An ambitious, literary-minded memoir of the author’s relationship with his late brother, a much older heroin addict.
Mann (Writing/Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere, 2013) works on a number of different levels, delivering a narrative of addiction, memory, and family dynamics; of the attempt to see someone through the eyes and different memories of other people; and of the challenges faced by a writer as he attempts to fulfill his literary ambitions. Ultimately, this is a memoir about trying to write a memoir: the challenge, the impossibility, and the catharsis. It begins at the funeral of Mann’s older brother, Josh, since the author, 13 at the time, “once read a Philip Roth novel that begins over a grave.” Before he’s done, he will invoke Nabokov, Burroughs, Woolf, and Kincaid as literary antecedents whose inspiration has informed his own work. Unlike, say, James Frey, Mann drops his cards on the table from the start, admitting in his author’s note that though the focus of the book is a real person, “it is not, however, an exact representation of his life. People’s memories contradict one another, and many of the scenes are my imagined versions of the stories they told me, complete with my own subjectivity.” In the book, in death, and in the memories of the author and others, Josh is larger than life, a person who “could have been a rock star so easily. Some kind of star,” as a friend recalls. He was a would-be musician, a would-be writer, the lover of all sorts of gorgeous, exotic women, a troubled child from before the author’s birth, and a junkie who died alone, unexpected and inexplicably, after he’d shown his family and friends he’d cleaned up.
In constructing his aching, poignant narrative, Mann offers a fine meditation on fate and on how “the story of addiction is the story of memory, and how we never get it right.”