So you’ll become like your hero, Alexander Supertramp, I think, closing Brendan Wolf.
Just this morning I finished this wonderful literary novel by Brian Malloy, a writer out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. While it took me a couple months to read, I did read voraciously in the past few days. I took this book everywhere with me: downstairs to the kitchen to read in the early hours of the morning, in the afternoons in the Target break-room, and in my chair, where I love to read in my room at home.
I love this book, because there are beautiful images created among such a sad story.
Just who is Brendan Wolf? I’m glad you asked.
It depends on who you ask. To a group of Christians, he’s a young man who recently lost his wife, and is in the process of honoring her life by joining them in their Walk for the Unborn. To the nursing staff at a Minneapolis hospital, he’s the partner of an older gentleman who just suffered a stroke. To a gay activist, he’s the love of Sean’s life, despite his unemployed and directionless state. To his brother and his brother’s wife, he’s their ticket to a better life. To the general public, he’s a dangerous and wanted man on the run.
Brendan Wolf is all of these people, and yet he’s none of them at the same time. Let me explain. In running from his upbringing as a well-off kid, which was interrupted by an illegal scam his parent’s tried to pull off, Brendan shed his legal name and goes by his current one: Brendan Wolf.
He loves to read, and can be seen constantly reading. He reads during his breaks at work; he reads on the bus on his way to see Marv (the elderly gentleman who suffered a stroke); he reads on his way to see his boyfriend Sean; he reads whenever possible. Brendan is obsessed with Alexander Supertramp, the young man who died in the Alaskan wilderness on his journey to finding the ultimate life and freedom. He wishes that Alex were still alive, that he was Alex’s boyfriend, that they could live their days out in a cabin in the woods, reading and listening to the howling wolves outside.
There’s a bunch of literary references, like to Tolstoy, throughout the novel. There are passages from the books that Brendan is reading; even the titles of the chapters are references to what he’s reading, and how they fit into his life.
Brendan is a complicated person. He’s a guy trying to get by after being evicted from his apartment, trying to hold down a job, trying to help out his brother and his brother’s wife Cynthia (who in my mind are using him for their own benefit because they want to start over and say they’ll take Brendan with them), and he’s trying to be a good boyfriend to Sean, even though he’s guarded and careful about what he tells him.
Brendan has been hurt before: by his parents, who relinquished custody of him and his two older brothers–which caused the brothers to end up in foster care, and by a former boyfriend, who he spent several years (or possibly months) with. He has a reason to be guarded around other people, especially sappy Sean, who gushes over him, who so desperately wanted a boyfriend after going through a breakup years ago.
I feel bad for Brendan, who must rely upon other people to help him out. He’s thirty-five, approaching middle-age, and struggles to hold down a job. He struggles to make it on his own, and reluctantly joins his brother Ian and Cynthia in their quest for a new life.
They plan for months, practicing sorting money. Cynthia teaches Brendan how to drive. Ian helps Brendan take care of Marv. (I say this sarcastically, because Ian doesn’t do a good job of helping in general.) The plan is their religious doctrine in a way, a script they stick to like a fly to sticky paper. If they work hard enough, how could the plan possibly go wrong?
Brendan Wolf is about making the best out of a bad situation, or several bad situations. It’s about owing your brother and brother’s wife a favor, and needing to keep that favor. It’s about trying your best to stay afloat, even when you feel like you’re drowning because of the stress and pressure placed on you. It’s about finding solace in your partner, your books, and the dog at your feet, curled up next to you.
If you love literary novels, this book is for you. If you love finding poetry amid prose, you should read Brendan Wolf.