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Vibrant language marks Oakland resident William Brewer’s debut novel “The Red Arrow” (Knopf, 272 pages, $27), which tells the story of a young man from West Virginia who overcomes suicidal depression via psychedelic therapy.  

The protagonist is a struggling visual artist in New York City when he and a friend discuss the experimental therapy. But it is not until many years later, after spending an advance for a book he never writes, that he ingests psilocybin mushrooms, destroying the foundation of his depression, he says.  

“The Red Arrow” follows the protagonist from New York City to the Bay Area, where he undergoes the therapy, to Italy, where he finds the Physicist, a man for whom he has been ghostwriting. 

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He is ghostwriting to pay off the debt he owes to the publishing company that gave him the advance on the novel he failed to write.  

Brewer’s writing grabs the reader from the beginning with colorful description and maintains that essence until the end. It is an enjoyable book and worth the reader’s time.  

Brewer’s successful 2017 book of poetry titled “I Know Your Kind” was a winner of the National Poetry Series.  

Brewer is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow and is a lecturer at Stanford University.  

Like the protagonist, Brewer himself underwent psychedelic therapy, which he called “life-changing.” 

“I don’t struggle with depression anymore,” he told me.  

He said he now lives a completely different life and the effects of the therapy have lasted and deepened, rather than disappearing.  

He is especially grateful to be alive, he said.  

“The Red Arrow” is fiction, but it is based partly on Brewer’s life.  

Brewer, like the protagonist, is from West Virginia. He painted when he was young, he said.  

His writing started with poetry, and he studied it as part of a master’s in fine arts degree. He has been reading heavily since he was 15 years old, he said. 

The Stegner Fellowship brought him to California about five and a half years ago. “The Red Arrow” will be published by Knopf on May 17.  

Brewer is working on another book, which may be finished this summer.  

Author appearances 

William Brewer will read from his debut novel “The Red Arrow” at 6 p.m. May 17 at a free virtual event hosted by City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. To register, visit https://citylights.com/events/william-brewer/

Brewer will also read from his novel 5 p.m. May 21 at Point Reyes Books, 11315 State Route 1, Point Reyes Station. For tickets, $0-$100, and more information, visit https://www.ptreyesbooks.com/