Book Review: A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston
By Julia Cook
I don’t need to watch Breaking Bad.
It’s a blasphemous thought, to which my boyfriend does not respond well. “But we’re seeing him in October,” he cries. “You’re reviewing his book!”
With any great actor, you don’t need to meet his character to have a talk with him. And that’s how Bryan Cranston approaches his memoir: with a subtle nod to Walter White, he lets go of any assumptions towards his audience. Whether you grew up with Hal or served under LBJ, this is a fireside chat with Cranston, one that’ll have you glued to the speaker.
From the first gut-wrenching scene (and there are a few), A Life in Parts becomes less about the characters and more about Cranston’s tools to play them. But a dry work of theory this is not. Cranston’s childhood—Wonder Years set just outside LA—comes complete with disappointing father, embarrassing school play, and two bleeding, headless chickens. It’s engaging not just for the anecdotes, but the way Cranston tells them.
There’s no pretension, but no pussyfooting either. A borderline sixties stereotype, he deadpans putting glue in a classmate’s hair, shrugs off his mother’s decline into alcoholism, and admits breaking news gives him the creeps, ever since Kennedy was shot. That’s not to say there aren’t surprises; for a mildly directionless C student, Cranston’s full of ingenuity. His eureka moments are refreshing, each aside a compassionate chuckle, as if to say, “Hey, shit happens; and sometimes, it’s meaningful.”
We get these stories in parts—son, housepainter, rainmaker—each consequential as they add to the toolbox. So, as Cranston finds the method in each madness, the reader can also pull a gleaming new gadget from each of his experiences. It’s an empowering way to write, bringing readers from the sidelines to the dugout, letting them grow alongside him.
Sunday should be a trip for the audience, as well as the speakers. It’ll be an opportunity to examine what’s meaningful in our own stories, while we dig deeper into theirs. Bring a pen and paper; leave your drugs at home.
They say Breaking Bad’s addicting, but after this, I’m itching for a fix.
Seattle Arts & Lectures will be hosting Bryan Cranston this coming Sunday, October 16th, at Benaroya Hall. He will be interviewed on stage as part of SAL’s Sherman Alexie Loves Series, moderated by author Sherman Alexie. Find out more information and buy tickets here.
Julia Cook is a freelance content creator based in Capitol Hill. You can find her writing on the pages of Seattle Weekly, Seattle Review of Books, and Pittsburgh City Paper, plus a forthcoming short story collection. She only binge-watches bad TV. Follow her on Twitter, and check out previous blog posts she’s written for SAL here and here.