Brutally, bravely honest in its portrayal of depression, suicidal tendencies, failing to fulfil obligations, and failing to live up to one’s promise, William Brewer’s The Red Arrow also offers a luminous sense of hope that it is possible to emerge from the dark mist of depression experienced by his protagonist. Our narrator was once a promising young writer with a big book deal to write a big American novel about a chemical spill in West Virginia. But, crippled by depression since childhood, he’s unable to write the book and winds up with a huge debt to his publisher. A way to work himself out of debt presents itself when an esteemed physicist requests that the narrator ghost-writes his memoirs: “the more of his life I write, the more of my life I get back”. This is why the writer finds himself travelling through Italy with his wife, on a second honeymoon, but also on the trail of the physicist. As he digs deeper into his subject’s life, he peels back layers of own life, revealing what led him to this point, memories of his Italian grandparents, family arguments, a succession of obsessive distractions, worsening depression, and the transformative psychedelic treatments that saved him. His eventual meeting with the physicist is a devastating denouement - clever, unexpected and radiant.
'It was a strange time. He felt like he was happy. It was strange because it wasn't so long ago that he was convinced the only way out of the depression that had crippled him since he was a child, was death.' But now, he is on a high-speed train travelling from Rome to Modena, a failed novelist on the tail of a famous physicist whose memoir he is ghostwriting. The more of another man's life he writes, the more his debt to his publisher is paid off. But nothing would be possible, not the journey, not the writing, not his beautiful wife who is waiting for him at the hotel, had he not experienced the life-altering, life-saving treatment for the darkness which had been hovering since the chemical spill in West Virginia. As the narrator untangles the past in his bid to rewrite the future, he spirals across time, exploring memory, our sense of self and the ways we are connected. A devastating insight into depression, it's also a mind-expanding, exhilarating experience of the power of psychedelic therapy to transform a life.
Selected for the National Poetry Series by Ada Limon, I Know Your Kind is a haunting, blistering debut collection about the American opioid epidemic and poverty in rural Appalachia. In West Virginia, fatal overdoses on opioids have spiked to three times the national average. In these poems, William Brewer demonstrates an immersive, devastating empathy for both the lost and the bereaved, the enabled and the enabler, the addict who knocks late at night and the brother who closes the door. He shows us the high, at once numbing and transcendent: this warm moment when I forget which part of me / I blamed. He shows us the overdose, when the poppies on my arms / bruised red petals. And he shows us the mourner, attending his high school reunion: I guess we were underdressed: / me in my surf shoes / you in an urn. Underneath and among this multiplicity of voices runs the Appalachian landscape-a location, like the experience of drug addiction itself, of stark contrasts: beauty and ruin, nature and industry, love and despair. Uncanny, heartbreaking, and often surreal, I Know Your Kind is an unforgettable elegy for the people and places that have been lost to opioids.