The fact that I finished reading Brendan Wolf two months ago and haven’t written a review until now should be taken as a compliment to the author. Brian Malloy has created such a thematically rich and engaging story that I’ve had a hard time organizing my thoughts on it. I can’t zero in on a single motif I’d like to examine because there are just so many. At this point I am desperate and as we all know, desperate times call for desperate measures. I loved this book and want to give it a glowing review. But since my typical review format seems to be failing me in this case, it’s time to say the hell with smooth, logical transitions, and try something a little different.
I Liked Brendan Wolf Because…
1) Of Brian Malloy’s fantastic use of language. He has a gift for describing everyday items and occurrences in new and unusual ways. For instance, on page 21 he describes one character as having “a voice like a broken nose.” On page 105 he likens a conversation to cooking as the characters go about “carefully measuring words like the ingredients of a recipe that’s far too ambitious for their marginal skills.” The story is filled with these wonderful and remarkably precise descriptions.
2) It wasn’t rushed. Brendan Wolf is a slow-paced, character driven novel and I was glad to see Malloy allow the story to unfold in its own time. So many contemporary novelists rush their final chapters. If you have read anything written over the last thirty years you have probably winced your way through more than one painfully forced ending. Brendan Wolf possesses no such urgency. The final pages move at the same pace as the rest of the novel; the climax builds, peaks, and resolves itself at its own pace and all the loose ends tie themselves up in a completely believable fashion.
3) The title character is multi-dimensional. When writing gay characters it is so easy to make their sexuality their only defining characteristic and wind up with a flat character as a result. Malloy has created a protagonist of great depth, one with a fertile interior life. The fact that he is gay, while important, does not overwhelm Brendan’s character.
Brendan is 35. He can’t hold down a job. He is an orphan. He is a compulsive liar. He can’t take responsibility for his own actions. He lives on dreams. He has an ex-con brother who talks him into participating in a grand heist he has been planning. Despite, and in many cases, because of this, Brendan is an incredibly sympathetic and absorbing individual. While I was reading Brendan Wolf I kept thinking back to Flight, and decided that Malloy’s ability to flesh out a character was easily on par with that of Sherman Alexie.
4) It was rich in themes. Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I love stories abundant in themes. I know I’m reading a good book when I start thinking of topics for papers I could have written if I’d read the book in college. Here are a few of the paper topics I came up with while reading Brendan Wolf:
An examination of the hypocrisy minor characters express regarding homosexuality.
A look at the many ways Brendan tries to avoid personal responsibility and the lengths he goes to accept it.
The power of naming in the novel.
Explanation and analysis of the many ways Brendan and Marv mirror one another.
The pros and cons of living “in the moment.”
See? This is why this review was so long in the making, Malloy gave me way too things to write about!
5) It held me completely in thrall. As I’ve mentioned before, I do the bulk of my recreational reading on the subway going to and from work. Once I get to where I’m going the book usually gets stuffed in my bag, not to emerge until I get back on the train. I was so involved in this book that I had to pull it right back out the second I walked into my apartment. I never wanted to put it down. I had to find out if Brendan would actually go through with the robbery, if all the people he was scamming would find out who he really was, or if he’d get away with it and go on to build a new and happier life for himself.
Brendan Wolf is a thoroughly satisfying read, skillfully penned by a talented author. It captures the complexities and ambiguities of friendship, kinship, and personal responsibility with a clarity found only in the work of the most accomplished writers.