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  • Criminal:A Conversation & Review
  • Anne Panning (bio) and Ned Stuckey-French (bio)
Molly Brodak, Bandit: A Daughter's Memoir
new york: grove atlantic/black cat, 2016. 240 pages, paper, $16.00.

Ned Stuckey-French: I was so glad to hear you liked this wonderful book, Anne, and were up for a conversation about it. This should be fun.

I love both the form and the content of this book. Brodak is a poet, and to me it seemed from the outset that this memoir would, in a certain way, borrow its form from poetry. The table of contents told me it would have 82 short chapters, and after reading the first three, which total just seven pages, it was apparent that the chapters were going to unfold thematically and not always chronologically. They would be short. They would feel like stanzas. They would employ direct address and allow for a mix of meditation and narrative. In this sense, the book seems to me a model of a lyrical memoir in the sense that it is organized poetically.

It is not, however, as I read it, a "lyrical" memoir as far as its relationship to facts and truth. In other words, it is D'Agata-like in form but not content. Brodak defuses her loaded content right off the bat and gives us her take on the "truth question." This book about a bank-robbing father will not be sensationalistic and written for voyeurs. I love true crime, but this is not true crime. In the first chapter, she exposes the fact that she almost inadvertently shoplifted a little booklet of baby names from a grocery store as a kid and got caught. In the second chapter she lists the locations of all the banks her father will end up robbing, and then tells us that he got caught when she was [End Page 191] 13, went to jail for seven years, got out, lived a "normal life" for seven years, and then started robbing banks again. Then, she opens her third chapter like this: "There, see? Done with the facts already. The facts are easy to say; I say them all the time. They leave me out. They cover over the trouble like a lid. This isn't about them."

She had me from jump. How about you?

Anne Panning: Yes, Ned. I'm so glad we connected on Facebook about this. After reading Bandit, I found myself tweeting and posting to draw others to the book because I loved it so much.

Interesting that you mentioned D'Agata and his adamant need to claim his essays as "lyrical," more concerned with "art" than "facts." I was impressed by Brodak's precarious but steady balance between the two. While I'll admit that I was initially compelled to get the book because of the somewhat sensational "true crime" nature of its content, I wasn't quite expecting all the meditation on storytelling that she offered. As you said, she instantly gets the facts of her father's crimes out of the way, right off the bat. Then, she pivots and places herself "under the stories," as she writes in chapter 3.

"I am set between my parents like a tape recorder." I love this simile because even though we know she's a poet, prone to mood and metaphor, she suggests that by being a "tape recorder" she's going to give us the "real" truth as best she can.

I think one of the reasons I loved this memoir so much was because of how Brodak often interrupts her own stories to ponder the conundrum of storytelling. Chapter 23 is especially potent in this regard. "Stories aren't helpful, are they?" she writes, breaking the fourth wall a bit and reflecting the issue back on the reader. She actually asks a lot of questions in that chapter, a device that demands an answer from the reader, or at least a co-struggle with the issues as she presents them. "No stories work for me. The 'story' I have felt these facts through is just a simple and untranslatable darkness. . . . If I move or just look too closely I am...