In The Forest House, Joelle Fraser writes about life after the breakup of her marriage, when she moved to a remote town in California because it was as far as she could get away while still being close enough to make joint custody of her son workable. It’s the second time that Fraser’s put her life under the literary microscope, and in this essay she discusses what it’s like to re-subject herself to her own scrutiny—and, ultimately, of course, the scrutiny of others—and why, in the long run, she couldn’t stay away.
After my memoir, The Territory of Men, was published by Random House in 2002, I swore I’d never write another. Writing that book—a sprawling coming of age chronicle of my childhood in the wild California of the 1960s and ’70s and its effects on my adult life—nearly killed me.
Naively, when I turned in the final draft, I thought I was done with the hard part. I wasn’t prepared for the surreal pendulum effect of the memoir: after years of solitary, grueling self-reflection—you’re then hauled out into the public eye for months of astonishing exposure.
That’s the difference with memoir—sure, the fiction writer has the private/public dichotomy as well, but the memoir writer herself is just as much on display as her book. And so I discovered—as did my family—that reviewers often focus on the life rather than the writing of the life. (For instance, one well-known critic described my multi-married parents as “cancer cells uniting and dividing.”)
There’s really no way to prepare for the judgment—both good and bad—from the world. Writing can be hypnotic, can’t it? While bent to the page you can forget that most people don’t write books—especially not in the genre of memoir, which for the average person is akin to flashing yourself on Main Street.
Another uncomfortable discovery: at readings, I found that memoir writers tend to attract the lost and the needy, who sometimes see you more as a therapist than an artist.
Why would I put myself—and my family—through all that again?
20 May 2013 | guest authors |
In this episode of Life Stories, the podcast series where I interview memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, I met up with Dave Bry, who, as his subtitle suggests, “grapples with a lifetime of regret, one incident at a time,” in Public Apology—which is, he explains, more than a collection of his columns of the same name at The Awl. Contractually, it had to be 60% all-new material, and that requirement helped him make the transition from a collection of anecdotes where Bry presents himself as the butt of a joke to a life story of substance and consequence.
(Bry cheerfully cops to the “gimmick”-y nature of some of the columns—the notion that the apology is simply the device that enables him to write about a given subject—but here’s the thing: It’s okay to use the tools that are at hand! You’ll also hear about how Bry’s editor, Choire Sicha, recognized the potential book lurking in the column long before Bry himself did…)
Listen to Life Stories #31: Dave Bry (MP3 file); or download the file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click).
14 May 2013 | life stories |