A great read, often moving, The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann (And Other Stories), by Ken Brosky is a collection of ten short stories and one essay. The writing is true, the voice unique, the stories, literary gems.
Except for the title story, all works have been previously published. The list of their publications is impressive—The Barcelona Review, Santa Fe Writers Project, Gargoyle Magazine, Pif, Cream City Review, and others.
Reading this book gave me my own journey.
Not content with the proffered PDF*, I bought the book on Amazon because I wanted to experience the ebook the way most readers would, so I downloaded it to a Kindle and began.
After reading the author’s comments on the copyright page and his directorial previews, I told myself I had reached into the bag and dredged up the scribbles of yet another tongue-in-cheek turk.
Then I began to read the stories. They quickly burned away my jealous misgivings. I read them in one sitting, unable to put the book down. This collection is a tour de force by an author with a powerful, unique voice.
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, and I suggest you do. Suffice it to say the stories and essay in Unauthorized are knit together by recurring themes and concerns, by the same syntax, similar imagery, and, most of all, by the same compelling character and voice, that of the narrator. Most are told in the first person point of view.
But I’d like to touch on some of the elements in four of the stories:
- The title story, especially the end, because it is an index into the mind of the author and what the stories deep in their bones give the 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 Just Can’t Turn it Off” because of choice and endings.
- “The Third Pile,” because of the possum.
In the title story, “The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann,” the main character falls into love with a fellow worker. Almost. 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 we know it’s Tyler’s point of view. Not a word out of place in this story. It ends the way episodes do in life, a slice at a time. And this is a slice. It’s worth a quote, it’s so beautiful, but that would spoil the surprise.
“On the Tenth Day, I Kept it Down” concerns 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 his preliminary notes, Ken Brosky tells us that Gargoyle liked the story, “I Just Can’t Turn it Off,” but not the ending that he initially wrote. In this collection, the author gives us the story and three different endings. Presumably it is the third one that was printed in Gargoyle. At least it’s 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 achingly sad “The Third Pile” include love and friendship, surviving loss and grief. 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—the ‘almosting’ of his prose, the slight withholding nature of it, the significant but seemingly minor detail in the lives of his characters held up to the light and examined. 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.
The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann (And Other Stories)
Stories and essay included:
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
About the author: Currently averaging three short story publications per year, Ken Brosky has an MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
*Amazon claims you can read PDFs on a Kindle. I’ve tried twice, but the experience got in the way of the read. The resolution was poor, the flow, sluggish.