Take This Man
by Brando Skyhorse
It is a very strange experience to read the memoir of someone you know. I met Brando Skyhorse through a mutual friend who, several years ago, gave me his email address when I was working on my novel. (Thanks again, mutual friend!) She suggested that I contact Brando if I had any questions about writing or publishing. After working as an editor for many years, his first book (The Madonnas of Echo Park) was about to be released. He sounded like a great but busy resource and I hesitated to bug him. Yet soon I had a question that no one I knew could answer and it seemed foolish not to at least reach out to him.
Brando replied a couple days later with a warm, encouraging note that answered my question in detail. Since then he’s graciously responded to my occasional questions, helped me dodge more than one bullet and has given me what has been by far the most helpful feedback I’ve received on my book. He’s done all this with an empathy and humor that was always remarkable but is even more so after reading his memoir.
I had inklings here and there that Brando had had at best an unconventional upbringing and at worst a tough one, but I didn’t have any details. So it was with a lot of sadness that through his beautifully written book, I learned just how crazy his childhood was. I’ve read other memoirs like Brando’s (The Glass Castle kept coming to mind) but my experience of them was entirely different. I remember walking away from The Glass Castle astounded by the mental illness of Jeannette Walls’ parents and by the resilience she and her siblings had in overcoming their childhoods. Although there are similar ingredients in Take This Man, my sick fascination was replaced by heartache. It pained me to learn that the people closest to Brando had neglected to give him the same support and understanding he has offered so freely to me in our limited interactions.
But aside from being such a mensch, he also happens to be a darn good writer. Brando has taken what could have been another addition to the “misery porn” genre (aka author details dysfunctional childhood and his eventual triumph over adversity) and he’s created something that’s more like one part detective story and one part lyrical narrative and tossed it all with a splash of humor. Some of my favorite wry comments include, “On the day he left for good, he spent most of that final morning doing household chores—something that should have aroused immediate suspicion” or “When your father’s local is the first bar seen in Barfly, you know how this story’s gonna turn out.”
The past couple weeks have felt particularly brutal in the world affairs department. Lately things have seemed even more dire and troubling than usual and there was a part of me that felt a bit out of sync for hunkering down to read a book in the midst of a chaotic world. But Brando’s story was a reminder that in these moments, all we really have to fall back on is our shared humanity, a humanity that sometimes rises highest in the midst of chaos.