware, authored a book in 2010. The book, The Madonnas of Echo Park, went on to win the prestigious PEN/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction. This is his next work, and likely, one that will win him more acclaim and awards, rightfully earned. Brando’s life is anything but charmed. When he was three, Brando (known as Brando Kelly Ulloa)’s Mexican father abandons him. Maria, his mother (and a character. Oh, what a character) decides with this departure that her boy no longer needs to be Mexican anymore, just because he’s been raised as such since birth. “Brando Skyhorse”, son of a jailed political activist, is his new identity. Along with the new identity? Oh, yeah, a new heritage- he’s now Native American. Yes, you read that right. Maria, for the record, has also placed ads in the paper trying to adopt out Brando, as well as personal ads for herself for companionship. I was speechless reading this. I still am!

Maria strikes up a correspondence with Paul Skyhorse Johnson, the aforementioned political activist, and begins a courtship through letters. She also manages to convince him that she and Brando are Native American, which is far from the truth. She completely reinvents her life, her son’s life, their history, and turns her son’s life upside down with her shenanigans. Maria’s mom, Brando’s grandmother, herself quite the character, lives with them and tries her best to steer Brando away from Maria’s dramatics, occupation tilt-a-whirl (phone sex operator, for example. And she blames that on Brando!), mood swings, financial issues, phony identities and other forms of fraud and multiple and memorable dating escapades. Over thirty years, Maria goes through men like some go through tissues, “gifting” Brando with FIVE (FIVE!) different stepfathers over thirty odd years. Five! This poor kid is on a search for a father figure, and just when he tries to or starts to bond with one, something screwy happens and that father vanishes. When the father figures leaves, Maria destroys any trace that they existed, lived there, or had any place in their lives, ultimately destroying Brando’s feeling of stability in the process, not to mention gutting the young man in the process. It takes thirty years and an accidental discovery online, before Brando gets the answers that he’s been searching for since he was a boy of 3. 

Thoughts? They are multiple. Firstly, if Maria were around, I would sent her to a shrink, posthaste. This is no way for a mother to treat her child. Whole portions of the book brought me to tears with how she manipulated her son. She seems to me to be a self-absorbed opportunistic prima donna prone to hysterics when shit doesn’t go her way. I don’t think she gave a rat’s ass about Brando a lot of the time. When Brando finally got his bearings and moved on with his life, I was so happy. My heart went out to Brando the entire book. Maria? Not so much. Secondly, when Maria was done with the shrink? I would send her to the hospital. No love for that woman, in this reader’s mind. 

His grandmother was a great character, and more of an influence than Maria was, thankfully. Anytime Maria goes over the top, she tried to reign in some sense of normalcy for Brando, so he grew up centered, not spinning like a top on the Aleutian Range. She was my second favorite character, next to Brando himself. The cast of “husbands” (in more than one case, not legal, due to Maria’s fraudulent wedding ceremonies, not to mention identities) was radically different, one man to the next. Some of them try to be a “father” to Brando, some go through the motions but just don’t have it, and one actually tries his damndest. But overall? Nothing can fill the void of the true biological father. Once Brando makes his discovery, he begins to grow into who he really is and how he’s come to this point. That journey is truly inspiring and another reason I love this book so much. Despite how heartbroken Brando is with every new set of disappointments, he never gives up. He keeps on keeping on, keeping a sense of humor that shines through a lot of the book. It could also have been a coping mechanism, for all the bullshit the poor kid had to go through. Ultimately, the good guy wins, and that’s the best part of all. 

You would be a fool not to pick up this book when it comes out June 3, 2014, and give it space on your bookshelf. It is an amazing story, and a true test of family dysfunction on quite a level. Making up your family’s lineage completely? Advertising for surrogate father figures in the personal ads? Blaming your kid for all of the things that go wrong, when they’re really your fault? An amazing journey, no matter how you chart it. I really enjoyed Brando’s attitude throughout the book. He just never gave up, and believe me, most young men, after dealing with the melodramatic factory that was his mother, would have. Heartwarming and inspiring, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves a good memoir of the unbelievable aspects of that tricky family dynamic. Because it’s that, and a whole lot more. 

 

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~ by generationgbooks on April 27, 2014.

2 Responses to “Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse (5 out of 5)”

  1. Thanks so much for this incredible write up! Booksellers like you make the world a better place. If you email me where your store is and if I’m around that part of the country I’ll stop in and thank you in person.–Brando

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