Monday, June 17, 2013

A Review of Ronald Brown’s Memoirs of a Modern-Day Drifter

(2013, Bookstand Publishing, ISBN: 978-1-61863-517-4;
By Joey Madia
[Disclaimer: Ronald Brown has studied creative writing with me for 3 years. I served as editor on this book from concept to final draft]
What it means to be a man has continually evolved in the past 70 or so years. In many ways, the Marlboro man image has lost its power—men who are too aggressive, too take-charge, too, well, manly, have come to be seen as an artifact of a less enlightened time. Robert Bly’s Iron John and the Fire in the Belly movement rose in the late eighties and early nineties as the old models of manhood began to crumble and the male of our species began to come untethered from many of the guiding principles that served my father’s and his father’s generations.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s a fine line between being a strong man and being an overly controlling, argumentative, and just plain violent and miserable SOB. Too much of anything—yelling, drinking, carousing, drifting—can be bad for a man; and his family.
These are the matters at the heart of Memoirs of a Modern-Day Drifter, a complex yet seamless hybrid of fact and fiction; a look at one hard-living man’s life in the coal camps of West Virginia, the jungles of Vietnam, the open miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the highways of the Midwest and Southwest; and his relentless search for stability and meaning.
Along the way, the drifter, named Danny, looks to drugs and alcohol, women, a myriad of jobs in countless places, the Church, and even short periods of criminal activity to forge a sense of self. He is a self-sabotager—a man burning miles by car, boat, motorcycle, and 18-wheeler in an at-times almost desperate attempt to outrun the shadow of his abusive father.
Danny (and by extension, Brown himself) is not shy about sharing his lowest moments—his descent into utter brutality while in Vietnam, his continued violence after, his broken relationships and lack of involvement in the lives of his two sons… Danny addresses two packages containing the manuscript to them on the last night of his life. The prologue and epilogue are their responses.
Through it all, the reader cannot help but feel for Danny. He is deeply damaged by spending his formative years with an abusive parent, and his time in Vietnam also makes an indelible impact. We feel an almost constant sense of loss as we follow his adventures. And his sense of humor and ultimate heroism go a long way in endearing him to us.
Brown—who is also a playwright—writes with a strong, compelling voice. His dialogue is life-like and engaging, and he presents us with a cast of characters that run the gamut from light to dark and back again.
Whether a drifter yourself, a man lost in the ever-changing models for what manhood can and should be, or the child of a man who was so busy fighting his demons he wasn’t there to help you fight your own, Memoirs of a Modern-Day Drifter will resonate with you. Although leading up to contemporary times, it is most powerfully a chronicle of the 1950s through the 1970s and what profound an effect they had on American society.
Brown has given us the very best of the memoir format—brutal honesty, the personal couched in the historical, plenty of high and low points, and a compass for gauging our own travels upon the road of modern life.
His life—and Danny’s—will increase in meaning with every copy read.