Big Bad Love

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Most of the stories in BIG BAD LOVE describe the rowdy, self-destructive antics of good old boys who ride around in pickup trucks listening to Country Western music and drinking Old Milwaukee beer out of the can. The longest selection, “92 Days,” is about a self-taught writer who is struggling to sell a story before his wife has him put in jail for nonpayment of child support. In “The Apprentice” it is the wife who has been bitten by the writing bug and the husband who suffers neglect. In the title story, “Big Bad Love,” a marriage collapses because both spouses are looking for happiness outside the home. Brown’s female characters, as in “Falling Out of Love” and “Wild Thing,” tend to be the types who wear tight jeans and hang out in bars: They have learned not to expect much of men, so they are seldom disappointed. Evidently the modern plague of alienation has spread from the cities to the smallest hamlets.

Like many contemporary fiction writers, Brown often sounds despairing. This is an occupational hazard in a profession that, according to John Steinbeck, “makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” However, Brown’s writing has a unique undertone of resilience and good humor reminiscent of the early William Saroyan and even the great Mark Twain. The reader is half-persuaded that this newcomer might really succeed against the odds. Brown is still in the autobiographical, self-discovery stage of his career; whether he can achieve literary distinction depends on many things, including luck, persistence, and longevity.

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Brown presents his protagonist here as a hopeful fatalist. Leroy’s inability to change his condition in life is marked and poignant in that the character often declares hopeful wishes. He considers events that would help him to find a happier existence and these thoughts are very funny—in the same way that jokes are funny because they hurt. The protagonist is symbolized by traits of the rabbits that he mentions. He is running from his bad love relationship, just as the rabbit is running from the cats that will eventually kill it. In the bar, Leroy plays pool with three women but leaves when bigger and more burly men enter the bar. Then he drives his truck on backroads to avoid run-ins with the police, running and hiding again from those who would do him harm. Leroy is not cowardly, though, any more than a rabbit running from cats is cowardly. It is his position in life to be weak and timid. Leroy is living as well as he can, accepting his fate and drinking to relieve the pain inherent to the human condition.

Brown’s ear for authentic dialogue is an asset to this story. His use of language is in the tradition of the deep South, genuine and honest, though no intensely obscure dialect or vernacular appears. Instead, the story is short and the style is quick and handy, easily readable and understood, and the turns of phrase and situations presented are mostly clear and funny. This is not written in an exceedingly wordy or old-world literary style; it is written as ordinary people speak and perhaps as they think.