Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Sunday Review: James Brown, "The Los Angeles Diaries" & "This River"

Andrew Tonkovich's latest OC Bookly profiles one of the authors attending this year's Literary Orange festival, James Brown, novelist, memoirist, professor of English at Cal State San Bernardino. One in a series.


Participating in this year's festival will be plenty of writers, readers, editors and assorted literary folk offering advice, testimonials, case studies on the writing and reading life. Sixty bucks gets you two keynote speakers (Lisa See and Paula McLain), a lovely catered lunch, coffee, excellent cookies, book signings and panels on everything from mystery to memoir.

Wow, some segue! Among writers on hand will be James Brown, the So Cal neo-realist recovering addict and redemption-boosting tough guy whose two dark, beautiful memoirs about family and death and loss and remorse make your life look like The Donna Reed Show, pal.

Divorced parents. Emotionally troubled, criminal mother. Smart, handsome, precocious over-achiever older brother and sister. Except that both (!) of Brown's siblings, wildly talented adults, actors with loads of success and even more promise, nonetheless abused alcohol and drugs and took their own lives. (His brother was famous Barry Brown, of the excellent films Bad Company and Daisy Miller.) Little Jim himself published serious literary fiction as a teenager, showing early his own super-intelligence and talent, and no doubt already trying to make sense of his dysfunctional family. He achieved success, publishing novels and attending, yes, UCI's MFA Creative Writing workshop. But like his siblings, Brown artificially fueled his comet-like personality with drugs, booze. He crashed, over and over, and then, because he was so darn smart and creative, was supposed to somehow learn from his own and family's experiences and not, say, kill himself. You get the picture. Or maybe don't, until you read his starkly blazing prose. Because as potentially depressing and disempowering as Brown's life (and death) stories might seem, or might have been written if he were trying for the cheap kill-and-tell genre of cliched addiction-hopelessness-recovery pamphlet be assured, please, that Brown is a writer, somebody struggling (succeeding) at saying it right and true, which trumps the rest.

To read the rest, click here.

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