Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers
the new short story collection
BROTHERS, FATHERS, AND OTHER STRANGERS includes stories about family dysfunction in a not-so-blended family, work, Adolf Hitler’s imagined alternative lives and possible reincarnation, the spirit of Kurt Cobain, a green angel giving an aging alcoholic man a second chance at redemption, men struggling to find some meaning in their lives, and more. Many of these stories deal with feelings of alienation and abandonment, of feelings of the characters that they do not fit in in their families, their lives, their jobs, and sometimes in their very bodies. Are they, are we all, in some sense, living in the company of strangers?
In all there are thirty-eight stories and flash fiction pieces in this collection, most of which have been published in notable literary journals.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT
BROTHERS, FATHERS, AND OTHER STRANGERS:
In this immersive, provocative and engaging collection, Mitchell Waldman challenges us to reflect on our own moral compass, through the experiences of the characters and their own personal battles but also situations many of us would rather try to avoid. This is where Waldman succeeds in his ‘creative representation’ of personal relationships, religious views, political alliances and moralistic viewpoints in this fictional canvas of the human condition, no matter who we are or where we are from. Such is the impact of this collection, that we are compelled to individually search and maybe even adjust our moral compass, as a result of the creative representation of humanity in this collection…. A provocative yet existential collection, which challenges all of us to reflect on our current view of this world, this life we exist in, no matter what state our moral compass is in.
The relationships we have with others impact us in many ways that we may not be aware of on the surface. Although most of our interactions will fade into the recesses of our subconscious, Mitchell Waldman’s Brother, Fathers, and Other Strangers is a study of these impacts through the lens of several stories focused on the relationships men have with each other. . .Waldman’s writing style and storytelling is evocative of the likes of Charles Bukowksi and Philip Roth. He does not pull punches in terms of his colorful diction and his narrative style. The reader gets the impression that the narrator is speaking to them directly. . .Waldman does a great job of establishing place through the way it unfolds in the story and how the characters interact within it. . . Waldman’s short story collection will resonate with readers who are seeking a deep dive into how others have a massive influence on the people we are inside and out.
The men in Mitchell Waldman’s strong collection share a common trait: all are provided an opportunity for self-discovery. Whether they elect to act on it is another story.. . The truth of the matter, Waldman tells us, is that the men in Brothers, Fathers and Other Strangers are limited both by their circumstances and their histories. They work dehumanizing jobs and cling to marginal relationships, and yet he infuses them with a healthy conscience and a drive for self-improvement. They’re good guys who only want to be better. . . These characters are familiar to us – the men we know, love and can’t quite figure out. Waldman crafts case study after case study providing them with a chance for redemption. . . None of us can go back to the lives we’ve lived, whether for good or bad, but Waldman reminds us the past is fertile ground to be used as a guide for a better future. His collection acts as a kind of instruction guide, his men coming out more complete on the other side. These stories make compelling reading–adept prose at times poignant, humorous, luminous.
-– Dennis Donoghue, author of The Final One Eighty: A memoir
Waldman has crafted a nuanced and engaging collection. His stories set us on an emotional tightrope, daring us to forgo a safety net, while seducing us to look down and discover who we are. Sometimes poignantly devastating, and other times savagely funny, he guides us through family trauma, corporate America, and faithful understanding to remind us if we can be less of a stranger to the world, maybe we can be less of a stranger to ourselves.
-- Josh Penzone, author of The Court of Vintage Woods: Linked Stories
Mitchell Waldman’s latest collection comes in three parts. First, there are stories of a blended family narrated by a stepbrother and stepson with either the urgency of a teen or the retrospection of an adult. They probe a fraught relationship with a stepbrother, detachment from a stepfather, and disengagement from a biological father. The narrator’s mother provides only a small measure of consolation from the bleakness. Taken together, these stories constitute an episodic novella working out permutations of awkwardness, disappointment, baffled love, and open resentment. Waldman persuasively renders the insecurities of his narrator and the pain of blended families that fail to blend. The style here is realistic while the second section leaves realism for a series of alternative biographies of Adolf Hitler—as an immigrant in Brooklyn, a local plumber, gardening with Fraulein Braun. In one story, Hitler occupies the consciousness of a Jewish dentist as he did Poland and France. Part Three is focused on the quiet desperation of economically marginalized, socially alienated, emotionally stunted males. Two main themes of this section are bad jobs and theodicy, the implacable actual and the dubious supernatural. The stories delve into the feelings and thoughts of alienated men, the kind of American males fulminating with resentment and teetering on the cusp of despair who have had much to do with our recent politics. Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers is remarkable for its scope, honesty, imagination, social sensitivity, and moral concern.
-- Robert Wexelblatt, author of The Thirteenth Studebaker, Hsi-wei Tales, etc.
In Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers, Waldman explores masculinity, but not stereotypical masculinity. In these stories, you will see men battling their memories and emotions as they attempt to come to grips with their pasts and make a way for their lives. Waldman sets his work in reality with a dash of fantasy and the occasional twist ending. Waldman is doing something special in the short story form, and his stories will entertain, enlighten, and elate.
-- Hardy Jones, author of Resurrection of Childhood: A Memoir,
and Every Bitter Thing
“Nothing matters anymore. Nothing.” So begins one story at the heart of Mitchell Waldman’s outstanding new short story collection, Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers. Fortunately, everything matters in Waldman’s book of stories featuring boys and men who might optimistically be described as “having a tough time.” Waldman has crafted a collection in which each story shines like a beacon on a string of interconnected lights. At a deep level, every moment in these matters a great deal. Every scene, every action, every conversation carries the weight of the world—most of all, every character. The men in these heartfelt stories experience a kind of sandpaper empathy for the people and events around them. At best, they have a rough understanding of why they are who they are. These men struggle, sometimes miserably, sometimes humorously—often both. Waldman’s greatest skill is that he transfers his characters’ gritty empathy to his readers, letting us care for these men as their lives swirl around them. These stories lend themselves well to comparisons with some of the greats of modern short story writing. Two clear progenitors would be Raymond Carver for existentialism and Charles Bukowski for emotional tone. Among contemporary short story masters, Michael Keith’s sad-boy mortality and Robert Scotellaro’s craggy disquiet make great companion writers for Waldman’s universe of complicated and unsettled characters. While men’s experiences are central in the book, women aren’t absent. Appropriately, the women who appear in these stories are equally troubled by life. They aren’t relegated to stereotypes such as mother-substitutes or objects of desire. Most important, the men’s problems aren’t contrived to be the fault of women, as too much male-focused American literature has done at its worst. The insight that men are, for better or worse, the shapers of our own fate is another notable strength of this excellent collection of connected stories.
-- John Sheirer, author of Stumbling Through Adulthood
Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers is the latest collection of stories by Mitchell Waldman, and there is so much to be read and understood about life in the mid to late 20th century. The conflicts and collective memories of a generation stood astride the horrors inflicted on their parents' generation and the mixed dreams and uncertainty associated with the present and future. Central to the book's core are stories reflective of boys' eye view of living in the suburbs of the upper Midwest in a time when history glossed over the realities of uncertain times with nostalgia. The stories reveal that life wasn't at all like it seems in current media-driven memories. In Waldman's book, the individual living the actual experiences matters. He pulls back the curtain to reveal truths now told through his writing. Friends, family, can become strangers in a minute--a second. All it takes is a simple betrayal or a lie discovered. . . Alternative lives imagined are of those who never truly escape their fate. . .Waldman's book is strongly recommended, not just for its fine prose, but as a window into the times we left behind, told honestly.
--Mike Lee, author of The Northern Line
In a previous review of Mitchell Waldman's earlier book, PETTY OFFENSES AND CRIMES OF THE HEART, I said that I was no real fan of short stories...to be honest, my affection for (and knowledge of) short stories goes no further than Poe and Jack London and Scott Fitzgerald and A DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ....but I very much liked PETTY OFFENSES...and I like this new book by Waldman even more! Again, since I'm no fan of the short story, that's saying a lot! If (like me) you're hesitant about reading modern short stories...don't be shy. Give this one a try. You'll be glad you did.
-- John Yamrus, author of Selected Poems