Linda, a member of my memoir-writing group, has just read a novel that seems to be a fictionalized memoir, and she talks about how open one must be to tell one's story. This is a question I have pondered, but from a different perspective. I am astounded by how private one can remain while revealing a great deal. Ironically, it was Linda who started me down the road to this conclusion..
Back in August, Linda recommended Haven Kimmel's A Girl Named Zippy to us as a model memoir, and I finally read it in December after having found a copy in a thrift shop sometime during the fall. Frankly, I didn't like the book very much (I gave it 3 stars out of a possible 5), but after a few days of writing this blog I realized that I was emulating it in certain ways. Peer pressure evidently cannot be outgrown!
One of the things I didn't like about Zippy was the book's lack of continuity. Kimmel would raise one of a large set of topics -- pets, bicycles, friends, parents, neighbors, religion, etc. -- write a short essay on it, and then drop that topic only to pick it up again 20 or 30 pages later. It seemed that what I learned about Zippy was merely what the book jacket told me: that she grew up "small" in Mooreland, Indiana.
I am a stickler for continuity. I will not skip chapters in a novel. I will scream when Steve clicks the remote during a commercial or what he considers to be a slow scene (DVR helps immensely with this problem). What I am learning, though, is that continuity is an artifice of narrative rather than an attribute of real life.
Fiction has continuity because the author makes it so by sticking to a plot which will reveal chosen themes. I feel myself tottering toward the exercise of comparing how the theme of parent/daughter relationships is explored in Haven Kimmel's Zippy and Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but I set out to talk about revelation of the self through writing memoirs, fiction, or fictionalized memoirs.
From reading Zippy, I learned little or nothing factual about Kimmel's early life. This kind of thing was not what she revealed. What I learned, among many other things, was how it felt to grow up with a strong sense of being loved by parents and siblings within a family that conventional wisdom would call dysfunctional.
So now I find myself raising one of a growing set of general topics -- gardening, writing, re-gifting -- and writing a short essay that may reveal not only a few facts about myself but also, I hope, some broader truths that will resonate with a reader's feelings and experiences.