Take This Man: A Memoir
Writers tend not to pen memoirs if the life they have lived so far has been pleasant or uneventful. A good memoir often makes readers witness to tragedy, pain, strange situations and extreme challenges. Brando Skyhorses's TAKE THIS MAN is no exception to this general rule, introducing us to the two troubled women who raised him and the parade of “fathers” who came and went from his life.
Skyhorse's struggle with identity has been a lifelong endeavor. His biological father, Candido, left when he was three, and he has no memories of his time with him. His childhood was one spent primarily with his mother, Maria, and her mother, June, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Maria and June were Mexican-American, and Candido was from Mexico, but Maria fashioned herself Running Deer and told everyone, including her son, that she was Native American and Brando's father was a man named Paul Skyhorse Johnson, a Native American serving time in prison for armed robbery.
"TAKE THIS MAN is sad and scary yet still irresistible. The writing is crisp, precise and intelligent, telling a harrowing story of growing up amidst instability and emotional danger. "
While Paul gave Brando his name and his ethnicity (until he was a young teenager and learned the truth of his biological father), there were four other stepfathers and one particular father figure who came and went in Skyhorse's early life, not to mention other boyfriends his mother had. Maria often met these men through personal ads in the back of magazines, and they would arrive on the doorstep of the Echo Park house, moving in before Skyhorse had even heard about them and staying for months or years. Each man tried to form a bond with Skyhorse, but each had wrestled with his own issues, such as alcoholism, criminal behavior, or the inability to commit to Skyhorse and his mother.
Maria was far from innocent, however. Dealing with mental health issues, she experienced a sadness and frustration that caused her to recreate her own identity and to push away the people who genuinely cared for her. She took work as a phone sex operator and over the years became more and more reclusive until finally she rarely left her room. She had a violent and mean temper and often lashed out at her son. The most stable forces in Skyhorse's life turn out to be his grandmother, who was less temperamental but almost as eccentric as her daughter; one of his mother's boyfriends named Frank; and his high school girlfriend, Sofie. Yet those three relationships had their fair share of peril and heartbreak, too.
With the arrival of each new father, Skyhorse put his trust and emotions on the line. His desire to have a normal, healthy relationship with a father was always complicated by both the men his mother married and by his mother herself. Yet, he remained ever open-hearted --- raw with hurt but still craving connection.
TAKE THIS MAN is sad and scary yet still irresistible. The writing is crisp, precise and intelligent, telling a harrowing story of growing up amidst instability and emotional danger. Skyhorse writes with a beautiful realism about his difficult journey to adulthood and his complicated feelings for his grandmother and mother. Comparisons to memoirs by Jeannette Walls and Dorothy Allison are to be expected, but Skyhorse's story is unique in its details and style. There is a hopefulness in these pages, but it is modest hope as the essential relationships Skyhorse dreamed of never came to be. Instead, he had to build relationships with unexpected allies and continues to search for contentment in them. This is a memoir with sting and bite, one that will stay with readers for a long time.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 13, 2014