THIS RIVER (COUNTERPOINT PRESS) by JAMES BROWN Commentary by ROBERT OLMSTEAD

Robert Olmstead  

 

As I was reading James Brown’s new book, This River, I thought, I did not know anybody wrote like this anymore. At any moment, my breath shortening, I thought the page would combust and explode in my hands. Not just for what I was being told, but also for the way of the telling, for how tightly crafted, limpid, economical the sentences. The way they build power and come from beneath, the way they disappear inside your mind and become your mind in seamless transport.

 

There are few artists who have loitered at the gates of hell and maintained their craft. Few artists who have given in to the demons and returned to tell about it. The journey empties them and the demons destroy them and what they have learned and we need to know is forever lost to us. Well, here is one of them where that is not so.

 

I am immediately reminded of William Styron’s Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness and John Berryman’s Recovery. Both are famous and important books, but neither is so self-lacerating, so honest, so truthful as Jim’s book. Neither demands so much of the reader and knows the reader is willing for the more and not the less. Neither is so inside out. Neither gives so much and gives again.

 

Sometimes a way to gauge the quality of a creation is to think about what it took, what was overcome, what price it extracted. In this case, the proof is in your hands. This River is raw and palpable and beats like a heart. Brown gave everything he had: infinite strength, exacting discipline, fearsome courage…When you put this book down, trust me, you will think about it for a long time.”

 

 

 
Robert Olmstead is the author of  the national bestseller Coal Black Horse and winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and an NEA grant, and he is currently a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.  

 

 

James Brown  is the author of the recently published memoir, This River. His previous memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries, was considered a “Best Book of the Year” by Publishers Weekly, The Independent in London, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Seattle Weekly. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, GQ, and Ploughshares. He is also the recipient of the Nelson Algren Award in Short Fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Brown teaches in the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at Cal State San Bernardino.