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Orangutan: A Memoir

by Colin Broderick
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press
  • Publishing date: 29/12/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780307453402
  • ISBN: 0307453405

Synopsis

Guest Interview: Colum McCann Talks with Colin Broderick

Colum McCann is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he has been named one of Esquire’s "Best and Brightest," and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. His 2009 novel, Let the Great World Spin, won the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction, and was selected as Amazon.com's Best Book of 2009. Read his interview with Colin Broderick on Orangutan:

Colum McCann: The book starts with a warning: "This is not a very pleasant story... and if you don’t like it, I don’t care." There’s a fury in this book that I found really honest.

Colin Broderick: You’re right about that, Colum. I was on the last rung of the ladder when I started this book. I knew if I didn’t come out fighting with this one, I was done for. Desperation has been a great motivator for me over the past three years.

Colum McCann: The first time I met you was about twelve years ago at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. You handed me a manuscript and asked me to read it. You had a fire in your eyes that suggested you were never going to give up. I think at the time you told me it was your second novel. How many did you write before you finally managed to see something in print?

Colin Broderick: That fire has kept me alive through two unpublished novels, two plays, a screenplay, reams of poetry, and a nice folder of short stories over the years. It’s been a long and arduous apprenticeship. But the option to quit was never viable for me. The noise in my head demands articulation. I obey, or it destroys me. When I sat down to write Orangutan I realized that I had most of it already written subconsciously. Since I stopped drinking I realized I have been walking around with all these stories in my head for years, and they’ve been driving me crazy. I drank to quiet the noise. I write now for the same reason. My goal now is to untangle the stories one word at a time so that they don’t drive me completely mad.

Colum McCann: Drink is one of the great levellers of fiction writers. But it’s also one of the great clichés, that it somehow fuels creativity. How did you actually manage to write while you were on the jar? Or did you just pretend?

Colin Broderick: That romantic image of the half pint of whiskey next to me on my writing table while I toiled almost killed me over the years. Personally I never wrote a coherent sentence when I was drunk. It took me a long time to accept that writing is basically hard, lonely work. It was easy to feel inspired when I was drinking. Once in a while, usually after about two or three bottles of wine, I was so inspired that I was convinced that I was just going to rattle off the next great American novel. I’d wake up in the morning with a head on me like the tire of a dirt bike and pick up my notebook and I wouldn’t be able to read a single word. There might be twenty pages or so of enthusiastic, unintelligible scrawl to magnify my sense of utter hopelessness. I destroyed a lot of nice notebooks like that over the years. I never woke up with a hangover and a masterpiece in my hand. I think that whole idea of the drunk writer is a very dangerous myth. Most of the drunk writers I’ve researched wrote sober. Then they got drunk to celebrate.

Colum McCann: Personally I don’t care about the difference between fiction and nonfiction. A story is a story, full stop. Clifford Geertz says that "the real is as imagined as the imaginary." But there’s a lot of hullabaloo about "lies" and "fabrication" in the memoir genre. What would you say to the skeptics who say that this story is too crazy to believe?

Colin Broderick: I’d say, "Put my book down so I can kick your ass." What’s really crazy to me is how much madness I had to leave out of the story in order to keep it within the confines of a readable book.

Colum McCann: I think the whole bollicking that James Frey got was ridiculous. So he made a mistake; leave him alone. It wasn’t like he was telling lies and sending kids off to war, like some politicians were doing at the time...

Colin Broderick: I totally agree, Colum. I loved A Million Little Pieces. I couldn’t put the damn thing down. In the bars where I drank, there were characters who would tell the same story over and over for years. We would be disappointed if it wasn’t a little more entertaining on every new telling of it. The art of storytelling started around turf fires years ago, way before there were laptops and recording devices to take the magic out of it. If the storyteller didn’t do his job right, no one would be able to remember the story to convey it orally to the next generation. Tell me a boring story you heard when you were ten.

Colum McCann: You worked in the Irish construction scene in New York for twenty years while writing. How was that for you, on the job? Did you ever have to go looking for the infamous "striped paint"?

Colin Broderick: I didn’t go for the striped paint myself, but I’ve sent a few newcomers looking for it over the years. I would always tell them to bring it back and hang it on a sky hook. The Irish construction scene in New York is not a job you need a hard hat for. What you really need is a full suit of body armor and a spare liver stored in your cooler. Those guys are the best craftsmen there are. I’m just glad I survived the ride.

Colum McCann: We get our voice from the voices of others. I can see Pete Hamill here. And Nick Flynn. Some Bukowski, even. So, who would you say gave you your voice?

Colin Broderick: I think my own voice came up one morning when I had my arms wrapped around a toilet bowl, praying for survival. I read everything, including Hamill and Flynn. But I’ll name a few of my favorite writers: Hemingway, Bukowski, Philip Roth, Graham Greene, John Irving, and the late great David Foster Wallace.

Colum McCann: In the story of drinking with the transvestite in a hole-in-the-wall bar in San Francisco, you relate to her by explaining how you are in fact an orangutan trapped in the body of a man. She claims, of course, that she’s the Queen of England, and maybe she is. That must have been quite a session. Has that feeling of being trapped in another body subsided any since you’ve put down the bottle?

Colin Broderick: No. But not drinking has helped me understand that part of myself a little better and I’ve come to terms with the beast, which makes it easier for me to stay on this side of the prison bars.

Colum McCann: A drunk, a carpenter, a writer, a womanizer, an emigrant? They’re all open to particular stereotype, especially on the page. So, how do you lift yourself--and the story--away from the old tropes? How do you make it new?

Colin Broderick: Every story is new. I just hope mine is authentic and entertaining.

Colum McCann: Life is unfinished, isn’t it? I mean, we constantly find out that there are new ways and new directions. You’re a father yourself now. You have a little girl. You’re a published writer. Does happiness scare you?

Colin Broderick: I’m not a real happy person in general, but my life is better right now than it’s ever been. I’m on a path now that I’m treading cautiously. I look at my daughter and it’s all the incentive I need in the world to keep putting one foot in front of the other, do the next right thing.

Colum McCann: The late great Frank McCourt was a good friend of mine. And I assume you knew him also. He talked about the miserable Irish Catholic childhood and yet he rose above it. If you had to tag your story with a one-liner, what would it be?

Colin Broderick: An Irish construction worker in New York digs through the rubble of his life to find an identity.

Colum McCann: And yes, he finds it. It’s a great read. And I assume you’re working on your next project. Do you want to give us an idea of what it is?

Colin Broderick: I’m still digging in the rubble right now. When I get to the bottom of it all and clear away the mess, I’m going to pour myself a nice, solid, concrete platform to stand on. And I’ll start building again from there.

Colum McCann: Good luck to you, Colin. If I find you drinking, I’ll throw all your pens away forever...

Colin Broderick: See, now that made me laugh out loud. Thanks, Colum.



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  • Best Book I've Read IN YEARS ~ from a Master Storyteller
    From Amazon

    This book is written by a master storyteller, even if it's his first time out. I can hardly believe it and even if it took him a long, roundabout way to finally settle down to his true calling, a calling and gift it is. Couldn't put it down, start to finish. Spellbound. Growing up with an alcoholic Irish Catholic grandfather outside of Chicago makes me know this story inside and out. What a terrific, titillating, cautionary & rambunctious tale! It was as if I was right there with him, tumbling inside and out of the Irish bars, riding with the fellas down the highways & byways of the Bronx, working with the crew doing construction all over the city... and hey, I have been a contractor for many, many, years. No wonder my "no alcohol on the jobsite" policy went over so poorly! But the story of staying dry for years and then falling off the wagon and participation in the "required" alcohol culture to keep working ~ still alive and well ~ is enough to keep anyone on the straight and narrow, if they want to. The most amazing thing is that this man was a master carpenter all the while... much to be admired here, including the ability to tell the truth and face the facts. And still function to such a high degree as artist, craftsman and writer. And most of all HUMAN with all his faults and failings, but with truthfulness shining through. Always shining like a beacon in the night, even in the darkest of nights and the roughest of waters. What a combination... and then to choose to stay sober and stick to it. And live to tell the tale. Much to be admired from this true philosopher of life and fact. And if you don't learn from this tale, then "drink up!" and the devil WILL take the hindmost! Can't wait to read more by this finest of the fine author from Ireland and the Americas. * * * * * Colin Broderick, I salute you! * * * * *

  • Surprisingly inspiring and easy to read
    From Amazon

    I will come clean, and start off by saying that I read the book because I know the author. I grew up with his wife, and her sister is my best friend so I had to read it. I was told that it was a great book as the family was reading the final manuscript, but I figured I would wait for its debut in stores before jumping in. As a loyal friend I purchased my copy on its release day and started reading it on my way home from the bookstore. I was hooked immediately. I had read an editorial piece by Colin and so I knew I would be getting good writing, but I couldn't even imagine where he would take it--or where this book would take me. I knew it was a story about his coming to the US as an Irish immigrant and his struggles with addiction. What I wasn't expecting was how profoundly it would touch me as a writer. Nor did I realize how broad-reaching it would be. Colin's ability to tell his extremely dark and twisted story without ever weighing you down is remarkable. Many before him have attempted, both successfully and not, to narrate the battle with addiction, but too often you're left with a too fluffy message to imply that once you've overcome it you can pull yourself together and accomplish anything. The truth is it's not that easy. Whatever your vice may be--and I do believe we all have them--it is a daily struggle to keep them at bay. And Colin shows this, both in his book and in his daily life. He captures this reality without bringing you down. in a way he's saying, I'm ok for today and hopefully tomorrow, and while being better feels better I don't know what the next day will bring. After I finished the book I passed it on to a couple of friends--and then told the rest to buy their own copies! But anyone that's read it was just as blown away as I was. I'm proud to know Colin and ecstatic to have such a talented role model (you know, in terms of writing) in my world to help keep me inspired so that one day I can share my story as well.

  • Guideposts for the Coprolaliac.
    From Amazon

    In case you're a Guideposts Virgin, Guideposts has inspirational stories about people who you don't know and will never otherwise hear of. I'm not being critical here; I have a story about myself published in a similar collection, and bought copies for all my loved ones. This differs though in being frankly ugly and having no inspirational ending. He was at one point sober for nearly ten years with the help of AA support, and he is snarkily dismissive of the organization (face it, they just aren't cool like him) though even through the writing of the book he was not able to maintain sobriety for anything like that amount of time without them. He admits that he was not even sober for the duration of writing the book. It may be grittily honest, but I have to say I found a lot of it hard to believe - intermittently employed as a non-union semi-skilled laborer in one of the most expensive areas of the country, with divorces that supposedly left him in debt, yet he still always has money for his expensive habits and usually for rent, hospitalizations, arrests and fines. Plus European vacations. So what's the deal here? Complete fiction? Wild exaggeration? Or left out the parts about theft or dealing? I gave it one extra star and actually considered giving it many more for its usefulness as an insight-provoking exercise for people in recovery. This is one ugly, narcissistic, dangerous addict. If it is not fiction, I hope that Mr. Broderick makes enough money on it to get some real help.

  • Awesome
    From Amazon

    I love stories about addiction (having lived through it): give me Augusten Burroughs or James Frey and I am a happy girl. Orangutan: A Memoir is going to go on my shelf next to the others as an entertaining memoir about hard living and hard recovery. While not as delicious as Burroughs "Dry", this book is gripping from page one and will leave you feeling battered but somehow hopeful when it is done with you. The author writes in a punchy, aggressive prose that leaps from moment to moment, forcing you to keep up. There is no coddling or sentimentality here.

  • Not About Orangutans!!
    From Amazon

    Unfortunately the author chose to demean orangutans, genle forest creatures who would never act like him. But it's nice he overcame his troubles.

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