Ever since his first self-published book came out, Jeffrey Brown has developed a reputation of being a chronicler of his own bittersweet experiences with romance and growing up. So what exactly does his latest autobiographical effort have to offer the reader? Unlike Clumsy and Unlikely, Funny Misshapen Body concentrates on Brown's overall artistic growth, with frequent digressions into his struggles with his poor self-image and Crohn's disease. If that sounds overly self-indulgent, Brown still finds ways to engage the reader.
Funny Misshapen Body is a collection of memories from Brown's life. But rather than arranging these events in more or less chronological order, they're often grouped around broad topics like Brown's perpetual shyness around the opposite sex, or the history of his developing tastes as a comic book reader. A few chapters tell formative experiences such as his hospital stay and surgery to treat his Crohn's disease, or a particularly harsh critique from the art school faculty which forces him to reevaluate his artistic ambitions. The latter event occurs much later in Brown's life, but is told very early in the book. This nonlinear narrative technique allows Brown to highlight and universalize certain emotions, such as Brown's own confusion and anger when dealing with the negative reactions of the faculty. But by withholding details that would help put the event in context, it also forces the reader to reconstruct much the larger story using material from later chapters. FMB is less straight autobiography than a series of excursions and detours spiraling back into one another.
The lack of a narrative with a conventional beginning, middle and end, avoids any heroic triumphalism. Events don't happen in any orderly fashion, but must be organized by the individual into a meaningful pattern. Brown isn't afraid to explore some of the more embarrassing parts of his live. But while FMB is no doubt self-centered, it isn't necessarily self-serving or self-pitying. The book is filled with a considerable amount of self-deprecating humor. And whatever heartache and sadness Brown experiences is always offset by his own good natured optimism.
As a memoir of his artistic development, this is in many ways Brown's most personal work. He often addresses the reader directly in the first person. "I don’t think our brains keep things in order, so I think I try to arrange stories to express the idea of figuring things out…” he explains of his nonlinear narrative. He's transparent about how poetry and creative writing contributed to his use of humor as a way of disarming his audience. And his comic book career and primitivist style came about only after he was willing to completely reverse his many years trying to become a fine artist. He knowingly gives the game away. But Brown is too unassuming to defend his choices. He only thinks they are the right ones for him, at least for now.