On Memoir

As a child, I was always writing stories in my head. Often times these stories took shape as episodes that were part of a larger series I called “Just the Weather” — mini soap operas that only I and my sister knew about, every person that interacted with us an unwitting character.

Currently, I’m reading two debut, out-of-the-box memoirs: one is In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, and the other is Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. The first is written in the second person: “you did this… you did that…” etc., and I’m starting to believe her. I see what she did there. I am now inside of the book as willing participant, reliving my own abusive relationship alongside hers. And I wonder why I’ve been feeling down lately. She’s gotten under my skin. Is it the second person tense, or her structuring of the novel as mini vignettes, the poetic prose, my connection with her stories, or all the above?

The second, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, is written in the first person as most memoirs are, but in the present tense. Be wary of the present tense! the professors warned me. T Kira Madden fears not, and it works. In the present tense, everything is all happening right now, not yesterday, or last week, or twenty years ago. The stakes are rising.

Bouncing between two memoirs, now I find myself talking to myself. “I’m crossing the street to go to the library,” I tell no one. “The elevator lets you in, but won’t deliver you to the library,” I say, as if I were talking to my reader. “Too cold to wait outside, you can ride the elevator for fun, or hang out with the homeless person in the lobby. ”

Now the homeless man and I are both talking to ourselves.

Questions I’m pondering… what are some really good memoirs? Conversely, what makes memoir good?

What are some unique story structures that work?

What does the reader think about reading a story in the second person?

What is the correct pronunciation of memoir anyway? If I say “memwhah” do I sound pretentious?

Feel free to drop answers in the comment box. Have a great weekend. Signing off…

Summer in Juneau, Alaska

(P.S.: summer is definitely over and out up here)

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

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