Blake Butler and Molly Brodak instantly connected, fell in love, married and built a life together. Both writers with deep roots in contemporary American literature, their union was an iconic joining of forces between two major and beloved talents. Nearly three years into their marriage, grappling with mental illness and a lifetime of trauma, Molly took her own life. In the days and weeks after Molly's death, Blake discovered shocking secrets she had held back from the world, fundamentally altering his view of their relationship and who she was.
A terrifyingly intense and eerily spiritual book ... On the most superficial level, Molly’s story is an interesting one. But Butler’s talent as a writer makes this book into more than grisly fascination. Molly forces its reader to look deeply into the well of intergenerational trauma, neglect and, most of all, responsibility — the artist’s responsibility to art and themselves, our responsibility to one another as human beings ... Brisk, bracing, and brutal ... Butler’s prose, coupled with the disturbing but necessary questions he raises, makes it the best book I’ve read this year.
Butler recounts, with horrifying immediacy, the horrifying immediacy of dealing with an abrupt and violent death, of being thrust, in a moment, into the chasm between the crowded world of the living—where procedures must be followed, questions answered, phone calls made—and the too-private, upside-down world of loss ... Gender operates in a fascinating way in Molly, as Butler, sensitized to the many pitfalls of male power, compensates for it to a fault ... One of the saddest strains of this powerfully sad book involves the decline of Butler’s parents, who each come to suffer from dementia; he is particularly close to his mother and, after she is widowed, becomes her primary caretaker. Molly, wary of Butler’s family bonds, tends to pull away when he is most in need of her. 'We didn’t need anybody but ourselves, I started thinking,' Butler writes. That’s never true, but no one seems to be around to tell him so ... You can feel the flayed rawness of Butler’s quest; he seems, at times, to be writing from the emotional equivalent of hurricane conditions, skipping a word, repeating a phrase, sending long, lashing sentences into the wind. His new clarity can be profoundly painful ... That is a poisoned kind of sense-making, and one way to parse the worst of Molly’s behavior is as a grim attempt to prove her point by making herself indisputably irredeemable. But Butler does dispute it; his book is his proof. 'Stay alive,' Molly told Butler, and that is what he wants the rest of us to do, too. Writers are often praised as 'fearless,' but Butler is not. In Molly, he makes fear his companion. That is the only way to write, and to live.
A resurrection animated by loss and its affects, from shock to grief, anger to guilt. As a text, it is promiscuously digressive, polyvocal, and sort of messy, calling on those who encounter it to ask: How should a grief memoir be? ... I’ve tried to meet it first as a text, which is to say, as a knot of language I am, at least in part, tasked with undoing. But I also respect its work as the testament of a fellow sufferer, someone whose dignity and grief should and must command my attention ... Molly isn’t, and could never be, the “truth” of Molly Brodak. It’s Butler’s truth: one among many ... Brodak’s story leaks beyond the bounds of Molly.