- Becoming Another
Due to desperate circumstances (medical bills, love and/or unemployment) X takes on a transgressive identity, subverts convention and embarks on a perilous journey of self-discovery (see: Breaking Bad, Breaking the Waves, Tootsie). That the set-up might strain credibility at first is small price to pay for the rich dramatic possibilities, especially when X is a woman passing as a man. In Laura Krughoff’s provocative and compelling debut novel, Jane Field informs us:
I am standing the line of life for my brother—I am holding his place. I am helping John remember who he was once so that one day he’ll get well and become that guy again. The hospitals and doctors and medications have kept him unhinged for years, so here, on our own, we’re trying a novel approach.
Krughoff gets off to a fast start, perhaps too fast, but the authority in Jane’s voice carries us. “I did not grow up in my brother’s shadow. I grew up in his light.” she says. It is her turn to shelter him. Schizophrenic, off his meds, and living in the family basement, John has been setting traps for his terrified mother (dead goldfish in the yogurt, rubber cement in the flour) who he accuses of trying to poison him. The only person he trusts is Jane, whose life has been on hold since high school. At 20, she works at a coffee shop and takes classes at the local community college. Half her wardrobe comes from John’s cast-off concert T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. Brother and sister look remarkably alike. At least they did, until the years of mania and drugs obliterated John’s lean good looks. Assuming John’s identity is his idea, not hers. That clerk job at Stew’s Music is perfect for him, except he’s still too sick to work. It would be the perfect job for Jane, who’s a musician in her own right, a drummer just like her brother. There’s that credibility factor, John tells her and she believes him. Would boys read Harry Potter books if the author was Joanne Rowling? Quick quiz: name all the women drummers in rock bands. Besides, how hard can it be to pass for some dude who knows a lot about music if you’ve got the bones for it and your whole social life has been hanging out with your brother’s drummer friends?
“I saw your ad in the paper yesterday morning,” I said, except it didn’t feel like I said it. It felt like something being said by a laidback kid I’d never met. I liked that kid. I had a glimmer of how it must have felt to be John. I felt braver than I’d felt in a long time.
The interview is five easy questions. Favorite musician? John’s answer would have been Led Zeppelin’s drummer but Jane names her drum teacher’s favorite, Art Blakely. As John she gets the job and an invitation to sit in with the store manager’s band. Would Sean have invited Jane to sit in? At the very least she’d have to ask, and Jane is too shy to ask.
Will Jane be able to pass for John on a date?
“I’ll tell you everything you’ll need to know and then I’ll watch the whole thing. I’ll go with you. I’ll sneak right through the trap door in your brain,”
John assures her as he preps Jane for John/Jane’s date with April, a pretty girl who has a small blue star tattoo on her neck. April, who blurs the line between who Jane is and who she pretends to be?
With story-telling smarts and fearless compassion Krughoff captures the dark poetry of paranoia, evokes the sense of heightened reality that comes from proximity to madness, and conveys the emotional truth obscured by clichés like ‘Co-dependent’ and ‘family dysfunction.’ My Brother’s Name would...