100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared

By LaHood, Marvin J. | World Literature Today, September/October 2013 | Go to article overview

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared


LaHood, Marvin J., World Literature Today


Kim Stafford. 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared. San Antonio, Texas. Trinity University Press. 2012. isbn 9781595341365

Kim Stafford's moving memoir of loss and guilt about the suicide of his beloved brother, Bret, at age forty is brilliantly conceived and fascinat- ingly written. Told in small chunks of narrative anecdotes, it becomes both an exhaustive catalog of memories of the brothers' shared moments of intimacy and isolation and a valiant attempt to understand the talented Bret's descent into darkness.

They were the oldest children (two sisters followed) of two teach- ers-the father, William Stafford, a celebrated poet and professor; the mother, a successful elementary school teacher. Kim, an author and professor, followed his father to a career at Lewis & Clark College, while Bret, the oldest, went from job to job, place to place, a devoted pacifist, but never found the niche that would have grounded him, settled him down in the turbulent era in which he lived (1948-88). His altruism was summed up in his words, "I work for the future. ... I work for a genera- tion beyond us," but he never could put his thoughts and actions togeth- er enough to give him the satisfac- tion and fulfillment that would have saved him. "He lost job, house, and happiness-and then he went into personal darkness, stopped sleeping, became immune to consolation, and took his life."

The brothers, from infancy on, were extraordinarily close. At night, from their side-by-side beds, they would chant their blessing poem, "Good night / God bless you / Have sweet dreams / See you tomorrow." Kim observes, "We shared a room and a life as almost twins." But long after Bret's death, a friend of their father recalls Williams saying, "I love all my children, but there is one who is myself-and that's Kim"; readers also discover another clue into at least one aspect of the suicide: "My brother grew up in a house where he was not the son presumed by our father to inherit the kingdom. …

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