I loved reading this important collection of short stories, THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF MICHELE BACHMANN (AND OTHER STORIES) by Ken Brosky. I loved them because of their imagery, their breathtaking but unconventional beauty. I’m hard put to call my favorites, but I’m going to try. Each story is its own literary gem. There are ten of them and one essay. In all of them, the writing is true, the voice strong, the main characters stroked in with a few phrases.
Except for the title story, all works have been previously published, and the list of their publications is impressive—The Barcelona Review, Santa Fe Writers Project, Gargoyle Magazine, Pif, Cream City Review, to name a few.
Reading Ken Brosky’s work gave me my own journey. After looking at the cover (unimpressive) and reading the author’s foreword and directorial previews, I told myself I’d reached into the bag and dredged up the writing of yet another tongue-in-cheek turk.
Then I began to read the stories, once straight through, and, afterward, touching back and forth through my Kindle to highlighted locations. It took me an afternoon; I couldn’t put the book down. The words and the stories quickly burned away my initial misgivings. This collection is a tour de force by an author with a powerful, unique style.
I’ll not go through each story’s plot. You can read the summaries for free if you have a Kindle or a Mac or PC by downloading a sample.
Suffice it to say the stories and essay in UNAUTHORIZED are knit together by recurring themes, by the same syntax, similar imagery, and, most of them, by the same character—the narrator—who, in many of the stories, functions as the main character.
Instead of summarizing the plot of each story, I’d like to touch on some of the elements in four of them:
- The title story, “The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann,” especially the end, because it is an index into the mind of the author and what the stories give to me as a reader.
- “On the Tenth Day, I Kept It Down,” because of the story’s gravitas and how the experience of genocide is given to the reader through sense of place.
- “I Can’t Just Turn It Off,” because of choice and endings.
- “The Third Pile,”—my favorite—because of the possum.
In the title story, the main character, Tyler, falls in love with a fellow worker. Well, at least in his mind, he does. Tyler who works with a married woman, Stacey, meets her husband, Vince, whom he thinks is a turd. Later Tyler comes on (sort of) to Stacey, and Vince beats up Tyler. The narration is told in the third person, but the reader knows it’s Tyler’s point of view. All the fat has been squeezed from this story. It ends the way life does, not with a bang:
Tyler lay in the empty flower bed, listening to the sound of a car engine, listening to the sound of tires treading over hard snow. He put on his gloves and stared up at the dark clouds overhead, aware that he was here in the flesh and yet not here in the flesh at all but rather simply a mind that consumed the world. He opened his mouth and let snowflakes fall on his tongue.
“On the Tenth Day, I Kept It Down” is about survival after witnessing the genocide in Darfur. The sense of place is graphic, the smell of burning meat, cloying, the buildings, the cafes, the people …
… all faded into the horizon quickly now as the sun cast a haze over the desert, obscuring time and distance into one blurred, soupy discharge of brown-and yellow.
In the preliminary notes, Ken Brosky tells us that Gargoyle editors liked the story, “I Can’t Just Turn It Off,” but not the ending. In this collection, the author gives us the story and all three endings. You, the reader, get to pick. I won’t tell you my favorite. The story is about a wounded soldier returning from Iraq who begins working for his patriot uncle, searches for his missing leg, has an accident and altercations. The title has multiple meanings, some apparent, others, not so.
Themes of the “The Third Pile” include love and friendship, loss, and, especially, its survival. I thought I’d read it all when it comes to grief, but I hadn’t met Brosky’s storytelling, his way with words and imagery—his understated prose, the significant but seemingly minor detail in the lives of his characters held up to the light for slow examination. Most of all, I hadn’t met the possum in “The Third Pile.” I’m not going to give away the scene. You’ll have to read it for yourself, and I urge you to do so. In the opinion of this reviewer, the story is a masterpiece.
Stories and essay included in this collection:
“On the Tenth Day, I Kept it Down”
“The Third Pile”
“One in Six”
“Amazon.com,” an essay
“I Can’t Just Turn it Off”
“The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann”
My Rating: 5 Stars
About the Author. Ken Brosky’s blog, “The Death of a Dream” can be found here. Currently averaging three short story publications per year, the author has an MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.