A while ago, my friend Claire, who is the Publicity Manager at Icon Books, mentioned she was promoting an amazing memoir of a girl whose father had gone to prison for bank robbery. I love memoirs, and thought this sounded intriguing, so when I found a copy around the office I was delighted.
This début memoir did not disappoint.
The author, Molly Brodak, is from Michigan and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. When she was 13 years old her father was arrested for robbing several banks and went to prison. When he was released he lived a ‘normal’ life until he robbed another bank and was arrested again and went back to prison. He is still behind bars. In this powerful and undisguised memoir she tells the story of her dad’s gambling addiction and the compulsive lying which led him to rob banks.
Brodak’s prose is transparent and honest. She is better known for writing poetry, and the lyrical nature of her writing reflects that. This memoir is not just the story of a bank robbery, but an exploration of the father-daughter relationship, and an in-depth look at the effects of addiction on life.
I read this book particularly quickly. In two days I was finished. The chronicling of her father’s addiction and the ups and downs of their relationship made me think about my own father. As you might know, a few weeks ago I published an essay with Buzzfeed on my father’s death. There were so many moments while reading this memoir which made me think of the relationship I had with my dad. There are times when I laugh about some of the crazy, awful things which happened when my dad drank, and there are times when it is too horrendous to think about. It is this duality which Brodak describes in such a perfect way: “How could my dad’s arrest be both awful and hilarious at the same time? Two opposing sharp points, irreconcilable. It hurt. But it was absurd, so I could laugh.” p. 117
A quote which really resonated when thinking about addiction was this one: “He knew many losses. It has to be a kind of self-abuse, for certain, to replay losses, what Freud called ‘repetition compulsion’, but it feels empowering, because for once, the loss is now one’s choice. He would’ve said he was going to the casino to make money. Really he was throwing it away. Throwing away his money, meaning his time, meaning his self. It’s a way of being a little dead. It’s a nice feeling, refreshing. Living is hard to do.” p.263. It is devastating to see someone you are close to choosing to waste their life, dedicating themselves to whatever it is they are addicted to; gambling, drugs, alcohol…What Brodak says is true. Life is hard sometimes, and some of us need something to make it less hard. However, addictions are like illicit love affairs which we think we can control, but which consume us and take over our lives.
I think this memoir must have taken visceral will and courage to write. It is not easy to write about family, about pain, and memories. As Brodak says, these things are deep rooted; “…shame and fear run circuits in families that are hard to undo.” p.222 When I was younger I felt so much shame I was unable to talk about what was happening to my dad. I didn’t want anyone to know he drank, and wouldn’t have dreamed of talking about it, let alone admitting it. Years later I found out that one of my closest friends also has an alcoholic parent, and during our teenage years we had both been through the same things… in absolute silence.
There is a part in the book when Brodak goes to see a psychic astrologer (What the heck, right?) and the psychic tells her she will write a book which will help people. “This is helpful to people, to write this. I can see you think it isn’t (…) but listen. Everyone is in pain. You know this, I can see, you know you’re not alone. Not everyone, though, not everyone knows this (…) But you have to say it all. The raw part especially. That is the most helpful. The raw part.” p.91