Michael Patrick Brady


Behind the Moon | Madison Smartt Bell

June 8, 2017

My review of Behind the Moon by Madison Smartt Bell ran today in the Boston Globe.

An interesting premise undone by the book’s commitment to a “stream of unconsciousness.” I was very intrigued by the idea of someone getting lost inside the cave paintings of an ancient people, but Bell’s rendering of this surreal experience is more tedious than anything. I actually really enjoyed the more true-to-life chapters and how Bell depicted life in a small, run down South Dakota town. But eventually the two threads converge and the more grounded aspects of the narrative unravel. Bell took a risk, and in the end I don’t think it panned out.

Trying Out the Prudential Center’s Short Story Machine

May 27, 2017 | This past Friday, I stopped by the Prudential Center to test out the new Short Edition print-on-demand short story vending machine. The machine is the brainchild of a “French publishing start-up” and dispenses short stories of various lengths to mallgoers, free of charge. According to the Globe, there are 140 of these machines around the world, though only a handful in the U.S.

short edition machine

The machine is located just outside the central court of the Prudential Center, at the beginning of the corridor that leads to the Barnes & Noble. It’s fairly nondescript; if you didn’t know what it was you might mistake it for a hand-sanitizer dispenser – a more prominent location might be better, perhaps closer to the bookstore, surrounded by some seating, or in a high traffic area, like outside Eataly, where people could print out a story before heading in for dinner.

The machine offers stories in three lengths, based on the time it supposedly takes to read them – one, three and five minutes. I selected a five-minute story and the machine spat out a long, narrow strip of paper that looked a lot like a CVS receipt. It was a little unwieldy at first, but I was able to wrap it up into tight cylinder, which allowed me to read it sort of like a player piano roll. The story I received was titled “Puig,” written by Gérard Aigle and translated by Wendy Cross. All the stories are translated from French; Short Edition has yet to accept submissions from English-speaking writers. They’re also all available on the Short Edition website if you can’t get to the Prudential Center.

The print quality is fair, and while the translation seemed good, there were some copy editing issues. They didn’t replace the «guillemets» with quotation marks, for instance.

The story was a sweet, sad, first-person recollection of a youthful friendship in Barcelona (“Puig,” the name of the narrator’s friend, is Catalan for “mountain”). I liked it a lot. As advertised, it was a quick read, and made for a nice way to pass the time while I waited for my train at Back Bay Station. I’m curious about what it would be like to interact with the machine over time. What are the odds that I’d receive “Puig” again the next time I visit?

Right now, the Short Edition machine is a novelty — that’s part of it’s appeal, to be sure. But a story loaded into one of these machines has an opportunity to reach an audience that’s potentially wider and more diverse than the one that typically reads short fiction. It could also be a big opportunity for literary magazines looking for wider distribution or promotion. Given that Short Edition is short on English-language stories, an enterprising magazine might be able to strike a deal with them.

While my overall experience with the Short Edition machine was positive, there’s one loose end: What do I do with my copy of “Puig”? I was reluctant to just throw it away or recycle it. Perhaps the machine should have a recycling bin attached to it so you can feel like you’re giving back to the project and facilitating future print-outs? Or is there some way to leave a story behind for others to save the machine a print?


The Night Ocean | Paul La Farge

April 1, 2017


My review of Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean ran today in the Boston Globe.

Hey, how cool is this book cover? Really spectacular. Publishers Weekly has a story up about how the cover came to be, which features examples of rejected options and the one they ended up with was far and away the best.

The others are… I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I doubt I would’ve been inclined to pick up a book wrapped in this cover.

The Night Ocean is advertised as a mystery related to the life of H.P. Lovecraft, but it’s much much more than that. La Farge uses Lovecraft as a jumping off point to delve into some really interesting storytelling about R.H. Barlow, a tragic, real-life Lovecraft associate, and about the quirky personalities involved science fiction fandom during the 1930s and ’40s. At first, I wasn’t sure where La Farge was heading, but the deeper I got into his multiple, overlapping narratives, the more impressed I was.


The Eastern Shore | Ward Just

November 4, 2016

My review of Ward Just’s The Eastern Shore ran today in the Boston Globe. Unfortunately, the link is broken on the Globe website and it’s not accessible! (You can read the review here, for some reason.)

The book tells the story of a newspaper editor, from his defiant youth in a boring, Midwestern backwater to his lonely, isolated retirement on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Just uses the editor’s six-decade career to illustrate transformations within the newspaper industry and to, at times, seemingly scold journalists (or the profession itself) for an exaggerated sense of their own significance and the irresponsible use of their power.

A fine book — a brisk, entertaining read, though Just’s main character, Ned Ayers is something of a thin shadow throughout.


“Cecilia’s Flood” in CHEAP POP

September 28, 2016

I’m pleased to announce that CHEAP POP is featuring my (very, very) short story, “Cecilia’s Flood,” today. Though it’s small — about the same length as my previous flash piece, “Here, Hereafter” — I think it’s a lot of fun. I hope you do, too. Be sure to take a look around the site. There’s lots of great flash work. In particular, I really enjoyed Rachel Attias’s “Castaway” and J. Bradley’s “Evolution.”


Inherited Disorders | Adam Erhlich Sachs

May 4, 2016

My review of Adam Erhlich Sachs’s Inherited Disorders ran today in the Boston Globe.

This book was a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure 117 short flash pieces all focused on the same subject (father/son relationships) would hold my attention, but Sachs mixes things up enough to keep things interesting. That’s not to say he doesn’t repeat himself occasionally, but there’s enough humor and wit in the stories to give them each something to make the experience worthwhile. I was skeptical at first, but what won me over was when I laughed out loud at the invocation of the “Alligator Holocaust” in the story about the children’s book writer who reimagines his tyrannical father as an alligator. After that, I was willing to trust where Sachs was taking me.


Numero Zero | Umberto Eco

November 17, 2015

My review of Umberto Eco’s Numero Zero ran today in the Boston Globe.

As a huge Eco fan, I was a little disappointed by this book. It’s so short! And its scope is so narrow. I’m used to sprawling, historical epics that delve deep into arcane and obscure minutiae. That’s what I read Umberto Eco for. Numero Zero is a very concise story about a group of journalists who end up stumbling upon a supposed conspiracy centered around Mussolini; but that aspect of the story never really comes together. It feels more like Eco had a cute theory about Mussolini’s death and how it tied into (the very real conspiracy) Operation Gladio and decided to built a novella around it. It’s not very smoothly integrated into the story.

Much more interesting is the book’s initial focus, the creation and development of a fake newspaper, Domani, whose goal is to essentially blackmail Italy’s powerful movers-and-shakers into allowing the paper’s owner into the “inner sanctum” of Italian society.


After The Parade | Lori Ostlund

September 22, 2015

My review of Lori Ostlund’s After The Parade ran today in the Boston Globe.

I don’t like writing negative reviews. I try really hard to find something to like or admire in all the books I read, and I’m always mindful that the books I’m reviewing are the result of a lot of hard work, and time, and passion on the part of the author. Someday, I hope to publish my own work, and I try and put myself in the author’s shoes.

But I also don’t like it when I read a review that’s basically just a summary of the book and tiptoes around the fact that it’s flawed or has problems. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair to readers, who are going to invest their time and money in a book.

I do think there’s some value to negative reviews, even just as a benchmark. I can tell you what I don’t like about a book, and you might decide that maybe it’s actually something you would like. This isn’t an objective science, and the greater variety of opinions available, the better. The Goodreads page for After The Parade is full of people who got advance copies of the book and loved it. Maybe you’d be one of them. I like to check Goodreads every so often, just to gauge my own reactions to a book. In some cases, the reviews I read there can mellow my reaction, or maybe force me to reconsider my opinion before I commit it to newsprint. Honestly, though, more often than not, I find the reactions there to be a little too forgiving. Perhaps it’s a function of the NetGalley “free books in exchange for reviews” program.

After the Parade isn’t a complete disaster like, say, The Library at Mount Char. It just doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. Ostlund seems to mistake misery for meaningfulness and suffering for substance. It’s a torturous read, and does not reward the reader for their resilience.


The Library at Mount Char | Scott Hawkins

July 2, 2015

My review of Scott Hawkins’s The Library at Mount Char ran today in the Boston Globe.

This one started out promising, with some creepy H.P. Lovecraft/Stephen King vibes, but when you give your characters magic powers and don’t rein them in, or provide any kind of coherent system of boundaries and consequences, a plot can get real sloppy real fast. And while Scott Hawkins has a knack for creating some very imaginative, very macabre imagery, he has a lot of trouble crafting a solid, logical plot to hold it all together.

About a third of the way through the book, things go haywire, with the protagonist, Carolyn, resorting to increasingly irrational and convoluted means of manipulating those around her. And then two-thirds of the way through the book, Carolyn admits that it was all irrational and convoluted, but tries to convince us that it was actually part of a grander, brilliant plan that those around her were just too simple to comprehend. All in all, a real let down, and the review goes into more specifics on what a missed opportunity it is.


The Pinch | Steve Stern

June 26, 2015


My review of Steve Stern’s The Pinch: A Novel/A History ran today in the Boston Globe.

I’ve written before about how frustrating I find framing stories (that is, when the main story of a novel is introduced via a separate, ostensibly related story that sets it up). I think it’s a hard thing to pull off well. And in the last few books I’ve read that have utilized this device, it’s been more of an irritation than anything else.

The Pinch is a great example. It’s the story of Muni Pinsker, a Russian refugee who makes his home in the Pinch district of Memphis, Tennessee in 1911. And it’s a great story! Stern manages to create a narrative full of surreal, fantastical happenings and Yiddish folklore that is also sweet, funny, deeply affecting, and emotional. It’s smart and engrossing, and I was excited to see where it was headed and read along with Stern’s rich, lyrical prose. He’s a great prose stylist.

But rather than simply tell us the story of Muni Pinsker, Stern was compelled to couch that narrative in another one. It’s Lenny Sklarew that finds Muni’s memoir in a bookstore in 1968. And to get to Muni, we have to go through Lenny. And Lenny is awful. His story is banal, and he’s a boor. When writing for Lenny, Stern’s prose becomes leaden, and the momentum of the story grinds to a halt. The book alternates between Muni chapters and Lenny chapters, and I can’t stress enough how hard it was to push through the latter. Thankfully, Muni was worth it, but what a slog.

Of course, Stern wraps up Lenny’s story with a bunch of metafictional flim-flam, including two separate endings. Yes, Lenny gets two endings, to Muni’s one! Yet, I suspect that I could’ve skipped every bit of Lenny and not missed out on anything of importance.

But I can still recommend The Pinch. And I do recommend it. At least half of it.


Well, That Was Fun…
My Jeopardy! Experience

April 24, 2015

Is there some way I can make this animated GIF my business card?

I didn’t realize I was on camera when removing my glasses, but I like the effect. I’m nearsighted, but I usually only wear my glasses to drive at night. At the Jeopardy! audition, the first thing I asked was, “How far away is the board from the contestants?” At home, I’m able to answer quickly because I can read through the question quickly, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to do that on stage.

It turns out the board is fairly legible from the podiums, but I was still anxious enough about it that I left my glasses on during the game. I wanted to take them off for the photo with Alex Trebek, but he snuck up behind me before I could. At the end of the game, when I was sure that I won, I didn’t want them in the celebratory shot. Just a little game show vanity. And after the win, I was comfortable enough to leave them off in games two and three.


The morning of the taping, the other contestants and I gathered in the hotel lobby to wait for the shuttle to Sony Studios. Everyone was excited, and the mood was jovial. Then Alex Schraff, who I faced in my second game, arrived.

Alex had been at the previous day’s taping. He was supposed to play on that day, except Alex Jacob had swept all five games, and they won’t allow two people with the same name to face off against one another. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must have been for him.

Alex S. told us all about Alex J. That he was a six-day champion. That his buzzer timing was impeccable. That he’d won over $100,000 dollars. That he’d bet big on Daily Doubles and pull it off. The mood among the group darkened considerably. Interestingly, I didn’t even notice when Alex Jacob joined us—I didn’t see him until he got out of the shuttle at the studio. He was listening to his iPhone and was wearing a bright red shirt that he’d had to buy the night before. He’d run out of new outfits. The new shirt still had the creases in it from where it was folded for display.

On the ride over, I sat next to Rachel Pepe, who I faced in my first game. We talked about our training—both of us had used the J-Archive to study. Interestingly, though I’d spent an inordinate amount of time drilling myself on opera, U.S. presidents, and state and world capitals, only one question across my three games related to something I had learned from studying: that Sucre is one of the two capitals of Bolivia. So studying the J-Archive in the weeks before the show gave me just as much of an advantage as watching Animaniacs as a child did.

In Alex Jacob’s last game, he hit true a Daily Double with the answer “Blomfontein,” one of the three capitals of South Africa. That’s also something I had picked up from the J-Archive. When the question came up, Greg Seroka (who defeated me in my last game) and I both shook our heads because we knew Alex would get it. Nobody wanted to face him, and thankfully Todd Lovell took care of that for us.

On Stage

I was really unhappy with the categories in the first round of game one. Hodgepodge? Come on. That discomfort, along with general jitters, threw me off a bit. Thankfully, Todd and Rachel seemed to have just as much trouble as I did, and the first round was a bit of a bloodbath. Low scores all around.

But in the break between round one and Double Jeopardy, when I saw how close we all were still, it calmed me down. Also, the fact that my Jeopardy experience was (potentially) half over in what seemed to me like seconds helped me refocus. For whatever reason, I felt in that moment that I was going to win.

Daily Doubles

If you had asked me before the shows aired on TV how I had done with Daily Doubles, I would’ve told you I got more wrong than I got right. In my memory, I missed four or five, and hit maybe two or three. So imagine my surprise now, having seen the episodes, that I went four for eight. The speed of the games and the general excitement really make it hard to remember anything accurately.

I’d psyched myself up going in to bet big on Daily Doubles; everything I’d read said it was the right strategy, and obviously Alex Jacob was case in point. But when I got on stage and the scores were so close and the categories were so random seeming, I got conservative.

In Game 1, yes, I was thinking of The Usual Suspects when I said Quartet for the Skokie, Illinois company. It was a wild guess, and I had no expectation that it would be even close to correct. When I bet $2,001 on the Spanish Daily Double, I got the answer right (“Franco”), but the math wrong. I though the bet would give me just over twice Rachel’s score, but I was off.

In Game 2, my J-Archive studying worked against me on the Bach Daily Double. With the category, “Dedications,” I simply couldn’t dislodge The Goldberg Variations from my head, even though I knew they wanted a city. Alex Trebek was right to scold me for missing Brandenburg. Should’ve been a lay-up.

In Game 3, there was no hope for me on the “Nonfiction” Daily Double. Carl’s Jr. is just not something we have in Massachusetts. Thwarted by regionalism!

And I know my small bet on the “Calendars” Daily Double has been controversial on JBoard, but I have to stand by it. That category had been all over the place, and I didn’t feel comfortable going big and potentially knocking myself out of contention in Final Jeopardy. I had no reason to believe the Daily Double would be so easy. I decided I’d take my chances and hope the Final category was something that would give me an edge.

The Buzzer

I know it’s a Jeopardy! cliché, but the game really is all about the buzzer. What’s interesting is that the better a player gets at buzzing in, the worse the other players get. For example, when Greg Seroka got on that streak in round one of game three, my buzzer skills deteriorated. Because instead of trying to time my buzzing to Alex’s voice, or the light that tells you it’s alright to buzz in, I started trying to beat Greg at buzzing. So of course, I ended up ringing in too early and getting locked out. Thankfully, I was able to break out of that in Double Jeopardy and get back into play. Alex S. and Ashley Alley basically told me the same thing happened to them during game two, when I got on a streak.

Occasionally, I found myself trying to win the buzzer game and forgetting that I was in a trivia game. At least once, maybe twice, I was excited to have successfully rung in, only to realize I had no answer.

If you ever wondered what players are talking about in the silent chat with Alex that happens beneath the closing credits of the show, they’re talking about the buzzer.

The Categories

Beyond the first round game-one categories, which were dismal, I was disappointed I didn’t get to show off all the great things I’d learned about opera. There weren’t a lot of classic Jeopardy! categories to contend with, and frankly, I think a category like “Airports” is just really lame. But then again, I was blessed to be offered up some real comfortable ones, too: Authors: Born & Died; Plays & Playwrights; Irish Songs; Maps; I’m All About That Bassist. I’ll never get over Greg denying me the chance to run a full category by swooping in and stealing “Spinal Tap!”

Final Jeopardy

I won’t spend much time on game one. The clue was straightforward and the bet was basically predetermined by Rachel’s score.

In game two, I had a lock game already, and was actually disappointed that American Poetry was the category because I know I’m strong on it and would’ve rather had it turn up in a competitive game where I needed it. I could’ve bet $3,999 safely, but my conservative nature took over. $3,999 in the hand is worth an extra $3,999 in the bush. Rather than risk losing $3,999, I bet a buck and moved on.

Game three, I also thought this bet was pretty straightforward, but some people seem confused. Basically, I knew that in order to win, Greg had to get the question wrong. If he got it right, he had enough money to cover me if I bet everything. He had to make that bet. And if he got it wrong, I didn’t really need to do anything, because his bet to cover me would lose him enough money that I’d be on top. So I bet a little just in case he got skittish about the category, but not enough to put me in danger of missing if he lost. The J-Archive wagering calculator basically predicts our bets, based off of our scores at that time.

Maybe you wouldn’t have done it that way. At the time, it’s what felt right.

The Experience

The best part of the whole thing (aside from the money and the minor fame) was how nice everyone was. The other contestants were so great, and everyone is so excited to be there. It takes a lot just to get on the show; it’s an achievement in and of itself. And while it’s great to win, it’s hard knowing that two other people are going home disappointed. The contestant coordinators and the rest of the staff on Jeopardy! were incredible, and really made you feel like you were part of something special. And Alex Trebek was incredibly friendly and approachable. It was fun to see him interact with the audience during the commercial breaks, too.

In the first game, you can see I’m nervous. But after I won, I loosened up so much. You can see how much fun I’m having in the second game. And when I lost to Greg, I wasn’t even upset. He played a great game, and I’d kept it competitive. I was happy for Greg! He just got to fulfill his dream, just like I had. I was thrilled that I’d gotten all three Final Jeopardy clues correct—it was probably my biggest concern going in. As I left the stage, I shook Alex’s hand and told him that the whole thing had been a dream come true. It really was.

Post Script: The Accent

This is a subject I’ve addressed in another post, “Regarding the Accent.” Most people have been very kind about it, and a few are suspicious of how genuine my way of speaking is. I can only assure you that it is, and hope that the contents of the other post can serve to put it in the proper context. And anyway, who would fake such a thing? I’m not sure what advantage it would provide. I mean, in the Vine below, I think it’s clear that I was just speaking off the top of my head. I was getting ready to clarify myself, cause Alex’s confusion was so apparent.

I was glad that Alex seemed to enjoy it, and I don’t mind a little gentle ribbing. I like my accent, weird as it may be.


Regarding the Accent

April 23, 2015


The accent is not fake, but I understand why people think it’s weird. It’s definitely spotty.

I’m originally from Dorchester, and grew up with a pretty traditional Boston accent. Occasionally I’d get teased by non-accented peers in school about the way I pronounced certain things, but not a lot, because pretty much everybody in the area is familiar with the Boston accent.

But when I went to college (still in Boston, mind you!) I mixed with a lot of people from other places who simply could not understand what I was saying. Or, when they could, couldn’t keep a straight face. If I wanted to get through a sentence without having to stop and wait for everybody to have a good laugh about it, I had to adjust and over articulate. This was not entirely a conscious thing. There’s actually a linguistic term for this process.

What’s funny is, I would come home from school and my parents would then say I sounded strange. But my friends at school always knew when I’d just been at home, because my accent would be stronger when I returned.

So a lot of the time my accent is subtle or maybe not immediately obvious. But I never lost the classic non-rhoticity (the dropped Rs) and the combination and contrast between the the moments when you can’t tell and the moments when you can make it seem very harsh and jarring.

My accent is most prominent, I find, when I’m not thinking about what I’m saying. And in Jeopardy, the game moves so fast and you’re concentrating on buzzing in and thinking up the right response–there really isn’t time to think about how you’re saying it. Which is also probably why you hear it more in the answers than in the interview portion.

Basically, as I got older and had to interact more and more with people who didn’t have a Boston accent, in school and in my professional life, my own speech drifted simply because I needed to communicate with them more clearly.

So, if anything, if any part of my accent is “fake,” it’s the part that sounds like it isn’t from Boston.


Watch Me on Jeopardy!, April 21st, 2015

April 11, 2015

Me and Alex

It’s true, I’ll be realizing a lifelong dream on Tuesday, April 21st. Check your local listings. I’ll probably follow up with a write-up about the whole experience once it airs, and maybe I’ll do some live tweeting to make excuses for certain incorrect responses.


Find Me | Laura van den Berg

February 17, 2015


My review of Find Me by Laura van den Berg appeared today in the Boston Globe.

Last year, when I was trying to psych myself up to write some fiction, I picked up a few lit mags from the Harvard Book Store. I was looking for inspiration–by which I mean I was hoping to find stories that were kind of lame and underwhelming, to make writing and getting a short story published seem like an attainable goal.

Unfortunately, the very first story I read was Laura van den Berg’s “Antarctica,” from Glimmer Train #88. (The story also appears in her collection The Isle of Youth.) It was way too good; so when I saw that she had a novel coming out this winter, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Find Me is a little bit of a bait-and-switch. Promoted as a story about a devastating pandemic, it is, in fact, a very subtle exploration of a troubled woman’s inner turmoil. Van den Berg spends the first third of the book setting up a rather scary and ominous scenario in a remote quarantine hospital, with hints of menace that echo the unease and mystery that made “Antarctica” so engaging. But despite what seems like a long buildup toward a conflict between the stir-crazy patients and the controlling staff, this story line peters out, and the protagonist, Joy Jones, slips away to take up the book’s real main thread: the search for her long lost biological mother.

I’ll admit, this development bummed me out. I’d gotten really invested in the detailed world of the hospital van den Berg had created, and to see it dismissed so quickly seemed like a real shame. And that disappointment made it hard for me to really latch on to Joy’s cross-country travels, or her time spent in the kooky “Mansion.” But after a few days away from the book, I began to appreciate the whole of the story, and the connections between the disparate sections started to become more apparent.

Basically, once I got over that Find Me wasn’t what I thought it should be, I was able to appreciate it for what it actually was.