Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Unreliable Narrator

I realized this week that I was in the middle of a memoir streak – three in a row. In my running loop of a reading list, I usually try to alternate fiction and non-, but this trend caught me by surprise. In two weeks’ time, I’ve gone through Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris; ’Tis, by Frank McCourt; and Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs, with varying levels of affection. That is, I liked them all except the last one, which I read in the past twelve hours with the compulsion that comes from watching a train wreck and wanting it to end. I’m interested in how others may have felt about these books, but that’s not this is about; I don’t pretend to be a literary critic.

As I read both Me Talk Pretty One Day and ’Tis, I thought, “This is what my professors meant by showing, rather than telling.” I could picture David Sedaris’s strange performance pieces and shuddered at the awkwardness when his parents attended. I was next to Frank McCourt when he swept floors at the Biltmore and shared his sadness when he returned to Ireland for a less-than-joyful family reunion. Their stories were captivating because they were true and, sometimes, that very fact made their sadness and pain much more acute. I wanted to absorb the authors’ fluidity of language that made the words actually convey what happened, instead of producing a dim shadow that leaves the storyteller muttering, “I guess you had to be there.”

I’ve been struck by the idea that perhaps this phase of reading has been spurred by my entrance into the blogosphere. What are bloggers doing, if not creating a memoir of sorts? I’m interested, even invested, in the blogs I read because I know there is a real person typing out that story with any bias, background information, and baggage that might come along. I know memoirs have gotten the shaft lately because they may or may not be true and that makes me a little bit sad. It might be naïve, but I would like to take memoirs for what they’re worth and believe that they’re true accounts. What can you do? Even with the best of intentions, we all write from a point of view and unfortunately, none of us can assume the third-person omniscient one. I’m one of countless unreliable narrators, like Nick from The Great Gatsby.

My recent reading has challenged me to think of this little blog as a modern memoir. I don’t have delusions of publication or even slightly widespread renown – it’s just a collection of memories where I try my hardest to show and not just tell.

1 comment:

Sijbrich said...

I also enjoyed Me Talk Pretty One Day. I wasn't particularly interested in reading about his days as a druggie, but after that, I found lots of little treasures and actually found myself laughing out loud several times. I haven't read 'Tis, but I did read Angela's Ashes last year and enjoyed it, as much as one can enjoy a perpetually tragic memoir...