The examples of American effort at exhaustive autobiography—as opposed to the selective memoir—tend to be rare and unrevealing, though Kay Boyle, Eudora Welty and Mary McCarthy all wrote exceptional memoirs.
The memoir is typically thinner, provisional, more selective than the confession, undemanding, even casual, and suggests that it is something less than the whole truth.
“We all felt the force of her thrift,” she writes of her grandmother. “Her presents were always received apprehensively: what were we not going to be pleased to get this time? I remember T-shirts much too small for me, and you knew from the smell of them that they had been in my grandparents’ house for a long time (in fact they smelled as if they had been stored in an ashtray). A book that looked as if it had been read. A bottle not quite full of bath foam.”
This fascinating couple, who had survived the Holocaust and the Hungarian uprising of 1956, come slowly into focus for the author and the reader simultaneously, or so Adorjan (the author) makes it seem. That’s what makes a good memoir — it’s not a regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal, not a dart thrown desperately at a trendy topic, but a shared discovery.
Maybe that’s a good rule of thumb: If you didn’t feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don’t publish it. Instead hit the delete key....
I have lived an unremarkable life and ended up a boring middle-aged man; my roots are a lazy douchiness mixed with a bit of assholery so tepid as to be unnoticeable--and nowhere near enough womanizing or scandal.
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