Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My FamilyRun, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family by David Berg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A murder in any family is “tell-worthy,” so you would think the story someone’s of brother being murdered would be especially so. Alan Berg’s disappearance and murder were indeed gut-wrenching to read about. However, while Run Brother, Run starts off tender and funny and engaging—full of quirky characters and ethnic “heart,” as it were, what promises at the outset to be an intimate “tell” of one family’s tragedy quickly devolves into something tedious and lackluster, spiraling into an Enquirer-esque replay of he said/she saids and “who’s zoomin’ who?”

Clearly, this book is more about the author than the murder. As The Buffalo News points out (in a review by Lee Coppola), “Run reads more like a memoir of David Berg than a memoir about a death in his family.” I couldn’t agree more. (See We spend a lot of time with David Berg over the course of these 354 pages, and to say he thinks highly of himself would be an understatement. Page after page is devoted to the author regaling us with his legal acumen. When not recounting his sometimes winding (but momentous, according to him) career trajectory as a trial lawyer, the author informs us about all sorts of shady secondary players in his family’s carpet business, most of them irrelevant to Alan Berg’s murder but seemingly included either to confuse the reader or prove that Alan Berg really was a good guy by comparison.

And yet, none of the three main characters (David Berg, his brother Alan, or their father) is especially deserving of our sympathies. The whole “we got into medical school but couldn’t/didn’t go” angle seems intended to prove that these guys really are smart and respectable, even as the whole lot of them cheat their customers (mostly poor Black folks) and rub elbows with shady types (gamblers, scammers and so forth). I hate to say it, but I found it hard to feel too sorry for the victim, a supposedly happily married father of two who, on the strength of a phone call by a woman proffering a blow job, had no qualms about running off to meet her, thereby walking straight into his murderer’s trap. Of course, Alan Berg did not deserve to be killed, and the Berg family has my utmost sympathy for their loss. But as my father always said, “When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.” That worn adage seems fitting here.

David Berg also spends a good deal of time justifying his grudge against his father. He blames the elder Mr. Berg for causing Alan’s murder by bad-mouthing one of their former salesmen (an aggressive hothead) after he had been warned by his sons to stop. Frankly, I find that a rather tenuous basis for condemning one’s father in a family’s time of shared grief. Certainly no one would ordinarily foresee that a petty dispute would lead to a son’s murder. Though I understand that in families we harbor all sorts of resentments—both logical and illogical, David Berg presents his myopic version of people and events as Holy Truth.

The straw that broke this weary reader’s back came toward the end of the book, when David Berg recounts how, in preparation for writing this story, he interviewed the bungling (according to him) prosecutor at his brother’s murder trial. At that get-together, Berg graciously and reassuringly accepts the man’s apology, but then proceeds to slam the prosecutor play-by-play for his mishandling of the trial. This very public professional assault struck me as dishonorable, especially when, as the The Buffalo News aptly notes, “Berg . . . was too busy getting his law practice off the ground to attend the trial he recounts in detail.”

I suspect the main reason this book got published was the fact that the murderer was Woody Harrelson’s father, affording the whole grubby affair the potential to sell books. Indeed, the thing that sticks with me most about this story is Woody Harrelson’s sketchy family history, of which I was previously unaware. In “A Conversation with David Berg” on the author’s website, Berg faults Woody Harrelson for “capitalizing on his father’s past [by playing] a murderous character in Natural Born Killers, a movie about a killer heroized by the press.” I daresay David Berg uses Run Brother, Run as his platform to do essentially the same thing.

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