Come to My Brother by Danny Wylde
published by Queer Young Cowboys
I took a while reading this book and then reviewing it. Partly because I’m a slow reader and partly because I wanted to digest it before passing judgment.
I’m super-conflicted about this book. Because here’s the thing: I really like Danny Wylde. I respect his writing abilities—I read his blog and have found all his essays and other writings intelligent, thoughtful, and well-executed. I’ve watched his music videos and his art film. I’m kind of a dork about his work as a whole.
But here’s the other thing: I don’t get Danny Wylde. Though my sensibilities run a little dark, his are far darker. His art frequently deals in blood, death, obsession, and a sort of sophisticated nihilism that doesn’t quite do it for me. Clearly this is a difference in taste, but I feel like I want to understand it. And that made reading Come to my Brother quite a daunting prospect.
Come to my Brother is a coming-of-age story about a fucked up boy, a semi-incestuous affair with an almost-brother, vampirism, love, sex, and death, all set in the cultural desert of California and with a little bit of porn in the background. There’s kind of a lot going on. It’s funny and poignant in places, but shit is it dark. And it actually kind of works.
I’m having a hard time figuring out how exactly it goes about working, though. Clearly, this is a first novel effort. Danny told me himself that it was a bit silly, but that he’d been working on this story since he was in college and thought he might as well make it a real book. Hell, I got an advance, unproofread copy to review. So I knew, going in, that this wouldn’t be the most polished piece of fiction I would ever read. And it wasn’t. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the narrator’s voice, and a lot more in the pacing and characterization. The tone swings from sarcasm to eloquence to deadly earnestness, and it’s difficult to discern where the pendulum comes to rest, if it does at all.
I have a tough time with coming-of-age novels to begin with, and I don’t have much use for central characters that I don’t like. Holden Caufield made me want to suffocate myself with a pillow. I similarly can’t really get through any of Chuck Palahniuk’s books; even though they’re brilliantly crafted, I just don’t care in the end whether these assholes live or die, or what happens to them in the meantime. And I think that’s what made it difficult for me to read Come to my Brother, even though it may also be a testament to what’s so good about the book. Despite his many flaws, our hero, Daniel, is dead-on convincing as the fucked-up millennial who never even wanted to give a shit about the life he was dealt. He is the disaffected voice of the youth of our time: a self-centered brat of a kid whose childhood was lived in the shadow of family dysfunction so pervasive that he grew cynicism in the place where joy or youth or ambition were supposed to flourish. The one thing in the world he came to love sincerely, his brother/boyfriend David, abandoned him in high school, ripping our narrator’s one remaining piece of humanity out without so much as a goodbye.
This kid, who is about twenty when we meet him just after he’s discovered his true love is still alive and has transformed him into a vampire, is so fucked in the head that his actions cannot make any sense to those of us who are reading with a clear head. They shouldn’t make sense. He’s a mess. He’s been getting by for years on sarcasm and meaningless sex, and now that his one reason for hope has returned, his understanding of life is turned upside down and shaken out. Now a monster from hell (or something), he has to try to figure out how to operate with his heart having suddenly been shoved back into his chest along with an insatiable lust for blood.
It’s disorienting. For Daniel and for the reader. But it’s also brilliant. And a little ridiculous. Ok, a lot ridiculous. But as much as I found myself disagreeing with Daniel’s choices throughout the book, and rolling my eyes at his infuriating passivity and obsession with his lover, I had to admit that the character was real to me. Probably not the kind of person I would want to hang out with, but real.
I guess that’s really the thing I was grasping at above. It’s not that this book was good or bad that’s important here, it’s that I was trying to figure out Danny Wylde by reading it. And Danny, who is as much his character as he is not, I’m sure, kept me at an arm’s length throughout by refusing to let me like the protagonist of his story. It’s frustrating, but I can’t pretend it’s not well done.