Saturday, September 26, 2015

Don't Forget Me, Bro

23719619Stunned by the death of his mentally ill brother, forty-two-year-old Mark Barr returns to his hometown in West Virginia for his brother’s funeral only to find out that his estranged family has no such plans.  Once back home, he discovers that his family’s memory, as well as his own, of his brother as a broken, hopeless schizophrenic is belied by mounting evidence that Steve Barr had lived a much fuller and more complicated life.

Armed with this new knowledge, Mark tears off on a mission to honor his brother’s memory with justice and compassion.  As he fights to change the hearts of his father, mother, and middle brother, all of whom are fractured by anger, blame, and dysfunction, his own stability is rocked apart.  

In tough, spare, beautiful language that pulls the reader into the peeling, gothic world of southern West Virginia, Don’t Forget Me, Bro shows us that at the heart of every human existence is the ultimate fear of being forgotten, of simply being gone.

*May Contain Spoilers*

Mark searches for a way to honor a brother he never respected, a brother he feared, in John Michael Cummings novel, Don't Forget Me, Bro. With eloquent prose and remarkable sentence crafting, Cummings reaches the soul and shares it in pieces so that even though the whole may be a chaotic beautiful mess, it's still beautiful.

Mark is the main character of this journey back home who struggles with family, love, and interpersonal connection. Mark is a complicated person. (Aren't we all?) He tends to want things that he can't have and that will make him real to readers. Mark wants a home different from Virginia, a brain that doesn't struggle with happiness, a past that doesn't haunt him, and he definitely wants to be nothing like his father. Though, I think most importantly, he wants to be forgiven by his deceased brother. These deep emotional desires and hopes will connect him to readers. The main story line will introduce sympathy for Mark and lay a reader/character foundation, but the in-depth look into Mark's psyche will be what builds upon that foundation. Because of the way the book is written, Mark cannot hide from the reader. And while he's learning new things about his family, readers witness how he reacts, how he thinks, how he grows (or doesn't) with the information. This will only make the connection with Mark stronger as the book goes on, even though he isn't the nicest, sweetest, most loving, or most sane character. He has a lot of faults, a lot of regrets, but that doesn't make him bad. Readers will see that. 

The plot follows Mark from New York to Virginia the early morning that Steve died. Mark believes there will be a funeral but is surprised when his father shares his decision to cremate. While trying to stop him, Mark learns surprising things that his brother did while he was still alive. The story line reminds me of those 3-D pictures that you held really close to your nose while struggling not to cross your eyes, then slowly you moved your head away and let your eyes focus on their own. Magically, a picture popped out of the page that was a crazy mess of colors just a moment before. That is this book. It's a mess of colors, feelings, going off the deep end. Of threats, hopes, dreams, regrets. And, magically, a picture appears at the end bringing everything into focus. 

Rating: 4.5/5 Cups

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