And even though the first sentence of the book reveals that at age 7, the first thing she stole was a book of baby names, which her dad made her return, it's still a bit shocking when it's divulged that she became a regular, systematic shoplifter during college. Acknowledging her method of stealing was "a little sociopathic," she addresses her dad directly, agreeing that it is similar to an out-of-body experience, as he'd claimed. The layers keep getting more dynamic.
The memoir is not purely reflective; it is also a researched deep dive. In addition to interviewing family and accessing records, she went places that weren’t practically necessary to go. For instance, trespassing alone into an abandoned Detroit school to stand where her father “stood at the beginning of his life, as a refugee just landed in a city about to crash down around him.”
And despite her purposeful avoidance of gambling due to her father's addiction to it, she wanted to see if she could "feel gambling for the fun it was supposed to be." So she played blackjack – Dad's game – at a casino. Perhaps a bit too much time is devoted to dissecting this addiction, though it's an interesting interpretation of why gamblers gamble. Brodak started to understand why the game had such a hold on her father; the "neatness of a complete escape" was not alien to what she'd experienced on the hospital bed after brain surgery, and to what she'd felt at the Amish farm where she was sent one summer. The "feeling of possibility compared with the insane secret confidence all of the players seemed to have that they were the ones who could outwit this unfair game, and that it could be this next spin/card/roll that might be the one to make up for all the others," became comprehensible to her.
About her adopted home, Brodak says Atlanta is “a city that really did rise again after being burned to the ground during the Civil War, a city whose seal I see imprinted on the trash bins I pass on my morning run, a seal that lays bare a phoenix face-on, rising from a bank of flames toward the word RESURGENS above.” It is a metaphor she can relate to. She, too, has rebuilt herself – if she “can just let ashes be ashes.”
"Bandit: A Daughter's Memoir"
By Molly Brodak
Black Cat/Grove Press
320 pages, $16.