|Also by Brent Runyon:
If the subject himself doesn't bring you to your knees in a
posture of supplicating awe, then the subject matter will.
And if this second element - a fourteen-year-old boy who
sets himself on fire in a suicide attempt - doesn't set your
eyes dancing in a water ballet of tears, then the sheer,
stripped-down elegiac-like prose this twenty-four-year old
reveals should leave you speechless and haunted forever.
Books on the Self, emphasis on the capital S here, always
seem to be somehow the last place you'd want to go to find
out about yourself. Books on Self-Help, Self-Spirituality,
Self-Success, Suicide, are just that - someone else's
experiences about those things. They've been there, they've
struggled through it, and now they wanted to help you - or
rather us, the readers, the ones in need - with those
problems. It always feels so secondary. Why should we read
about what you endured in hopes of finding an answer?
Arbitrary, that's how it feels.
Truly, the healing comes in the simple act of purchasing the
book, the wanting to be better, the positive forward motion.
The words are almost secondary. Psychologists and
psychiatrists, in the main, are listeners. By making the
jump to therapy, you've already made the leap of faith. A
set of educated and caring ears on the opposite side of the
office, a kind or patient utterance every now and then, and
that degreed or non-degreed individual sitting across from
you becomes sage, guide, and maybe even God him/herself. But
you've done the mending - you've brought yourself and put
yourself in a state of readiness to be cured.
That said, at first glance this burn memoir appeared to be
little more than a disaffected young teen with a lot of
troubles and no one to care. Do we want to read about
someone else's depression? Chances are, we all have our own
problems and nasty little creatures crawling around inside
us already. Why add to the confusion?
But Runyon offers no solutions. His bare verse, terse and
conversational, tells a story and doesn't editorialize
or tell us to seek help or tell us to think happy thoughts.
He does just that in the way he presents his story of
depression and suicidal nature, but he never comes right
out and says it. And that's why this book has such strength
"I fall down. I'm going to die. I'm going to find out what
death is like. I'm going to know. But nothing's happening."
Five sentences, 23 words, 85 letters, and we understand. The
writing is so simple and uncluttered. Bukowski-like, Fante-like.
And not one in a thousand novelists could make it work. In
fact, that bothered me when I read the press materials that
accompanied the book. Ten years after dousing himself in
gasoline and applying a match, Brent Runyon decides to write
about it. This is going to appear unforgivable, but it was
almost as if he had staged the event in order to gain an
audience for his writing, for this hidden novelist waiting
to be freed.
That's an insane and stupid comment to make. It's only
brought up to define a point. Without question, he would
trade it all in to go back one day prior to the burn - with
the knowledge he now carries - and do it over. But how many
people do attempt suicide and don't have the grammatical
tools to write about it? In a strange and horrible and
unendurable sequence of events, the author was ultimately
able to find his hidden voice. Had the fire episode never
happened, would Brent Runyon still have been a writer?
Truly, some things are miracles and this is one - the
miracle of a boy surviving an horrific ordeal, and then
finding the gift of words to write about it.
Remember, some years back, an author named Whitley Strieber
wrote a book called Communion? He swore it was an actual,
real-life episode of being abducted by aliens. He was
subjected to tests and poked and prodded and hypnotized and
remained steadfast in his assertion that little green men
had captured him. The only thing taken was taking advantage
of the gullibility of an all-too-willing-to-believe
readership desperately wanting to experience an ET moment.
This is brought up to reinforce what was mentioned earlier
in this review; in other words, the economics of
coincidence. It is almost impossible to believe that this
boy, this Runyon, has never written before and yet here he
has this amazing story to tell and tells it with the
eloquence of a seasoned novelist. That is the miracle, if
you'll recall. Strieber, on the other hand - and more power
to him because you do what you have to do to sell a book -
was a calculated and coldhearted manipulation. Of all the
people in the world who have been taken aboard spaceships
and seen the oversized heads sitting upon the child-like,
Silly Putty-looking bodies, how many of them have been
professional writers of any type? Much less professional
writers in the realm of science fiction and fantasy. It was
impossible to believe - the more Whitley screamed his
innocence of fraud, the more were we led to disbelieve.
Anyway, this review has digressed. The book will make you
cry and rip you apart and put you back together again. And
it will make you wonder how could anyone ever want to
consciously end a life. You will try and understand why
would someone who did want to die try to reach the other
side by becoming a human torch. Pills. A gun. There are so
many less painful ways of doing it. But you will not find
the answers. Nor does Runyon find them.
In a brief Afterword, he talks about falling into the
sinkhole again two years after writing this. What he did
learn is that outside help is necessary and he consciously
made the effort to seek it out, to find medications that
would lighten the shadows.
He is currently working on his first novel and for that one,
we'll keep the flame burning.