Dilemmas of a Memoirist

April 27th, 2010 — 12:11pm

“Ravenous” is in my editor Patti Gift’s hands. She will be getting me my ms. back in a few weeks. If I’m going to do any rewriting, now is the time.

There are many kinds of memoirists, and many kinds of memoirs. There’s the “It’s Payback Time” memoir; the “Rewriting History” memoir; the “Life is Just Beautiful” memoir; and the ubiquitous, “I’m a Hero” memoir. And then there are those that try to get at something more than just ones own experience in the world, making the book about some bigger truth. I’m trying, a little bit anyway, for the latter.

The dead can’t respond to the words you write and the living may hate you for them. I made the decision to give my mother my manuscript to read, so she had the opportunity to respond to anything I wrote about her and my family. I wrote gently about her, and not so gently about my long-dead father. Here’s why: though my mother was not always the mother I wanted, or needed, she did the best she could. My father did not.

She called me the other day. She wanted me to change some things I wrote about my father and brother, because it would embarrass her. The line between telling the truth and respecting others is a tough line to parse, one I need to walk with integrity, not only to others, but also to myself.

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