Bandit

Author Molly Brodak
Published 2016
Rating 8/10
Status Finished on 2020-06-30

This is a very good book and equal parts ascent and descent. It is an interesting story about a sad family; it is an interesting self-diagnosis and meditation on what we look for in our family; it is a poem about addiction and loss. (It only drags in one portion, towards the end, as many memoirs tend to do, which is when the tense turns from past to present: Molly walks us through her retracing of her father’s steps as she is writing the book, which as often does has the effect of intimating a personal revelation that cannot turn universal.)

But the thing overshadowing the rest of the narrative, to me, is knowledge of how Molly’s life ends the way it does, with suicide. It is hard not to think about her death when she discusses her mother’s suicide attempts, or her grappling with disassociation and trauma.

I sat for a while after finishing this book, in the morning, with my partner asleep on my chest, feeling a little lost. I searched for more about Molly — her cooking blog, her teaching blog. And then I settled on the poem that brought me to her memoir in the first place:

In the Morning, Before Anything Bad Happens

The sky is open all the way.

Workers upright on the line like spokes.

I know there is a river somewhere, lit, fragrant, golden mist, all that,

whose irrepressible birds can’t believe their luck this morning and every morning.

I let them riot in my mind a few minutes more before the news comes.

Highlights

And I wanted to become even less, a nothing, because I thought they could all at least have that, this one non-problem in the house, to not yell and not cry, to sweep the kitchen and pick up the thrown things and secretly restore order to whole fought-apart rooms and even to sometimes sing softly, happily, maybe for them to hear. I have kept quiet about all this my whole life.

Work felt pure and right. I let it overtake every secret or lazy recess in my body. I wanted to see how good it could make me so I followed it all the way. It offered what I had been missing at home: structure, expectations, trust. The chance to show myself as a useful person. I discovered I loved to work. I wanted to be alone, so I wouldn’t have to talk and break the feeling, or pretend to not feel it in front of others.

And regular stories couldn’t fool me anymore. I felt their falseness. Their rounded, finite arcs, tidy rise and fall, buttressing values, their little lessons, like solved equations. Insulting. I’d look up from a book, or away from a movie, and see the world again—its mutant patchwork, invalid formulas, no arcs—and feel akin. I started to read only nonfiction: honest history, deep science. Plain subjects, but not understood. At home in tangles of chemistry formulas, mute images of anatomy, senselessness, empty action of animals, clouds, the plates of earth shifting. The bloodless categorization of geology textbooks: metamorphic, sedimentary, igneous. The textbooks trusted me to learn the names of everything and to fix the equations. I loved them for that. I didn’t love what stories asked me to do: to join, to hope, to trust. Those books, the novels, felt like propaganda.

She looks at me and tilts her head and we are thinking the same thing. I am embarrassed by my happiness.