Braver, Adam 1963-
Braver, Adam 1963-
Born 1963, in Berkeley, CA. Education: Graduate of Norwich University; Goddard College, M.F.A.
Writer and educator. Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI, associate professor.
Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
Divine Sarah, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
Crows over the Wheatfield, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Cimarron Review, Daedalus, Ontario Review, Water-Stone Review, and Post Road.
Adam Braver was born in Berkeley, California, spent his teen years in Sacramento, where he played in several bands, then relocated to San Francisco. He attended a number of colleges before graduating from Norwich University in Vermont, while maintaining his California residency. He left San Francisco in 2001, when he moved to North Carolina, then to New England, to teach. When he began to write, Braver chose to create short stories. He began conceptualizing Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories in response to the culture of celebrity that dominated the latter half of the 1990s.
In an interview with Jackson Griffith on the Sacramento News & Reviews Web site, Braver said: "The real thing I was interested in, even more than Lincoln, was this idea of celebrity and this mythology of celebrity. And that's really what started this whole thing. And I chose Lincoln—I wanted to write about several different people—so I started off with Lincoln, mostly because I had some interest in him as a kid, so I was always a little bit fascinated by him."
Braver put those stories aside, but when he was approached by Cimarron Review he submitted them, which led to an offer from William Morrow. The resulting book is Mr. Lincoln's Wars. Griffith noted that this was a gutsy move on Braver's part, considering the number of volumes that have been written on Lincoln, particularly Gore Vidal's biographical novel. "By approaching his subject matter for the most part obliquely," commented Griffith, "through the eyes and experiences of other people, Braver was able to make it work."
The stories are written in contemporary language. "No folksy humor or homespun anecdotes lighten Braver's multifaceted portrait of a president tormented by the burdens of war and weighted down with responsibility," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the Lincoln of Braver's stories "mostly stripped down and humanized: ‘He sat in his second-floor office outlined in blue moonlight, kicking his feet high up against the wall, no shoes, just white socks with brown rings around the heels.’"
Braver told Griffith: "I wanted to write the book in a very contemporary voice, partly because that's my writing sensibility. But also, I thought that if it was a voice that was familiar—not only just the words, but the tone, the rhythms of the sentences—it would locate a reader much more quickly. People would identify with the characters in a much easier way, instead of having that wall that history very often gives us in removing you into another time."
The book opens with Lincoln and his wife grieving the death of their twelve-year-old Willie. Booklist reviewer Kaite Mediatore commented that Mary Todd Lincoln "is a well-drawn and believable character." She is later seen visiting a hospital where she comforts a young soldier and emotionally spent following her husband's assassination. In other stories, a commanding officer ridicules his men, a man enlists to escape from his family and retarded younger brother, a young widow seduces the man who brings her news that her sadistic husband has been killed, and a man who has lost a son approaches Lincoln in Central Park as he makes a speech.
Pat MacEnulty reviewed Mr. Lincoln's Wars for Sun-Sentinel.com, calling "On to the Next Field" "one of the most moving stories." In visiting a battle site, Lincoln comes upon a young man whose leg is to be amputated and holds his hand as he loses the leg. Lincoln himself is seen dulling his own pain with morphine.
In "Crybaby Jack's Theory," a drunk suffering a hangover has a premonition about the fateful day that the president will be killed and tries to warn the White House. Chris Bohjalian noted in the Washington Post Book World that "the absolute impossibility of Jack's convincing anyone that Lincoln is in danger is rendered with wondrous irony, but what makes the story soar is Jack's decidedly unsubtle opinions about everything." Bohjalian wrote that Braver "has produced a collection that is generally satisfying. I did not discover in here a new Lincoln, but more times than not I did find myself fascinated by the people Braver has created to surround him."
The longest section, the ninety-two page novella titled "The Necropsy," portrays John Wilkes Booth envisioning himself as the leading player in his killing of Lincoln, which he perceives to be a play. William Ferguson noted in the New York Times Book Review that this book is not, however, "primarily about other men's egos, but about a president consumed by sorrow—for family, country, and self." Some stories are a reflection of the racism of the period, and the final story is set early in the Lincolns' marriage.
MacEnulty wrote that Braver "brings the sensibility of our own times to these characters and events, which is one of the strengths of the book. Readers can inhabit this world because of the familiar manner in which the author has cast it. And yet the stories still retain a feel of authenticity." MacEnulty called the collection "powerful … offering insight into an important epoch in American history and doing so in an artful and original style." The reviewer noted that each story can stand alone, but together "create a memorable picture that engenders a deeper understanding than a factual history can provide."
The author fictionalizes the life of another historic figure in his next novel, titled Divine Sarah. This time, Braver explores the life of renowned nineteenth-century actress Sarah Bernhardt. Chronicling the end of her career, the author writes of Bernhardt's opium addiction and her efforts to recapture the glory of her prime even as she performs at the age of seventy-six with a prosthetic leg. "Braver has produced a gracefully inspired story about the unavoidable effects of age on fame," wrote a reviewer of Divine Sarah in Publishers Weekly. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "a journey into the heart of acting that's ever entertaining."
For his third novel, Crows over the Wheatfield, Braver focuses on an entirely fictional character named Claire Andrews. A university professor whose expertise is the artist Vincent van Gogh, Claire accidentally runs over and kills a young boy. While the boy's family sues for wrongful death and Claire must deal with her own sense of guilt, she is made even more distraught by the reactions of others. Nevertheless, her ex-husband shows kindness and care as Claire immerses herself in the last days of van Gogh while he was painting "Crows over the Wheatfield." "This eloquent, beautifully structured novel is an exploration of how the past can reach into the present and shape the morality of indecision, and how certain ties can bind together art and fate and the limitations of chance," wrote Michael Leonard on the Curled up with a Good Book Web site. In a review on the Phoenix Web site, Bill Rodriguez wrote: "The novelist skillfully eases and tightens the tension, adjusting the pace of unfolding events and the ebb and flow of Claire's inner turmoil."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 2002, Kaite Mediatore, review of Mr. Lincoln's Wars: A Novel in Thirteen Stories, p. 731; July 1, 2004, Carol Haggas, review of Divine Sarah, p. 1815.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of Mr. Lincoln's Wars, p. 1547; April 15, 2004, review of Divine Sarah, p. 344; April 15, 2006, review of Crows over the Wheatfield, p. 365.
New York Times, January 16, 2003, Janet Maslin, review of Mr. Lincoln's Wars, p. E12.
New York Times Book Review, William Ferguson, review of Mr. Lincoln's Wars, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, December 9, 2002, review of Mr. Lincoln's Wars, p. 59; June 14, 2004, review of Divine Sarah, p. 44; April 10, 2006, review of Crows over the Wheatfield, p. 45.
Washington Post Book World, February 9, 2003, Chris Bohjalian, review of Mr. Lincoln's Wars, p. 10.
Adam Braver Home Page,http://www.adambraver.com (December 16, 2003).
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (August 2, 2007), Marie Hashima Lofton, review of Divine Sarah.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (August 2, 2007), Deborah Straw, review of Divine Sarah; Michael Leonard, review of Crows over the Wheatfield.
Phoenix,http://thephoenix.com/ (June 27, 2006), Bill Rodriguez, review of Crows over the Wheatfield.
Sacramento News & Reviews,http://www.newsreview.com/issues/sacto/ (February 13, 2002), Jackson Griffith, "Beyond Capitol Avenue," interview with author.
Sun-Sentinel.com,http://www.sun-sentinel.com/ (February 2, 2003), Pat MacEnulty, review of Mr. Lincoln's Wars.