Book review: In No Particular Order by Kevin Brennan

In No Particular Order, by Kevin Brennan, self-published, 178 pages

Even though I’m a huge introvert, I’m also hugely curious about other people’s lives. I glance into people’s windows when we walk the dog at night, wondering about their daily routines. Are they happy? Lonely? Do they ever wake up with their hearts pounding, worried that the days are passing too fast?

So when Kevin Brennan released In No Particular Order, a book of short essays gleaned from his popular What the Hell blog posts, I couldn’t wait to dive down deeper into the more hidden parts of Brennan’s live.

I read it on a warm and sunny Alaska day, while sitting out on the porch, the dog nestled against my side, birds singing, the neighbor’s lawn mower humming comfortably in the background. It’s the kind of book that demands that you make yourself comfortable, for reading it is much like stepping inside Brennan’s home, sitting across from him at the kitchen table and sharing pieces of your life.

As stated in the title, the nonfiction vignettes are arranged in no particular order, which gives the reading a more personalized flavor, as if we are going through Brennan’s old photographs: That’s the one with me and my dad; that’s from the summer I spent in London; that’s the time I flew to Russia with my woefully inadequate boots.

Brennan writes with gentle, self-depreciating humor, his voice steady, his prose sparse and clean. These are not so much micro-essays as short breaths of Brennan’s life. What I loved most was the sense of timelessness, how I felt as if I were dangling in the past (with his favorite happy uncle) and then, a few pages later, zoomed ahead twenty years or more (upgraded to the Burt Reynolds Suite while at a hotel with his wife) so that I started each new segment not sure where I’d go, what I’d find.

My only criticism is that I wish Brennan had gone deeper, unraveled a few more layers. Some of the pieces felt too safe, as if he were holding back, not sure if he should dive down and expose some of the messier and more painful truths that lie beneath all of our experiences.

Yet, there’s a calm beauty in these vignettes, a sense of reminiscing that makes it impossible not to look up every so often, lost in memories of your own high school days, your own romps with friends through back roads in four-wheel drive vehicles (and encountering toothless guys clutching shotguns), your own early relationships (perhaps with girlfriends/boyfriends that shoplifted) and all of the promises they once offered.

Reading In No Particular Order offers laugh-out-loud moments, along with the bittersweet realization that no matter how we order our memories, we can never truly return to our pasts.

My rating? 4.5 stars.

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