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This River: A Memoir Paperback – March 1, 2011
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From Addictive Disorders & Their Treatment
"This book is a must read for any clinicians dealing with patients with substance abuse and dependency issues and also for patients and their families." - Ana E. Campo, MD
This River pulls no punchesart shouldn’t and Brown doesn’t. The good, the bad, the ugly are all there in a lucid, uncluttered, muscular prose studded with honesty, willpower, and courage. Brown’s is a story of a man who, against overwhelming odds, not only came back from the abyss, but triumphed.” Duff Brenna, author of The Book of Mamie, recipient of the AWP Award for Best Novel
"This follow-up to his first memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries, highlights Brown's literary prowess . . . This is dark, but also loving and literary." Library Journal
"Beautifully written, this is clear-eyed truth-telling by a man coming to terms with the best and worst in himself and others." Booklist
"What is fascinating to watch is not a spectacle of declinehe writes of addiction to alcohol, heroin, meth, prescription drugs and antidepressantsbut his geologic sculpting, this wearing away of a person, memories and all, down to some pure and simple core. This River continues where Brown's first memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries, left off. It's molten stuff, the story of his efforts to control his river of rage." Los Angeles Times
A beautifully crafted and intensely moving book. Without artifice or pretensionwithout false moves of any sortJames Brown goes after the biggest literary game: death, love, children, degeneration, hopelessness, hope. I read this book straight through, in one spellbound sitting, and I will read it again in a week or two. It is so good.” Tim O’Brien, National Book Award winning-author of Going After Cacciato and The Things They Carried
James Brown is a truth teller and here again he does not disappoint. His writing as always is lucid and unflinching. In laying bare his own soul, he makes of his work an act against loneliness, shot through with a sad wisdom.” Kem Nunn, author of the L.A. Times Book Award winner Tijuana Straits and of the National Book Award nominated Tapping the Source
When you put this book down, trust me, you will think about it for a long time.” Robert Olmstead, author of the national bestseller Coal Black Horse
James Brown has shaped from the English language something rather different: an exacting, muscular prose both tender and unforgiving, rigorously concise in its refusal to dilute the darkest realities and yet capacious and nuanced in its pursuit of redemption and familial love. He is one of our most accomplished writers, and this brilliant memoir is among the finest of its kind.” B.H. Fairchild, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award winning Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest and National Book Award nominated The Art of the Lathe
This is a harrowing and beautiful memoir, shot through with excess and violence and shocking, heart-stopping compassion. James Brown renders his extraordinary life in tight, muscular prose, sparing neither himself nor the reader the hard lessons of addiction and recovery. The result is an unforgettable book, stripped of irony and pretense, that lays bare the darknessand the lightin all of us.” Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Corpus Christi: Stories
James Brown’s provocative, beautifully written and gut wrenching memoir illuminates a life rich in those elemental passions that govern our livesanger, fear, depression, death, and love. Sometimes tender, sometimes manic, but always wise and insightful, [this book] never falters in the muscularity of the writing, all of it filled with riveting details that kept this reader turning the pages as fast as he could read them. Here is a remarkable life, one that is both devastating and inspiring. Any ordinary man experiencing what Brown went through would doubtless have died long ago, but Brown not only survived, he triumphed and in ways no one would have predicted, least of all, perhaps, Brown himself. From a junky/alcoholic to award-winning writer and university professor, Brown has proven once again that there are no oracles when it comes to foretelling the inevitable course of any man’s journey. Mesmerizing from beginning to end. Unforgettable.” Duff Brenna, author of The Book of Mamie, winner of the AWP Award for Best Novel, and Too Cool, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Sequel to Brown’s indelible The Los Angeles Diaries, this cycle of linked narratives is equally powerful and complete in itself. Brown’s profoundly authentic story of Brown, survivor of sibling suicides, drinker, user, writer, teacher, father, husband, is as fully imagined as it is unsparing. In speaking from the edge of loss, Brown’s eloquence recalls Robert Lowell’s this eye has seen what this hand has done.’” DeWitt Henry, author of Safe Suicide
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Top Customer Reviews
As was true of "The L.A. Diaries," Brown writes in a spare, direct, unflinching style--a bracing antidote to the Stuart Smalleys of the world. His observations on A.A., anti-craving medications, and antipsychotic drugs are those of a man unwilling to let prior prejudices and built-in excuses deter him from a search for the true nuts and bolts of his condition.
Does the author prevail? He does, for now, and that is how we must leave it.
With suberb jacket reviews from the likes of Tim O'Brien, Robert Olmstead, and Duff Brenna, "This River" is a short read that will lodge itself firmly in your memory. I read it in one sitting, and I bet you do, too.
concerning some of the material below.
I'm writing my review from a unique perspective because I have
already read nearly half of the stories on a website devoted to
the memory of James Brown's older brother, Barry - a highly
intelligent, extremely sensitive actor of incomparable talent
who encouraged his younger brother to pursue writing. Once
again, that loving encouragement has born fruit in James
Brown's latest work, "This River."
This slender volume is a collection of a dozen stories, all
snapshots of epiodes in James Brown's full (and very unsettled)
life. There are no pastel, water-colored hues; everything is
hard-edged, graphic, and limned in the chiaroscuro of grim
Some of the themes covered by the stories include negative
instances of betrayal, cheating, humiliation, substance abuse,
and even violence. But also included are the virtues of hard work,
loving remembrance, loyalty, forgiveness - and redemption.
The last story of "This River," (entitled "Relapse") is a continuation
of the opening story ("Talking With the Dead"), and explains certain
questions raised by the initial story.
The answers, though, filled me with horror when I realized that James
Brown, (in a darkened state of mind), was just a heartbeat away from
"closing the circle" and joining his beloved siblings, Barry and Marilyn,
by attempting to destroy himself in a fashion similar to that of his older
brother - but much, much worse. (Barry Brown shot himself with a revolver;
James Brown planned to use a shotgun.)
Fortunately, James Brown has a devoted support system - a wife, three
sons, and a host of friends who'll be there for him, through storm and
"This River" isn't a pretty book, but it is an honest book, and the person
who reads it, who does not come away from the experience with a heightened
sense of empathy has not lived, and will never have a sense of understanding
of this life. James Brown has lived with, understands, and fully appreciates the
only too well the kakeidoscopic (not kaleidoscopic) imagery that that may haunt
one's life. And, despite the vicissitudes of such a life, James Brown is a survivor,
and his latest book, "This River," is a testament to that fact. May he continue to
write books that edify and inspire the reader.
Interspersed with sections of rhythmic prose, are vignettes which resemble slices in time that share a common thread, the unbreakable bond of family. Brown writes, "The trip to Chetco is not a simple sojourn for the dead. It is, among the less tangible, about teaching my sons what my father taught me. How to pitch a tent. How to shoot a .22 rifle straight and true. How to string tackle and bait a hook and where to throw your line for your best chances [...](p. 59). The manuscript blends seamlessly in time, the generations both living and dead to illustrate the indelible mark each individual and experience has left on Brown's psyche.
Both the narrative prose and the lyrical, speak of attachment and loss, and how blood is a binding tie that cannot easily be severed. My recommendation...read "This River" twice to fully appreciate both its depth and narrative poetry.