Still Life With Brass Pole by Craig Machen was sent to me for review by the author. I read it on my Sony Reader while traveling last month. The views expressed below are my own.

About the Book:

Still Life with Brass Pole by Craig Machen (cover)“Dean is driving the Porsche. In the passenger seat, I am drunk, coked to the gills, stoned and completely at ease. The car belongs to my dad, and so does Dean, figuratively speaking. He is Dad’s lover.”

So begins Still Life With Brass Pole. From these attention-grabbing first lines, the memoir works its way through Machen’s early life: his repeated problems with drugs and alcohol, his jobs at strip clubs and his relationships with said clubs’ female employees, his foray into steroids and bodybuilding, his conflicts with his mother’s much younger new husband, and his occasional struggles to turn his life right-side up. When the story leaves us, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has at last come into sight.

My Thoughts:

Some of you are probably thinking that Still Life With Brass Pole does not sound like the sort of book I tend to read. And you’re right, it’s not. Though I enjoy memoirs, I often find it difficult to read about topics like drug addiction and sexual escapades. So, I surprised myself a bit when I accepted Craig Machen’s memoir for review. It took me a bit outside of my usual comfort zone, but it’s not an excursion I regret making in any way.

Machen writes candidly, seeming to hold nothing back. In most places his words flow easily, and aside from a few rough patches that could have used some editing, I often found myself enjoying his prose. I appreciated how Machen’s narration seems free from regret, ulterior motives, or moralizing; instead, he writes in a way that gave me the impression he is tracing his own journey as he recalls it, leaving judgements and undue drama aside. This tone soon put me at ease and won my trust. As a character, Machen is the likable sort you hope will succeed, despite his misguided ways. As a narrator, he is the kind of voice you warm up to quickly and follow willingly.

We know from the beginning where the story will end up: Machen does, indeed, succeed in turning his life around, as evidenced in part by his long career as a writer in Hollywood. Still Life With Brass Pole, then, sheds light on the path he walked before the change occurred. It is because of this, perhaps–this knowledge that the story has a happy ending–that I was able to read Machen’s story without much of my usual reserve. That, coupled with the author’s straightforward, friendly tone, made Still Life With Brass Pole a much more comfortable read than it might otherwise have been for me.

That is not to say I would recommend this book to everyone. If you have issues with drugs, alcohol, addiction, sex, abuse, and/or strong language in books, I would caution you that Machen’s memoir contains all of those. However, I can also say that I found it rather more accessible than I had expected, and I think there are plenty of readers out there who would enjoy Still Life With Brass Pole very much.

Those are my thoughts. Check out Still Life With Brass Pole on Goodreads or LibraryThing, or read other bloggers’ reviews:

If I missed your review, please let me know and I’ll add a link!

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21 Comments

    1. Thanks! I was really impressed by the way Machen’s tone and personality offset the tougher aspects of the book.

  1. Nice review of an interesting book, Erin! It looks like Machen has put his screenplay writing skills to work and created an interesting memoir. I love that cover picture.

    1. He definitely has, Vishy! Isn’t the cover striking? That, paired with the cover, make for a very intriguing book, in my opinion!

  2. I really enjoy memoirs, and haven’t read one like this before. I think that it sounds interesting, and I wonder at whether or not I would be offended by all that he has to say, or just let it wash over me and look towards the future and his reformation. It does sound interesting though, and so I will be thinking about it. I enjoyed your open-minded and thoughtful review!

    1. I found I wasn’t at all offended, which surprised me to some extent. But, there is a lot in there, and I’d hate to recommend a book that was a complete turn-off to a reader. If you do find you’re ever in the mood to try such a memoir, though, I think Machen’s is a good place to start.

  3. “This tone soon put me at ease and won my trust.”

    Doesn’t that just make all the difference! This sounds very interesting: I can understand why you persisted even though it’s not a book you’d have reached for under other circumstances.

    1. It absolutely does! I’ve never experienced it quite to the extent that I did with this book. It got me through a book that I might otherwise have struggled with.

    1. Yes, it definitely was outside my comfort zone! A worthwhile foray, though. With a title (and cover) like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued?

    1. It really worked for me, despite a couple of places where the writing wasn’t completely polished. I was surprised, actually, how well it worked for me. If you do go back to it, I hope it works out for you!

  4. I was thinking that this sounded unlike your usual reads but it is good to read “outside the box” every so often. I personally enjoy reading about people’s lives that are wildly different from my own, and this seems like it would fit the bill.

    1. Ha, you know me too well! I love when steps outside the box result in positive experiences, since it makes me more likely to repeat the experiment. And I’d venture to say Machen’s life is rather different from yours, so perhaps you’d enjoy this one!

  5. Any person who accepts that life throws us struggles and curves, that shape our life’s course: definitely read this book. Sometimes in spite of the curves, or because of them, people reach ever higher towards the light. Every reader can’t help but applaud this author, because he held his breath, swam & found the light. I found the book,in spite of the settings inspring.

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