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Book review: My Brother's Name by Laura Krughoff

Local events coming up for Laura Krughoff
Local events coming up for Laura Krughoff
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17318563-my-brother-s-name

My Brother’s Name by Laura Krughoff
Scarletta Press, 249p, paper ISBN 9780983021940

This story is layer upon layer of love, heartache and questions. As it begins, you think you know what you are getting into. But whoa nelly. You do not. This story will take each reader to a different place, and hopefully, it will take some to a place where they gain a better understanding of some little portion of life, no matter how small. It definitely has the power to do that.

The story itself is difficult to read, at times. It is about a sister and brother. They are as close as siblings could be, and it comes to light that they could almost be too close. The sister, Jane, is always in danger of losing sight of herself. She is consumed, or perhaps subsumed, by her brother John. He doesn’t hold any part of her up to the light, he simply overwhelms her.

The difficulty comes when John becomes mentally unstable. The regimen of drugs and doctors is not working, and he and Jane decide that they will move away together, to try to make him well by drying him out from all the drugs. But when they land, Jane can’t find a job. John has a brilliant idea: she can take a job that he would do well. It works only because they are both musically talented, and she has been taking lessons from the backseat with him since she was six.

The new arrangement works for a while. Jane, now known as Johnny, eases into a new life that includes friends, music and meaning. She, or he, even finds a girlfriend. This is where it gets a little confusing. There is no clear indication that Jane is a lesbian, or that she wants to be. Only that she has found love like she has never found it before. As Johnny.

Meanwhile, brother John is losing his grip. Perhaps it is hard to see your identity run successfully by someone else. Or perhaps he’s just really sick. He becomes more and more unstable until a predictable explosion occurs. At that point, this becomes heartbreaking as we feel for Jane. Who is she, really? What will she do now? Ultimately, the reader can assume that she is okay, since she speaks from a secure future. But questions remain.

I did not expect this to be a book about mental illness. But it is. It is also about identity, gender issues and finding yourself. It is about the confidence to live your life as you wish. It is about being true to who you are. It is about not giving up. It is about the nature of love - all kinds of love.

This is a multi-layered, deep novel that reads like a memoir and will give you plenty of food for thought. It can be alternately frustrating and hard to take, and beautiful and addicting. Who would condone a girl taking on the identity of her brother, and thereby losing herself? I think it’s easy to see how she was sucked into that. But did she lose herself – or find a part of herself? I wanted desperately to find out what happened to these people. There are also passages that just took my breath away. Consider how marital love is like a volcano:

“Elaine has come to think of married love like a volcano. It can lie so quietly, so calmly dormant in her for years that she thinks to herself, well, that part’s over. That dangerous, stunning, unpredictable love that rains fire and makes the soil of your marriage black and rich. You build the village of yourself beneath its peak, Elaine thinks. And then, with no warning, the mountain of your heart fissures. Love cracks the crust and leaps skyward, all fire and light, the red-hot glow of liquid rock.” (p236-237)

You will find yourself possibly as torn as Jane is during this story. After all, she loves John more than anything. He seems to manipulate her in ways that border on cruel. He is bright "like a supernova." It’s clear their relationship is extraordinary, and that they love each other. But sometimes, well, sometimes it’s easiest to hurt the ones you love.

This book will make you hope that Jane is okay. And it brings to light that we all have stories to tell.

Not an easy read, but highly recommended and exceedingly satisfying. It brings to mind recent novels like Boarded Windows by Dylan Hicks with its characters in their early 20s living with no plan, and Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage for its portrayal of a life sliding into ruin, albeit more seriously. If you’re around town, you can see Krughoff at a few upcoming events in the Twin Cities.

Sunday, January 5, 2014
The Bookcase of Wayzata, 824 E. Lake St, Wayzata 55391 (moved from previous location)
2:00 PM

Monday, January 6, 2014
Subtext: A Bookstore, 165 Western Ave, St. Paul 55102 (below Nina's)
7:00 PM
The event at Subtext will include a giveaway of My Brother's Name to one lucky attendee.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Ave, 55408
7:00 PM
The party at Magers & Quinn will include hot beverages and baked goods to warm the winter chill away!

Brave the cold and embrace a wonderful story.