The Mysterious (and Messy) Truth of Experience

May 31, 2011 § 2 Comments


Genzlinger and Moore Discuss memoir

The sharp, thoughtful and always to-the-point memoirist Dinah Lenney blogs this week on the recent (or recent-ish) genre attacks by Neil Genzlinger and Lorrie Moore, finding more common ground than most of us with Genzlinger and almost none with Moore.

Here she is on the former:

But it can’t be denied that there are people who come to the genre not because they’re devoted to language and literature, but because, in life, they have triumphed or survived in a way that they think is worth waxing on about; they want to testify: they have a single story to tell. However, this was not true of the authors Genzlinger reviewed at the beginning of this year, and … it was as disrespectful to lump their individual efforts together as typical or endemic, as it was unfair to condemn memoirists everywhere, just because, in his estimation, three writers had failed. But at least Neil Genzlinger’s criticism was straightforward. At least it had something to do with the actual demands of the genre. Though I cringed as I read—and second-guessed my own work—I knew where he stood.

And here she is on the latter:

As far as memoir goes, Lorrie Moore is simply off-track. Memoir is not biography or autobiography, real or imaginary. Moreover, memoir is, every time, at least as much about the narrator as it is about her subject. The writer is the subject, in fact—so it’s not her job to fully imagine, construct, or design, but rather to reveal (creatively, yes, this goes to the prose itself)  the mysterious (and messy) truth of her experience (in conjunction with fact-finding, sure) as it informs the way she thinks and feels. Whether or not the ostensible subjects of either of these books might inspire good fiction (absolutely, why not, another project for another day) is entirely beside the point. Furthermore, in the guise of equivocal appreciation, Lorrie Moore has disparaged not just the work of two writers but the form itself, apparently without understanding its singular constraints and rewards.

And here is Lenney’s full post from The Gamut.

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§ 2 Responses to The Mysterious (and Messy) Truth of Experience

  • Lisa says:

    Yes: “The writer is the subject…” That is the whole point. For me memoir is not as much about the story itself as it is about the way the writer sees the story and imagines herself fitting into it. Thanks for posting this.

  • jenneandrews says:

    Lenny should have hit the point harder: it’s still how we tell the story, isn’t it? A memoir should glow with good writing and because memoir is a literary genre, some elements of truth-telling are in the service of art. I just finished writing about a trip to Italy in 1973 and when I realized that the whole thing was its own libretto, the quality of my narration went up many notches, I believe. Lorrie Moore could not have been thinking… xj

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