Bandit, a Daughter’s Memoir is such an exceptional memoir that I’m not sure I can do it justice.
Memory comes back to us in bits and pieces, discordant vignettes that we try to stitch into a narrative that makes sense. Poet Molly Brodak spills all she has about her family history and her place in this narrative, beginning with the first thing she had stolen as a child — a book of baby names — that her father made her return. Ironic, when you consider that a few years later he started robbing banks.
Then, she gives us the bare facts:
Dad robbed banks one summer.
He robbed the Community Choice Credit Union on 13 Mile in Warren.
He robbed the Warren Bank on 19 Mile.
He robbed the NBD Bank in Madison Heights.
He robbed the NBD Bank in Utica.
He robbed the TCF Bank on 10 Mile in Warren.
He robbed the TCF Bank on 14 Mile in Clawson…
He robbed the Credit Union One on 15 Mile in Sterling Heights…
In all, eleven Michigan banks to cover his gambling debts. Molly was 13 years old. Branded the Mario Bros. Bandit by the FBI, he went to prison for seven years. Several years after his release, he robbed again and returned to prison.
How does a daughter make sense of such a father’s trespasses, not only against society, but against his family, too?
Molly examines everything — the raucous fights between her parents, their courtship (he had, at the time, another wife and child), marriage, divorce, remarriage and divorce, family photos, trial transcripts, newspaper accounts, psychologists, her father’s lies, his letters from prison, the meaning of money, family, truthfulness and compulsive lying.
She steals to prove to herself that you don’t have to become addicted to stealing. She tries her hand at casino gambling in an attempt to understand the compulsion. She visits his church, St. Albertus, the oldest church in Detroit. His school is abandoned and boarded up like a secret, but she climbs inside, wanting to imagine her immigrant father as a boy:
My mouth hung dumbly and I started to cry. The peeling colors and light of the room, the flowered curtain and the darkness, the piles of plaster powder, the good wood, the still air. It was beautiful in a way I recognized in the oldest part of me. I felt like I was seeing something true for once… My dad, as a child, scared and silent, packed in with the other refugees, looked up at this ceiling and thought about the future, this future I am in now. I was pinned to the spot by this useless beauty…
Impossible to know
In her search to understand him and his life, and how she fits in his narrative, she realizes she cannot. She wants to believe that prison has changed him, but “in a sociopath, what looks like maturity is often just a more sophisticated set of skills in manipulation.” It’s not easy to reconcile with an unknowable father who may not be able to comprehend the damage he’s left in his wake. With that, she realizes she can only let the facts speak for themselves while she attempts to live her own life as honestly as she can.
Her memoir gives us crumbling, detailed snapshots of her life and family, along with her probing, introspective and illuminating perspective. Bandit, A Daughter’s Memoir is heartbreaking and absolutely riveting.
Bandit, A Daughter’s Memoir is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle, and in bookstores. ISBN-13: 978-0802125637. Published by Grove Press, Black Cat.
Molly Brodak is from Michigan and currently lives in Atlanta. Her poems have recently appeared in Field, The Kenyon Review, Ninth Letter, and Colorado Review. Her first book of poetry, A Little of the Night, won the Iowa Poetry Prize.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, award winning women’s fiction about one woman’s need to tell her story without shame.
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 USA Book News ‘Best Book’ Finalist
“…at once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters