The Gloriously Irresponsible Career of Scott Bradfield

An image depicting a diverse group of people can be seen above. It demonstrates how individuals from a variety of backgrounds can come together and form a strong community. The picture illustrates the power of collaboration and highlights the importance of inclusion.

In “Ghost Guessed,” a short story by Scott Bradfield, a young boy is given an antique lead soldier, a French hussar, for Christmas instead of the green plastic army men he had asked for.

His mother cautions him to be careful with it and tells him not to remove the plastic wrapper. Bradfield’s essay, “Why I Hate Toni Morrison’s Beloved“–which he doesn’t, in fact–recalls how he used his own imagination as a child to create his own toy soldiers.

I have a particularly fond memory of the floor of the hallway, surrounded by books that I couldn’t read just yet. I didn’t worship them; rather I treated them like toys, building structures such as pyramids, forts, and obelisks.

I often wondered what would happen if characters from the books mixed with one another.

Would Ellison’s Invisible Man be able to stand up to H. G. Wells’ character? Would Mailer’s naked soldiers interact with the figures in Samuel Butler’s stories, perhaps in a hot bath before bed?

I was drawn to those books and felt a commitment to reading them when I got older; I wanted to learn what was in them, and I wanted them to understand me.

Scott Bradfield, a novelist, has already demonstrated his creative abilities in his youth. It is a typical trait of authors to think of golems and make themselves the all-knowing overseer of them. Imagine a library where the characters of Bradfield’s works are in conflict with each other.

Would the inhabitants of Animal Planet (1995) greet the citizens of Greetings from Earth (1996) with kindness or suspicion? Or would they attack first?

Does the secret life of Houses (1988) exist beneath a cellar door, containing the answers to What’s Wrong with America (1994)? Sadly, these scenarios only play out in the reader’s head.

Good Girl Wants It Bad, Bradfield’s fourth novel, was released by Carroll & Graf in August as a paperback.

Unfortunately, his earlier novels and short-story collections are out of print in the United States. However, translations can be found in Holland, Germany, Switzerland and France.

Since 1989, Bradfield has been an instructor of writing and literature at the University of Connecticut-Storrs. He splits his time between London, where he has a young child, and his origin state of California, where most of his literary works have been set.

As a not-so-well-known writer, he needs a steady job in order to create, which teaching provides. Despite this, he feels like an exile, a situation shared by other American writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Paul Bowles, who Bradfield teaches.

Unfortunately, these exiles do not always get the recognition they deserve for their work.

Growing up in San Francisco, after high school he moved to Los Angeles and worked on early drafts of his writing.

During this time he had the chance to meet the writer Philip K. Dick in the suburbs of Orange County–Santa Ana, Fullerton, Anaheim–where the location of his second novel, What ‘s Wrong with America, was set.

Bradfield remembers Dick as being “mad in that gentle Californian way,” and his depiction of Emma O’Hallahan in the novel, as an unbalanced brandy-drinker, could be seen as a reflection of this.

In the mid 1980s, as a grad student in nineteenth-century American literature, Scott Bradfield had a close friend at UC Irvine – Michael Chabon.

They shared a mutual love for The Rockford Files, J. G. Ballard and Atlee Hammaker, the San Francisco Giants pitcher, who was featured in Bradfield’s debut novel, The History of Luminous Motion (1989).

Chabon remembers that “Scott was always very critical of everything, including himself, but he was also quite compassionate.

He was quite fond of the Van Morrison albums.” Bradfield was writing wry stories for the British-science fiction journal Interzone and genre anthologies such as Tarot Tales and The Mammoth Book of Werewolves, yet most of his English-department peers had no idea of his writing.

Chabon states that “Scott was a more talented, sophisticated and disciplined writer than any of us in the MFA program, but none of us knew he was even there.”


Dream of the Wolf (1990) paints a picture of Southern California that is vastly different from what one would see on TV. It is a sprawling landscape of loneliness and cost-effective living, filled with franchise restaurants, such as Marie Callender’s.

The area is not a figment of imagination – it is a literal locale that has been ignored by the Los Angeles literature and Hollywood films, which have a tendency to portray the same downtown locations.

The bulk of the population in the Southland are those who live in the suburbs and have not been able to afford the luxurious homes along the coast or in the hills.

These people, consisting of blue-collar and middle-class citizens, are the focus of Bradfield’s works and provide a real look into the desert of the real. His characters, including grifters, handymen, waitresses, and cult leaders, are all tenants of this area.

The 1980s saw Raymond Carver as a major figure in American literature. His characters, who had a penchant for drinking, could outlast Bradfield’s daiquiri drinkers if they could maintain their Oregonian silence.

On the other hand, Bradfield, who claims to have read Crime and Punishment multiple times, is known for his loud and authoritative talking style, often without having a deep understanding of the topic.

His enthusiasm for Dostoyevsky is evident in the polyphonic and monologue-filled writing of his characters. For example, Jack Hollister from Animal Planet is an authoritative figure who is familiar with Hobbes’ theory of nature being “nasty, brutish, and short”.

On the other hand, Hollister has a negative view of Rousseau’s idea of going back to nature, citing Rousseau as a self-confessed liar, thief, and even a possible homosexual.

The tranquility of the suburbs is constantly threatened by the presence of police in the area. The homes may appear calm, but the harmony of the households can quickly be disrupted by the sound of a siren in the distance.

Whether it is a black heart or a timid nature, the darker urges of the inhabitants can only be contained for a short time. A hardware-store owner talked to his girlfriend’s son, saying, “Your mother hopes you will enjoy an idyllic childhood, as if you were living in Camelot.

But don’t rely on it. I looked up ‘idyllic’ in the dictionary and it doesn’t look promising. You shouldn’t just lie in bed all day waiting for it to happen.”

When Larry Chambers is tucked in his bed, his mind often drifts off to the consideration of an alternate life. What other comfort is there, he wonders, for those who feel the desperation of their situation?

Through the title story from his book, Dream of the Wolf , Chambers shares his nighttime imaginings of a Canis lupus tundrarum , an Alaskan tundra wolf, with his fascinated daughter at breakfast.


I ran across an expansive, snow-covered landscape, with only a few patches of vegetation visible. My pace increased as I felt my heartbeat quicken, and I experienced a sense of speed and strength. Larry, meanwhile, held a donut in his hand – the jelly filling oozing over his fingers.


Much like the sailor in the Wallace Stevens poem who only manages to hunt tigers while asleep, Larry develops an obsession with day-dreaming.

His life begins to unravel, as he carelessly performs his duties at the office and at home, not taking the time to shave or kiss his daughter goodbye, nor properly itemize bills or deliver the Goodyear flyers to Costa Mesa on time.

Instead, he reads Steppenwolf as a way to interpret dreams and examines the taxonomic guides to wolves from the Fairfax branch library. One night, he imagines life during the Pleistocene, a geological period which ended ten thousand years ago.

“Where is that, Daddy?”

“It’s a period in the past, sweetheart. A very long time ago.”

“Are you talking about dinosaurs, Daddy?”

“No, my love. All the dinosaurs had already gone by then. I was Canisdirus, I believe. I’ll look into it.”

Pop culture and suspense cliches have caused dreams to become trivial, and the soft-filtered lighting has further exaggerated this idea. Friedrich Nietzsche’s epigraph in Human, All Too Human, “Without the dream one would have found no occasion for a division of the world” implies that he did not rely on dreams, as he saw them as a barrier to understanding.

Larry, the protagonist of the film Dream of the Wolf, is an example of this, taking his lycanthropy to a time where humans and wolves supposedly hunted together.

This story suggests that the distinction between dreams and reality is not as firm as we think, and that the boundaries we try to construct between them can be easily broken.


This examines the concept of motion and its impacts on the observable world. It looks at the way that motion is experienced and how it affects the environment. Additionally, it delves into the various forms of motion and their effects.

Bradfield’s surrealistic writing style can take some getting used to, as Michiko Kakutani noted in her New York Times review of The History of Luminous Motion. She praised the “volatile imagination” of the author, but was put off by the adults who do not “speak or act like recognizable human beings” and the children who do not resemble actual 8-year-olds.

As an example, she likely had in mind the scene in Luminous Motion where Beatrice, a 6th grader, discusses the “beauty myth” with her peers in a Winchell’s Donuts. Donuts and philosophy are regularly featured in Bradfield’s works set in the state of California.

The culture industry has not solely established ‘beauty’ to regulate our appearance, but also our attitude, which is much more concerning. I’m a Marxist, and I’m an advocate for the Sandinistas and the leftist guerilla forces in Chad. Although I’m not a crude Marxist, I’m a post-structuralist Marxist who gives due credit to Althusser. With that said, I must find a restroom.


Rodney, a sixth-grader, is unimpressed with Beatrice’s Marxism, feeling that it is just another “load of crap”. Bored of the mundane aspects of life, such as geometry and hanging out in the mall and bowling alley, he laments that it is not really living, and muses about ending his life.

Phillip, the eight-year-old narrator of Luminous Motion, is also affected by ennui, but is more productive, and follows an ambitious regime of self-improvement consisting of exercise and the study of electricity. After meeting Beatrice, he adds philosophy to his reading list. As she looks at an eyelash in a hand-held mirror, he summarizes his newfound knowledge.

My mother used to tell me that being a Californian meant you didn’t have to be limited by geographical boundaries. We can be in any other place besides here, and still remain in California.

This concept is what Hegel refers to in The Phenomenology of Mind as the dialectic. It’s true of America in general.

Phillip is no ordinary person; he has been referred to as a Hegelian prodigy. Despite the language barrier created by Hegel’s writings, Phillip’s story is familiar – a young boy dreaming of toy soldiers on the floor of his hallway.

Phillip recognizes that imagination is more important than action, which only serves to limit the creative potential of his mind. He is then left wondering if his violent memories are true events or just a figment of his imagination.

Phillip could be a deluded and psychotic version of Oedipus. The History of Luminous Motion starts off as a lyrical story of Phillip and his mom traveling in an old Rambler car throughout California.

Just like Humbert and Lo, they have only each other on their journey. In times when they are out of cash or fuel, they pull over at the nearest motel and mom looks for someone to ‘date’ and take money from while he is asleep.

The money mostly consists of credit cards and is stored in the glove compartment. When they reach San Luis Obispo, which is where Bradfield used to live, they come across Pedro, a former baseball player.

Mom decides to put a stop to her criminal activities, stating that it is the ‘compensation of age’ and Phillip is signed up to school. He is put in the intermediate level Red class and works hard to ensure that no one gets to know him.

Phillip’s father soon appears to re-establish the traditional two-car-garage patriarchy.

The majority of the book deals with Phillip’s plan to kill his dad using a mixture of slow-acting toxins he concocts from Rodney’s untouched chemistry set and by means of amateur Satanic rituals (as Rodney has no interest in math, he has been researching witchcraft).


In The History of Luminous Motion, the presence of absurdity both within and without our heads cannot be avoided.

This is exemplified in the character of Marvin O’Hallahan in What’s Wrong with America, an elderly patriot who creates white-supremacist pamphlets, holds a list of what is wrong with the country, is a fan of Wheel of Fortune and intimidates his wife, Emma.

She, in turn, takes vengeance by shooting him and burying him in the backyard of their Orange County home. She then proceeds to write her own thoughts about the nation, her most noteworthy being that there is not enough gun control and too many women on Valium.

However, she is not immune to her own foolishness, as suggested by the title of her inventory of those who may have ended up in her backyard: People Who May Be Buried in the Back Garden.

Her memory is also failing her; she includes “Nobody” in the list (as she dug a hole and filled it in during a period of mental instability).

Emma participates in a talk show with Mike Douglas, although her only companion is her brandy bottle. What’s Wrong with America is a reflection of the consequences of the shock-pundit radio decade, before the emergence of bloggers, Bush and Fox News.

Bradfield’s novel Good Girl Wants It Bad is a reflection of a nation that parrots the same rhetoric. Delilah Riordan, better known as Lah, is on death row at the West Texas Women’s Penitentiary for multiple counts of murder.

She is a popular figure on the Internet and crime shows, and her warden is trying to get her a spot on 60 Minutes 2. Meursault, a fellow prisoner, had only a priest to contend with, but Lah has to deal with a team of doctors who, instead of trying to cure her, are trying to learn from her.

Dr. Alexander is the most ruthless of the doctors and uses a Confrontational Analysis method of questioning her which is meant to anger her. The result of his methods is a wired jaw and inability to speak or eat properly. “Eye. Ate. Chew. Eye. Ate. Chew,” is what he tells her.

The novel Good Girl Wants it Bad has many contemporary references yet manages to be a captivating prison story, without making any reference to the events of September 11th or depicting a nation in defense of anything but itself.

Bradfield had already completed a third of the novel before those attacks, and he believes that a fiction writer should depict the world they know, albeit in a way that is unencumbered by responsibility.

Lah, who has also written a novel, comes to the same conclusion: It’s fiction, and it’s all made up.

The characters in this narrative are unable to wake from a dream of solipsism, not of history.

The language of psychotherapy has so profoundly changed their American dialect that the desire for happiness no longer points to a more perfect democracy, but rather a future of fifteen minutes of self-actualization for everyone.

There is a gothic tradition of understanding murderers, such as Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, but Lah is more indicative of the immoral universe in Jim Thompson’s works, The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280. In other words, she is guilty, yet she is also alluring and honest.

By refusing to pass judgment on others, she looks outward from the quickly expanding industry of America and only finds hypocrisy.

“If anything is to be learned from being falsely classified as a criminal, it is that those who think they are superior are the most heinous criminals of them all.”


Bradfield’s writing is particularly delicate when it comes to animals like bears, rats, pigs, penguins, and dogs. He is a master at weaving tales and if one were to draw a comparison to Rabbit Angstrom – a figure who has seen a changing America – then Dazzle, a pup with fleas and medicines, would be the one.

This is because Bradfield has composed a trilogy of stories about the dog, only one of which has been published as a book.

Billy attempted to hide the antibiotic pills in small portions of Dazzle’s Alpo, which Dazzle then put away behind the hot water boiler, a spot which he believed had not been cleaned.

He was aware of the weakening effect that antibiotics could have on the body’s immunity and knew his sadness was a great deal more than just physiological or chemical.

Dazzle absconds, to be with Edwina, who enjoys introducing many strays to her home and then engaging in intimacy with them near the rubbish bin. Dazzle, having surpassed trifling envy, cautions Edwina of the potential health risks of her behavior:

“Rabies. Yes, I’m serious. Foaming at the mouth.” The two of them form a family and shift their residence to Big Sur to bring up their pups, though Dazzle can’t manage to fill the emptiness within.

Whistling Pete, the infamous Enronian penguin from Animal Planet, has enough creature comforts to fill the void inside him.

He spends his days lazing around at the Crystal Palace Motel, where he can be found sipping on margaritas and uttering, “This is life.” However, when his embezzlement is discovered, Pete loses his job and his mistresses, and eventually dies in Room 408, alone.

Animal Planet paints a picture of a global civil-rights movement that liberates the furrier races from their zoo cages, only to imprison them in the consumer society.

This reveals that our consumer culture is just a way for us to deny our own nature. As Whistling Pete realizes, “Civilization doesn’t solve problems; it simply reminds us of all the problems we haven’t yet solved.”

In Bradfield’s current work, “Pig Paradise,” featured in the Denver Quarterly, the Grimm narrative continues.

A Cultural Intercession has taken place, with the wolves and pigs agreeing to an armistice, and a vegan-friendly diet of Mama O’Brian’s frozen All-Veggie Pies. Hubert, one of the pigs, has a feeling something’s wrong in this America.

He addresses his sharp-toothed boss, conveying “You’re trying to say that I’m not open-minded enough, that I don’t treat you like an equal. But life isn’t like that. Everyone is different, and everyone deals with each other differently. I don’t care what the Employee Guidelines say.”

Bradfield’s animals are societal outcasts, similar to their human equivalents, who defy the limitations of big businesses and the rules of the law.

William Godwin, who was married to Mary Wollstonecraft, father of Mary Shelley, and author of Lives of the Necromancers, made a point to stress that he was not an anarchist, although he supported a government-less system and wrote a novel about a prisoner’s plight, Things As They Are; or the Adventures of Caleb Williams.

Bradfield argues that political corruption is not a product of human nature, but rather the consequence of limitations imposed on humans; Caleb’s tale is not about the pursuit of bad people, but rather his own persecution and his struggle against it.

Conformity is a means of suppressing the freedom of the individual, as Lah can attest. Emma O’Hallahan is not proud of her actions in killing her husband, but she recognizes that it is her willingness to tolerate his abuse over the years that is the real issue.

She states, “The other part of my activities which probably isn’t a positive role model is that I think I’m going to get away with it. Nobody seemed to notice when I fired off his shotgun.”

Breaking free from the expectations of society, Emma realizes that she has been living in a world of confinement, where anything not explicitly stated is unknown. Lady Liberty stands in a corner, half-buried and forgotten.

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