Novelist John Brandon has a knack for creating unsympathetic characters that you root for despite your better judgments. And with his debut Arkansas , about midway through you kind of get the sense that, gee, this is going to end badly .
John Brandon is an every-man moonlighting as a writer. Which isn’t to say that he can’t write, that he’s faking his way through it. He’s the kind of writer who doesn’t live on a fellowship or an advance of payment while he’s writing his novels. Nope, he’s working at a warehouse, driving trucks, watching college football between chapter breaks. And you can tell this not only with his language and his characters, but a translated squint of world weary eyes that only a dogged, overworked and underpaid struggling writer can muster without completely falling into the purgatory of full-fledged cynicism. His characters utter the things that make us chuckle with a wink and a nod, a knowing, something we think and sometimes wish we wouldn’t have said ourselves. When a father enjoys a weekend afternoon at the park with his daughter, the frivolity is broken when he awkwardly says “I can’t thank you enough for not being slutty.” Of course Brandon wouldn’t write characters that blush easily. The daughter replies “I’ll say ‘you’re welcome’ and we can just leave it at that.”
Unlike his debut Arkansas , nothing comes easily to the characters in Citrus County . Teenage romance is always messy and clumsy, but Brandon makes it painfully difficult. Disaffected twentysomethings are nothing new to literature, especially lately . But shouldn’t there be some sort of pathos, some sort of hefty emotional appeal, a counterweight to the oppressive ennui and apathy? Brandon does hone a sense of traditionalism, a literary trope that may have better served Arkansas: redemption.
John Brandon is an interesting writer right now, interesting in his delivery, his developing voice and style. But also interesting to watch as a writer, his technique and prowess evolving right in front of you.