Changeling

5.6.2007

By Emily Drabinski

A cancer diagnosis can do the strangest things. When he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2004, Brian Malloy had finished a first draft of his latest novel, Brendan Wolf. The darkly funny story of a shapeshifting daydreamer caught up in a doomed crime plot, Wolf received an infusion of compassion in the aftermath of Malloy's diagnosis. "I've become much more passionate about things that bother me'rudeness, hypocrisy, the state of the environment, and the need for human connection,' he says. 'During revisions, I added elements of these things. The deep desire to connect with a family was highlighted much more.'

Wolf is the noirish story of Brendan, an isolated gay man struggling to hold on to what few connections he has left. After being fired from yet another dead-end job, Brendan spins out any number of new identities: the caretaker of a December lover, the radical pro-life activist, the good brother, the good boyfriend. Ultimately unsustainable, Brendan's web of selves begins to unravel, leading inexorably to a literally explosive finish.

This isn't the first time cancer has played a role in Malloy's life as a writer. In 1997, Malloy's brother was diagnosed with fatal brain cancer. 'We had a conversation about dreams deferred,' he recalls. 'I had always wanted to be a writer, and he said, 'If you're going to do it, do it now.' ' So Malloy quit his day job and wrote The Year of Ice. Improbably plucked from the slush pile by an assistant at St. Martin's Press, the book was published to wide critical acclaim.

Malloy's cancer is of the kind much in the news these days, 'treatable but not curable,' he says wryly. He is responding well to treatment, and continues to write, including a young adult novel due out later this year. Still, the cancer has tempered his sense of urgency. 'I used to think I had to write,' he says. 'Now I see that I don't have to write at the expense of family and friends.'

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