Book review with a twist: Take This Man, by Brando Skyhorse

Remember when I found out my photo of Lucas playing hopscotch had been turned into a book cover?

I’ve already told you a little bit about how I found the book and started a casual correspondence with the author, and what a truly kind and interesting person he seems to be. But just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the book is in the reading, and when I cracked the cover of Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse, I so dearly wanted it to be a good book. I wanted it to be good because I liked the author, I wanted it to be good because I was curious about the story, and of course, I wanted it to be good because that’s my Lucas on the cover.

It was not simply a good book. It was a harrowing, heartbreaking, funny, tragic, compelling and utterly unforgettable book. It is, I tell you without bias, a story that will rattle around in your brain and your heart long after you turn the last page. It has been called a “most anticipated book of 2014“, (right there under Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King!), a best book of summer 2014, and listed as a “next great indie read” for June 2014, among many other reviews. Pretty serious buzz, right? And I can tell you without reservation or bias, it is worth the read.

Brando Skyhorse has lived a life that is incomprehensible to me, and his memoir moved me deeply. Brando’s Mexican-born father leaves the family when Brando was a toddler, leaving Brando with no real memories of his father. Shy of neither imagination nor chutzpah, Brando’s Mexican-born mother Maria capriciously decides to reinvent herself as a Native American named Running Deer and tells young Brando that his father is an incarcerated Native activist named Paul Skyhorse – someone neither Maria nor Brando has ever met. This abrupt reinvention and declaration marks the beginning of a pattern that repeats throughout Brando’s young life: a father figure is discovered, declared and brought into the family without question, usually without attention to such details as divorcing the previously instated father figure, not once or twice but five times through Brando’s childhood and adolescence.

Dysfunctional doesn’t begin to cover Brando’s convoluted childhood. His domineering and delusional mythmaker mother seeks new husbands in the personal ads in the backs of magazines, and Brando and his mother become co-conspirators of a sort in this ongoing quest to find a suitable surrogate father figure. Brando describes the pattern in the introduction to the book:

Life with each of these fathers followed a similar path. First I was forced to accept them, then slowly I trusted them, then I grew to love them.

Then they left.

“Some boys don’t have any fathers in their life,” my mother would say, bucking me up. “You’ve had five. Plenty for one boy.”

This cavalier obliviousness defines Maria’s relationship with Brando, and the mother in me at more than one point in the book wanted to reach into the pages and throttle Maria for her casual cruelty. One father gets arrested at Disneyland, another steals coins from Brando’s piggy bank. One after another, they fail to live up to even the most meagre expectations of a father figure. Time and again, the circumstances of Brando’s life conspire against him, yanking the metaphysical rug out from under him. And yet, this is neither a maudlin nor a bitter story. Brando’s voice is often dryly witty as he recounts the absurdity of his childhood circumstances. Only toward the end of the book does a sense of defeat and anger begin to outweigh the undercurrent of dark humour, and it was at this point that I found the story hardest to read.

This is truly an unforgettable story, brilliantly told. I held my breath in anticipation at times, cringing and practically reading through fingers splayed across my eyes for fear of what twist might come next at others. Dark comedy melds seamlessly into tragic pathos and back again, and by the middle of the book I was so deeply invested in Brando’s story I wanted to skip ahead to the end to make sure the final twist was a happy ending. Just when I really thought I was going to have to stop reading because I didn’t think I could handle the stress of reading about one more loss in the young man’s life, Brando finds his way through his personal darkness and begins to weave together the frayed ends of his life. As much as a memoir of a living person can’t really have a definitive ending, I can tell you at least (no worries, no spoiler alert here) that you won’t be disappointed with the where the story ends.

This is not just a good book. This is an extraordinary book. So maybe, just this once, it’s okay to judge a book by it’s cover. 😉

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

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