FALSE STARTS: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons by Malcolm Braly

FALSE STARTS: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Eight years ago Malcolm Braly published On the Yard, a widely acclaimed prison novel based on his experiences in San Quentin. This time he charts the same bleak, oppressive topography in a confessional memoir. He has been ""straight"" now for ten years; perhaps enough time has passed for a retrospective on his many, many ""false starts""--Braly ""blundered"" in and out of prison for more than twenty years, a recidivist thief and robber. Once again he sketches the prison population: Daniel Boone Pike the multiple rapist, The Wit, The Cynic, the man who never changed his socks, all the monsters and misfits he lived among. But somehow this account doesn't have the wallop of the novel. Throughout his long years of incarceration Braly feels that he doesn't really belong in prison. He is intelligent and sensitive; he paints, he writes poetry, he takes up the flute. But each time he is released on parole he resumes his old patterns. He wants ""things""--clothes, cars, women--and he is impatient. Braly is a thoughtful man, not out to shock with prison horror stories of homosexual rape, knifings or brawls. He is skeptical about the new programs for prisoner welfare, psychotherapy, vocational training and recreation. He feels a certain fondness for Nevada State where he did time in the '40's--""a good-natured, old-fashioned prison where one never heard the word 'rehabilitation.'"" Yet he himself longs for rehabilitation and searches for the fatal flaw in character which keeps leading him back. ""I hoped for distinction,"" he says, but his life seems singularly ordinary. Eventually he begins the novel which became his ticket to the free world. Yet we never fully understand what changed. There is no blinding apprehension of his destiny and just before his final discharge he reflects ""I still knew no more of what motivated me"" than that first night when he ran into the hands of the police. A truthful finale, but oddly inconclusive, and one is left sensing Braly's curious ambivalence.

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 1975
Publisher: Little, Brown