I read a memoir this week. It’s called The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and while I liked it I found myself weighing each chapter. Did I really believe it? Or did she just make this up in order to get it published? With one false memoir after another being revealed lately I keep telling myself to just think of it all as fiction and not get wrapped up in the biography piece.
All writing is fiction anyway right? All writing is a reflection of the author. Journalism, TV shows, president’s speeches, hip hop lyrics, picture books, radio shows, biographies – the writer’s mark is indelible. Each truth we try to tell is colored by our perception, which is stained by our personal history, which is affected by our mood, which is perpetuated by the chemicals running through our brains.
Beyond the wild fabrications of being raised by wolves or gangs in south central LA, there is the more typical biography and the small adjustments. How can anyone really be trusted to see the truth of their own life? One of my favorite bloggers Jonah Lehrer talks about the reality of memory in his post Reconsolidating the Future. Essentially what Jonah describes is that every time we recall something we rewrite it and so the memory is damaged. How trustworthy could any biography be with that fact in hand? Most manuscripts are rewritten and massaged any number of times, and how many times are the memories massaged in the mind before the pen is even laid to paper? And so the memoir becomes a Monet, held at a distance a picture is formed but up close the details are sketchy. Maybe that is the way it should be and our sensibilities shouldn’t be roughed up by it.
I think what I liked most about The Glass Castle was the invisible therapist’s touch. Harsh memories were balanced with life lessons. Everything is presented with a over arching softening which says, I can live with this memory, moreover we can all live with this memory. The book recalls not the glare of newly dredged up memories, but the soft light of much handled ones.