Book Review – Sister Maple Syrup Eyes by Ian Brennan

The Reverberations of Sexual Assault in the Story of One Man

THIS BOOK CONTAINS GRAPHIC SCENES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.

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In the preface to Sister Maple Syrup Eyes, which will be released in September, 2015, author Ian Brennan briefly shares his experiences as the partner of a woman who was raped. He goes on to explain that the purpose of his book is to examine the toll sexual assault takes on the partner of a woman who was raped, and he clearly states that he does not mean to equate the impact of sexual assault on the primary victim with the impact sexual assault has on the people who love the primary victim. Those caveats aside, Mr. Brennan should be applauded for taking on a topic this controversial.

Told in short snippets of scenes – almost short poems, we learn the story of Kristian and Dawn. They’re both damaged in their own ways – in fact, they first meet at a hospital after Dawn has been beaten by her boyfriend and Kristian is the nurse who cares for her. Kristian cares for her as a nurse and then as a person and winds up taking her home with him. The first third of the story is a poetic, haunting description of falling in love, devotion,  and what it feels like to find the person you think you’re meant to be with. As the relationship progresses, they have a child, Jo.

The scenes gradually change – the couple’s child is terminally ill, there is addiction. Ruptures appear in what seemed like the perfect relationship.

When Dawn is sexually assaulted by someone both she and Kristian know, by someone that Kristian has introduced her to, the relationship begins to fall apart. How does a couple deal with a sexual assault and a daughter dying of leukemia simultaneously? Brennan writes:

syrup 1

Kristian becomes adrift, especially after his daughter dies. Dawn has moved on from the relationship, be he cannot. He flees from the emotional by trying to understand the rape intellectually, and his preoccupation grows. He recounts a series of incidents involving rape – the rape of other women he’s known, the reactions of strangers to rape scenes in movie theaters, the prevalence of rape generally. It is clear that sexual assault preoccupies him and has become both the greatest heartbreak in his life and his reason for existing. He is consumed and obsessed both with the loss of his relationship with Dawn and with the violence that he blames for it.  The novella ends with another brief scene in which he seems adrift and no longer able to find his place in the world.

In one of the last references to Dawn, Kristian contemplates her loss:

syrup 2

This is a deeply affecting work that expresses love and loss powerfully and with an almost unbearable sadness. There are no answers here – merely passing scenes of a man’s life falling apart as he longs for what he had and lost. Issues of caretaking, codependency, and responsibility are not explored. They are perhaps implied, but this is a work more concerned with description than with introspection. It is uncommonly good at that- the short chapters are momentary glimpses into the lives of two people, and yet the images Brennan conjures are haunting and stay with the reader long after the reading is done. Sister Maple Syrup Eyes is a beautiful book. Achingly beautiful. What it tells us about the facts and figures of sexual assault rape is slight and what it has to say about the inner life of the rape victim is almost non-existent. And yet, in the story of one man’s reaction to sexual assault, Sister Maple Syrup Eyes may say volumes about the profound impact that sexual violence has on all of us, even those who have never experienced it first hand.

About Ian Brennan

ian brennanIan Brennan is a GRAMMY-winning producer with three GRAMMY-nominated records (Best World Music- 2011, Best Traditional Folk-2006 and 2007).

In the studio, he has worked with the likes of Kyp Malone & Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio), Flea, Tinariwen, Lucinda Williams, David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Nels Cline (Wilco), DJ Bonebrake & John Doe (X, the Knitters), Jovanotti, Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Bill Frisell, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jonathan Richman, Richard Thompson, and more. He has produced live-shows of up to 15,000 people in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington (DC), Portland (OR), Tucson, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Boston with artists as diverse as Green Day, Fugazi, Merle Haggard, film-maker John Waters, Kris Kristofferson, Tammy Faye, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Vic Chesnutt, Peaches, and the Vienna Boys Choir.

His benefit concerts have raised over $100,000 for local charities and political causes. Additionally, he created the “Live Nude Bands” benefit game-show, hosted a weekly free performance in a San Francisco laundromat for five straight years that resulted in three “Unscrubbed” CD compilations, wrote a local-music column for ZERO magazine from 1998-2001, directed the weekly cable-access show “Squawk” documenting the Bay Area arts community, created the first “Boxing Bush” online video-game, spearheaded the “MIllion Band March” (protesting misuse of artist’s living-spaces by developers), booked the music for “Food Not Bombs” 20th anniversary free-show in Dolores Park, was instrumental in pioneering the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur as a music-venue by bringing the first national touring acts there in 2001 (Loudon Wainwright III, Jello Biafra, et al), and had a recurring monthly guest-appearance for years on Derk Richardson’s “Here and Now” program on public-radio giant, KPFA. Also, he released nine solo albums, beginning in the pre-historic, vinyl-only days of 1987. A published poet (the “Fineline Thunder” anthology and Agape Magazine), he is the author of the books “Anger Antidotes: How Not to Lose Your S#&!” (2011) and Hate-less: How to make friends with a f&#!ed up world (2014).

He was born in Oakland, CA and raised in the far east-bay.

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