My little brother hadn't written since his senior year at F&M. He'd talked about a Spanish civil war novel and a memoir of his hippy forest fire-fighting crew, but written -- no. He'd become a lawyer, married, adopted twin boys. Then he brought puppy, which had been mangled in a dog fight, and its rearing affected him so deeply he wrote about the experience for the animal rescue shelter's web site: http://www.mainlinerescue.com/advocacy/dog-fighting. It was a beautiful piece. It made you feel. It made you think.
It sat there. Then an assistant "Oprah" producer called. She invited him, his wife, the boys, the dog onto the show. They were great. The dog was fabulous. People sent cards and gifts. A man wrote a poem. A literary agent called. Off the proposal and two sample chapters, I am imagining an advance for my brother that exceeds the earnings of my entire literary career.
He deserves his success. He has not pandered nor prostituted nor compromised his vision. He believes the lesson of his story. They have to do with "grace" and "atonement" and being "saved." He has the good fortune that people happily welcome these truths into their homes. My own stories tend to center around emptiness and futility. Their characters tend to lead readers, like my favorite cousin, as recently as last week, to ask, "Robert, why do you write about such creeps?" My brother's success has led me to wonder how my genes can slide so far off kilter when I sit each morning at my desk.
I consider falling back through several decades and resume mocking him for being chubby -- but now he's got me for being four-eyed and bald.
Causes Bob Levin Supports
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, PEN, Berkeley Emergency Food & Housing Project.