Still need a reason to get Thomas Mullen’s new book? Here’s the prologue to The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers.
It all began when they died.
No one I spoke to was entirely sure when they were first called “the Firefly Brothers,” or why the phrase stuck. A play on the Firesons’ name, or an initial mispronunciation embossed into permanence by the papers? Or perhaps a reference to how the brothers always seemed to vanish from the authorities’ gaze, only to reappear so very far from their pursuers. As if they were a tiny piece of magic, an otherworldly glow, misplaced in our dark and mundane world.
But what was magic, and what mundane, in those insane times? Jobs you’d worked for two decades vanished. Factories that had stool tall for lifetimes went vacant, were scavenged for scrap, and collapsed. Life savings evaporated, sometimes in a single day. In our once fertile heartland, dry winds blew with the power and rage of untold stories accidentally left out of ancient texts, returning with a vengeance, demanding to be heard. Men disappeared, some scribbling sad notes for their wives, others leaving behind nothing, as if they’d never lived there at all. The reality we’d all believed in, so fervently and vividly, was revealed to be nothing but a trick of our imagination, or someone else’s, some collective mirage whose power to entrance us had suddenly and irrevocably failed.
What the hell had happened? What had we done to ourselves? The looks I saw on people’s faces. The shock of it all. Capitalism had failed; democracy was a sad joke. Our country’s very way of life was at death’s door, and everyone had a different theory of what would rise up to take its place. I saw the prophets on the soapboxes, spinning their own stories, trying to wring some moral lesson out of the chaos. Or the movies and pulps, hoping to distill the pain into entertainment. Or the next round of politicians, assuring us they were not afflicted by the same lack of vision as their predecessors. But I didn’t believe them. Or, rather, I believed everything, because so much had changed so fast that anything seemed possible. Anything was possible – you moved about cautiously and glanced at the sky as if expecting part of it to land on top of you.
In the midst of it all were the Firefly Brothers.
They were already worshipped during their bank-robbing spree between the spring of ’33 and July of ’34. They were already celebrities – heroes or villains, depending on one’s position on the ever-shifting seesaw of the times – indistinguishable in fact from the many folktales chorusing around them. But they became so much more during a two-week spell in August of 1934, starting with the night they died. The night they died for the first time.
That’s as succinct a setup as I’ve seen before. And it’s all you need to know to turn the page and meet the Firefly Brothers.
Before I sign off, I’d like to point out a couple of the awesome things Mullen does in this prologue. The first is the efficient brevity of the two pages that sets the tone for the world you are about to enter. I do appreciate efficiency. Then there’s that wonderful sentence about dry winds like untold stories – I rolled that sentence over and over on my tongue before moving on. And again, Mullen’s word choice is stellar. “Folktales chorusing around them.” Of course folktales chorus.
Read it, people.