- The Essay-Lover’s Guide to Brian Doyle
Hello. This is a synopsis-review of Brian Doyle’s work, mostly his books, which as of this writing (early 2018) number 28, but also of his unbooked essays, and perhaps of his life, too. Probably you know Brian Doyle or his work, or you’re at least curious, coming now to the back pages of this issue of Fourth Genre and hoping for something (else) good. In any case, welcome.
This was initially to be a review only of Doyle’s latest posthumous book, Hoop, which was published in October 2017. But I asked Fourth Genre review essay editor Ned Stuckey-French if I might write about all three of Doyle’s 2017 books, including September’s Eight Whopping Lies and March’s The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World, and he assented. Then, as I read and took notes and drafted this piece, I discerned or decided that even a three-book review would not suffice. I should write about all of Brian’s books, I thought, and thus make a comprehensive guide for readers, the sort of thing that you can read straight through or dip into wherever and whenever it suits you, to get your bearings and learn a little about the man and his work.
Probably you know that Brian died in May of 2017, at age 60, from the effects of a brain tumor, which was discovered only six months prior, but even if you did not know this, the adjective posthumous above would have told you at least the primary fact that he had died. That he died so recently (and so unexpectedly), that he declined so swiftly from most-energetic-person-I-knew to gone cannot help but inform my review here, so I will warn or confide that I cannot offer a balanced or even a critical review. I love Brian Doyle [End Page 217] deeply, and he has had (and continues to have) a profound influence on me, through his writing and his friendship. Perhaps we all improve remarkably upon death, after which our friends and family forget our faults and remember only our virtues, but I believe it worth insisting that Brian, in all the interactions I ever had with him, up close and at a distance, in person and in reading, was that rare kind of person who was utterly genuine and kind and shiningly good.
You can sense this in his writing. I will continue below, sharing memories and summaries, amidst and interspersed between mentions of Brian’s books. Onward!
Two Voices: A Father and Son Discuss Family and Faith
jim doyle and brian doyle. ligouri, 1996. 173 pages, paper, $11.00.
Two Voices includes 18 of Brian’s earliest published essays, on subjects like childbirth and child-rearing, metaphorical bridges, Oregon and Oregonness, home and wildness, the beauty of Catholicism, the enigma of Christ. In the volume’s very first essay, Brian declares a thing he would declare a million times in his life: “I am a teller of stories. Stories are small prayers.” Thus, the inefficacy of distinguishing genres for this writer, who used the terms story and essay interchangeably (yet also declared, in the presence of hundreds of BYU students, “Suck it, poets and novelists!”). It should be noted that this book is about two-thirds Jim, one-third Brian, yet his father’s writing is lovely and insightful, too, and there’s plenty of Brian to satisfy a completist reader interested in seeing his beginnings. In an early instance of his fascinating ability to turn excrement into sacrament (see “The Meteorites” in Leaping), Brian meditates on a potty-training chair, fast-forwarding through his toddling daughter’s life to imagine a time when “I will someday come across a huge brown box in the attic, and open it, and stare at the lurid colors of the EZ-Use Relief Training Chair, and laugh, because once I was granted the miracle of a daughter; or cry, because once I held her in my arms and that moment blazed and faded and was lost in the stream of...