Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Through the Looking Glass

The "memoir" genre is difficult because (by definition) a memoir's plot is dependent upon the self-awareness of its author. If the author is not insightful or honest enough about themselves and their story, memoirs can come across as self-indulgent or underwhelming. I have often come to the end of a memoir and said, "This is the take-away message?" 

The more memoirs I have read, the more I have grown to respect authors who possess a perceptive, authentic voice. 

In  Sh*t My Dad Says , author Justin Halpern gives us a glimpse of his upbringing and life as an adult that feels so real it will make you squirm. There is no fluff or justification. It is an honest portrayal of his father, a very unusual man, that will make you laugh out loud (and secretly cry). Halpern's ability to candidly admit both embarrassing moments of his life and emotional truths will win your heart. You may even recognize some of his father's traits in people from your own life (but this isn't likely). Buy it for your dad!

Several of my co-workers and I have recently been sucked into The Impostor's Daughter, a graphic memoir by Laurie Sandell. I could not put it down. I compare it to the time I opened up Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" at a book store. I read it (while standing) for half an hour and had to buy it because my family was going to leave the Oregon coast without me.

In The Impostor's Daughter, Sandell compares her star struck childhood perceptions of her father to her changing perception of him as she matured. It was powerful viewing Sandell's father from the eyes of an innocent child, and slowly seeing his mysteries unravel. Sandell is open about the choices she has made and why she has made them. She has spent years analyzing her motives and researching her past. In the end, I believe she could have given herself a little more credit. This is not merely the story of why she is justified in writing the story, but the story of how she triumphed in spite of it.


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