Insects in my stomach

What it's like to watch your older brother give a reading
By IAN SANDS  |  November 21, 2006

My brother wrote a book. It's a good book, especially considering it’s his first. But that’s not to say that it’s for everyone, most of all my mother, my father, my uncle, my grandmother, my aunt, and anyone else related to me. I won't go into great detail as to why it’s not for everyone, except to say that the plot involves one Grover Goldstein who’s swallowed by a giraffe and finds himself in the future where he helps his severed, sentient penis capture the presidential election.

My brother Brad, a Northampton-based hummus factory worker/editor/writer, is a rising name in the genre referred to by few — unknown by most everybody else — as Bizarro fiction. (Two of the literature's bigger names, D. Harlan Wilson, and Carlton Mellick, you probably haven't heard of.) Bizarro, according to Brad's website, is "that surreal, absurd, fucked-up stuff that is usually referred to as Cult because people don't know what else to call it." Think David Lynch or John Waters, but on the page instead of the screen.

Since its release earlier this year, he's been working to get people interested in the book. Whether he's been successful in his efforts really depends on your definition of success. It Came From Below the Belt isn't selling like hotcakes; it isn't even selling like reasonably warm rolls. As of this moment, Amazon.com's often-looked at, rarely understood rankings put it somewhere in the upper two-hundred thousands. For someone like John Grisham, this would be shit, but for my brother, represented by a tiny trade publisher out of Washington state, I imagine every single book sold is its own minor miracle. At very least, it's proof that more people have bought it than his own family and friends.

How'd he manage this feat? These days, if you're an enterprising author with a laptop and some time to spare, you can succeed in garnering some measure of publicity for yourself — an exciting development if you, like my brother, have a publisher with next to nothing to spend on marketing. Brad created an elaborate MySpace page to get the word out about his art. He's got a shameless, self-promoting Web page (you should all visit, by the way). Away from the Web, he did an excruciating bit on a Michigan radio show a few months back, phoning in snippets of text for the hosts to play off of in the studio. And he just recently secured a spot at the Coolidge to appear as the opening entertainment for one of their midnight screenings.

And I’m afraid. I’m fearing for this guy who once admitted to "itching compulsively in crowds." On occasions when I've seen him speak before, he's done so with this breathless delivery, over-enunciating his words in order to compensate for his naturally muffled conversational way; and he always seems to be on the verge of a panic attack. Plus, the Coolidge Corner Web site makes no mention of him in the event info, and so I worry the only people to show up to hear him will be whichever friends he's brought along, my girlfriend, and me, his own brother, and I'm not even a very good brother.

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