Ann Patchett has written an amazingly candid memoir of her intense and complicated, frustrating but rewarding friendship with Lucy Grealy, the celebra...moreAnn Patchett has written an amazingly candid memoir of her intense and complicated, frustrating but rewarding friendship with Lucy Grealy, the celebrated author of Autobiography of a Face. The two women knew each other vaguely as undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence, became instant “best friends” as graduate students at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and, up until Lucy’s death of a drug overdose in 2002, were intricately, perhaps even obsessively, involved in each other’s personal and professional lives. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship is a paean to that involvement, an intimate tracing of a kind of commitment and care that seem rare in any relationship, let alone a relationship between two ambitious, potentially rivalrous writers. It is essentially a love story, a narrative at once heartbreakingly tender and fiercely frank, which Patchett tells with an extraordinary deftness of touch and tone.
Lucy was not an easy person. Nor could one expect her to be. She had lost a good part of her left jaw to cancer as a child, endured painful rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, suffered through thirty-odd reconstructive surgeries, most of which did nothing to "repair" her face nor allow her to eat easily or much. But worse than these, she was forced to live with the unrelenting cruelty of people who mocked or recoiled from her "ugliness". This harrowing experience is what she set down in the award-winning memoir that put her on the map as a writer, a book that, for a time, brought her celebrity and wealth but couldn’t finally sustain her in a world which values and rewards only conventional beauty. Lucy needed more than fame; she wanted love. And while she certainly found a heroic species of that in Patchett, she wanted the full-blown romantic version as well. Extravagant, audacious, mercurial, Lucy was enormously attractive as a personality, but that did not satisfy her longing to be loved “as a woman.” Her brilliance and wit, her ability to galvanize and entertain any crowd, could not keep her from paralysing bouts of loneliness and depression or, in the end, from a lethal addiction to heroin.
And yet, in spite of the steady downward tug on her life, there was much joy in it too, and much to celebrate. Patchett does justice to this side of Lucy, showing her huge appetite for experience, her refusal to play it all as tragedy. The two women (in Patchett’s view a classic pairing of her plodding tortoise with Lucy’s breathless hare) drink and dance, write and travel. They console each other while trying to get a publisher, get a fellowship, or get a boyfriend, and toast each other when they finally make it into print or into Yaddo or into bed. But Patchett’s sad awareness that she can not “save” this talented and vibrant individual casts a real poignancy over this wonderfully shaded portrait of a difficult but beautiful friendship.(less)
From Publishers Weekly: "In a probing literary collaboration that moves from Greece to their home in Charleston, S.C., novelist Kidd (The Secret Life...moreFrom Publishers Weekly: "In a probing literary collaboration that moves from Greece to their home in Charleston, S.C., novelist Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) and her daughter, Taylor, explore and record the changing stages of a woman's life. At 50, Kidd, a wife and mother who had found fulfilment as a writer in recent years, was approaching menopause and anxious about tapping the 'green fuse', or regenerative energy, for the next step in her life. Travelling to Greece with her daughter, Taylor, 22, when the latter graduated from college in 1998, Kidd recognized that her daughter, who had just received a stinging rejection from a graduate school, was also undergoing another kind of wrenching transformation—from child to adult and was faced with decisions about what to do with her own life. In passages narrated in turn by Kidd and Taylor, the two create a gently affectionate filial dance around the other, in the manner of the fertility myth of Persephone and her mother, Demeter. In travels through Greece, Turkey and later France, Kidd and Taylor found strength and inspiration on their respective journeys in the lives of Athena, the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc, but mostly through a new understanding and appreciation of each other. Although the maiden-mother-crone symbolism grows repetitive and forced, their's is a moving journey."
I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it to all mothers and daughters. Kidd and Taylor complement each other very well in their writing styles and each chapter flowed nicely into the next. I appreciated the historical references and could picture the places I haven't visited through their vivid descriptions. I think this book touches on issues we all struggle with at one time or another ~ Where are we going? What are we doing? What is my worth? Reading about two different women looking for their own truths and meanings was comforting. I also liked the examination of the ever-evolving mother-daughter relationship.(less)
Well, this is a peculiar book that started out ploddingly yet picked up steam after the halfway point. At times it whines, shrilly, as self-indulgent...moreWell, this is a peculiar book that started out ploddingly yet picked up steam after the halfway point. At times it whines, shrilly, as self-indulgent and precious (though I guess any author could be accused of this) yet at other times has dazzling moments of brilliance and soulfulness. I thought I had no expectations going into this read but at the end I thought "Hmm, that was not what I expected at all." Of course now the problem is I don't know what I thought I would be in for, reading this book. Dillard has referred to this book as a "book of theology" and that could be the portion that is tripping me up ~ all of the visceral wonder at God's own creation stuff made me cringe just a little, tiny bit. The book has also been likened to Thoreau's Walden, or Life in the Woods. This I can appreciate much more fully as the passages where Dillard is engrossed, consumed in her interactions with the animals, birds and insects of Tinker Creek, carry more strength (for me) when not wrapped up in reckoning with God.
Overall, the idea of being more present, of seeing (not just looking) nature and the diurnal nuances of life is so important and something we all should be making more time for in our harried, disconnected lives.(less)
Julie Metz is a New York-born writer, graphic designer, and artist. In addition to Perfection she has written essays and commentary for The New York T...moreJulie Metz is a New York-born writer, graphic designer, and artist. In addition to Perfection she has written essays and commentary for The New York Times and The Huffington Post. She has also designed book covers for the novels: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, The Gathering, by Anne Enright and Boom! Aftershocks of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw. Metz’s husband, referred to as Henry in the book, died at home from a pulmonary embolism on January 8, 2003. Perfection is the resultant effort from Metz’s time absorbing the shock of Henry’s death and then working through the rage of his discovered betrayals and mostly covers the three years following Henry’s death.
In an interesting precursor to the book, a note to readers is included:
“I have changed the names (except my own), and other details of persons in this book. I have not changed the name of a certain dog, which suited the animal and my story perfectly. Sometimes real life surprises fiction even in the details. I have, on a few occasions, changed the order of events, where those changes benefit narrative flow without altering a factual telling of the story. Otherwise, all dialogue and events took place as I remember and recount them in these pages.”
I can only attribute this to the James Frey fall-out.
Having said that, nothing about Metz’s account comes across as questionable or improbable. Her story, though,is very probably any partnered person’s worst nightmare realized. Imagine the sudden and unexpected death of your spouse, in your kitchen, felled by a fatal pulmonary embolism. Now imagine, six months later, discovering the person you trusted absolutely was not, at all, who you thought. Is it worse to be bereaved or betrayed? Often, as an attempt at comfort, those grieving are reminded that their loved one will live on in their memories but if those memories are compromised, does the deceased still manage an existence in our world and our minds?
Julie Metz, through a revelation from a close friend, comes to know her husband had been not just unfaithful, but a serial philanderer (who was also hiding secret debts) throughout their thirteen year marriage. Using her own journal entries, along with Henry’s electronic diaries and emails, Metz created Perfection. She has been noted as “brave”, “shocking” and “candid” in other reviews of her book but none of Metz’s tale strikes me as shocking nor do her actions smack of bravery. Metz just did did what she needed to emerge on the other side.
While Henry is lying, dead on their kitchen floor, Metz is cognizant of her “last normal moment”. Metz rages at her husband now beyond her physical reach: “Henry, you are so fucking lucky to be dead.”, calling him “…a piece of shit bastard”; her grieving shoved aside to rail against Henry’s betrayal. Metz manages to identify and contact six of Henry’s mistresses, challenging them on how they were able to participate in a relationship with a married father. Through these interactions Metz comes to gain a more complete picture of the man who was her husband. Through executor privilege, Metz arranges a meeting with Henry’s therapist who offers Henry’s diagnosis of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ with an amazing ability to compartmentalize, not as an excuse but, perhaps as a peg to hang things on in an attempt at coming to understand her husband’s actions.
Metz definitely does a compelling job sharing her loves, her losses and the lies she must deal with, while offering a cautionary tale about the idea of perfection within a marriage.(less)
"It's a cliche to say that a good memoir reads like a well-crafted work of fiction, but Kimmel's smooth, impeccably humorous prose evokes her childhoo...more"It's a cliche to say that a good memoir reads like a well-crafted work of fiction, but Kimmel's smooth, impeccably humorous prose evokes her childhood as vividly as any novel. Born in 1965, she grew up in Mooreland Indiana, a place that by some mysterious and powerful mathematical prinicple retains a population of 300, a place where there's no point learning the street names because it's just as easy to say, "We live at the four-way stop sign."
Hers is less a formal autobiography than a collection of vignettes comprising the things a small child would remember; sick birds, a new bike, reading comics at the drugstore, the mean old lady down the street. The truths of childhood are rendered in lush yet simple prose; here's Zippy describing a friend who hates wearing girls' clothes: "Julie in a dress was like the rest of us in quicksand." Over and over we encounter pearls of third-grade wisdom revealed in a child's assured voice. "There are a finite number of times one can safely climb the same tree in a single day".
Read for task 20.6 ~ Big Books in the Seasonal Reading Challenge, Spring 2010.
This is one of those books I had high hopes for but fell flat for me. Th...moreRead for task 20.6 ~ Big Books in the Seasonal Reading Challenge, Spring 2010.
This is one of those books I had high hopes for but fell flat for me. The subject - secretly reading classic works of fiction, banned under the Iranian regime in place at the time of the book - thrilled me and I am certainly impressed with Nafisi taking such a risk in more than difficult times. The let down, for me, was in the style of writing. I felt it very dry and not reflective of the urgency or risks being taken. It may be a book I return to for a second read. Sometimes books and timing of reading conflict. (less)
Following, a review by Rachel Giese, from The Walrus, which sums up my thoughts and feelings far better than I could express.
"In his affecting new boo...moreFollowing, a review by Rachel Giese, from The Walrus, which sums up my thoughts and feelings far better than I could express.
"In his affecting new book, Globe and Mail journalist Ian Brown sets himself the awesome task of measuring the value of human life—specifically that of his profoundly disabled thirteen-year-old son, Walker. The boy was born with a genetic mutation called cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, referred to by experts as an “orphan syndrome” because its occurrence is so random and rare. Walker is small—he weighs just sixty-five pounds—and globally delayed. He can’t feed himself, he barely communicates, and he functions at the level of a two-year-old.
There are no ribbon campaigns or telethons for sufferers of CFC and very little medical knowledge about the condition; it’s only since the arrival of the Internet that a small support network of families has coalesced. Brown and his wife, journalist Johanna Schneller, muddle through—epically sleep deprived and battle scarred from Walker’s vicious tantrums—with the help of a miracle-worker nanny and a series of doctors, therapists, and support caregivers, none of whom offer much hope that their son’s situation will ever improve.
Brown expanded the story from a series of articles first published in the Globe. Even with the most intimate material, he maintains his reporter’s discipline and impartiality, a rigour that makes the storytelling still more intimate. His accounts of his attempts to connect with Walker, and to be a good father, are at once tender and resolutely unsentimental. “Walker had given my life shape, possibly even meaning,” he writes. “But Walker had also made our lives hell.”
The boy’s needs strain Brown’s finances and his marriage. (“The grit of resentment lay like a fine dust over everything,” he writes of his relationship with Schneller.) And in the zero-sum game of contemporary child rearing, he is beset by guilt for not being enough of a “disability warrior” for his son, and by fears that other parents view him as a failure.
Yet raising Walker also offers Brown extraordinary moments of grace: the visceral pleasure of sharing a bath or holding hands; the wisdom of a kind-hearted doctor who likens Walker’s condition to the Buddhist idea of “pure being”; and the heartbreaking decency of friends who “tried to reach down into our darkness and hold us.”
Given the current glut of smug daddy blogs and cutesy mommy memoirs, it’s bracing to read a story about parenthood in which there is something so extraordinary at stake. Here, Brown and Schneller grapple with whether to place Walker in a group home. It feels like a betrayal to send him away, but the level of care he requires is simply too much for them to manage. To sort out his feelings, Brown embarks on a journey to meet other families of children with CFC—a narrative device that at times feels forced. And after a visit to a Christian community of disabled people in France, he finds something like peace. It doesn’t come from the group’s beliefs, which he respects but does not share. Rather, it lies in himself: “I have begun simply to love [Walker:] as he is, because I’ve discovered I can.”
Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx's first work of nonfiction in twenty years, is subtitled "A Memoir." To many readers who might be hoping for a full-blown, linear account of Proulx's life, this subtitle will be somewhat misleading and possibly disappointing. For careful readers and those with strong, natural curiosity, however, Bird Cloud will be a treasure in which Proulx reveals herself – sometimes directly and other times in more subtle ways. Proulx's memoir is a great example of being shown what a person is about rather than being told what she is like. It is, admittedly, an untraditional way to present a personal memoir, but when examined as a portrait of a specific stretch of time – the building of Proulx's home – the book becomes a beautiful reflection of that period.
Annie Proulx has achieved tremendous literary success with her works of fiction. She won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for her novel The Shipping News, which tells the story of Quoyle, a lost and heartbroken father trying to create a life for his daughter in rugged and spirit-testing Newfoundland. She is also well known for her short story "Brokeback Mountain," which received an O. Henry Award prize for fiction in 1998; the collection in which the story appears, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Both The Shipping News and "Brokeback Mountain" were adapted into poignant and visually stunning films. The film Brokeback Mountain, in fact, won seventy-one awards in 2005. Place is a recurrent subject in much of Proulx's work. How people develop and respond to their geographic location in the world is a constant theme in her story-telling and is integral to the theme of Bird Cloud as well.
In 2003, Proulx became the owner of 640 acres of rural Wyoming property, after a ten year search for "the right place." She purchased this one square mile of land from the Nature Conservancy, "[The] place, perhaps, where I will end my days. Or so I think." Early on in the memoir, we are given clear statements that Proulx, who was sixty-eight at the time she began this process, was "intensely conscious of fleeting time"and was worried about "a time budget as [she] was not getting any younger. Bird Cloud is cleverly arranged with this idea of time in mind. Chapters alternate between the progress of Proulx's house building and her areas of personal interest. A small drawing, created by Proulx, begins each new chapter of the book. The drawings, while simple on initial glance, are very detailed and striking.
To build her home at Bird Cloud, Proulx assembles a talented and diverse team of workers to construct the house. Men with such amusing monikers as The James Gang, Uphill Bob, Catfish and Mr. Solar, are entrusted with creating her dream home. That their names could have been plucked from one of Proulx's own works of fiction is not lost on me. The James Gang, in particular, becomes very close with Proulx; they often take short camping holidays together, and at one point, one of the members of The James Gang and Proulx fly to the Mayo Clinic to have some health concerns addressed. Proulx had some concerns about her right hip and was worried about arthritis affecting the joint; while Deryl was struggling with some complicated issues with his health. He had received several troubling and different diagnoses in Wyoming, so hoped to get to the root of his problems by traveling to the Mayo Clinic with Proulx.
After three years of a construction process marked by obstacles, set-backs, and disappointments. Proulx finally moves into her new house. It has become evident to her, however, that despite her hopes the new house cannot be her final home. She is disappointed to learn that, contrary to her realtor's promise, the road to Bird Cloud is not plowed during the winter, so it will impossible for her to stay there. Proulx continues her pattern of spending winters in Santa Fe and laments a lost dream, still restless in her search for the feeling of finally being home.
I was struck by Proulx's curiosity about a variety of subjects. Archaeology, natural history, genealogy, Wyoming's people, birds, books – all of these things inspire her to gather more knowledge. She seeks out experts and devours details and information. She carries a pocket microscope, so she can more closely examine articles of interest discovered while hiking or cross-country skiing. I had guessed, by reading Proulx's fiction, that she spent much time on research and was as exacting with her details as she was in crafting her sentences. The details of Proulx's memoir bear this out. We are given a feeling for Proulx's writing process as, during the construction of her home and her subsequent move into the place, she is collaborating on a book. She writes about that project and also talks about her love of books, a love I share. I became a bit envious and excited as I read about Proulx's "fifty-six book cases, each weighing hundreds of pounds" and "forty-odd boxes of manuscripts and drafts,"all well ordered and labelled; evidence, indeed of a curious mind and meticulous methods.
Through reading Bird Cloud, I feel as though I have come to understand more about Annie Proulx. This book is one that continues to grow on me as I recall remarkable details so brilliantly captured for readers. The last chapter is devoted to birds, in particular the eagles of Bird Cloud. Proulx's observations are keen and when, at the end of the chapter (and the end of story) she sees a familiar eagle with a new partner, she has a momentary hope for the male bird. The female eagle, after being shown her potential new home, "took off, heading west, and the lone eagle pursued her. I assumed she didn't like the place." The following day both eagles are back, but it is too late in the year to start a family. Proulx notes this is "...a common wildlife situation of hope deferred." And here is the heart of Proulx's book: a story of hope deferred, for the birds, and for herself.
Wow, JCO! I just hardly know what to say here. The honesty and openness with your emotions and feelings is raw. Painful. Dark. And repetitive. I ached...moreWow, JCO! I just hardly know what to say here. The honesty and openness with your emotions and feelings is raw. Painful. Dark. And repetitive. I ached for you, I really did but the method you used for telling this story grated. This third person "the widow" device was bizarre and, for me, detracted from the flow and feeling. Also, I was mostly creeped out that you still refer to your (deceased) father as "Daddy". Maybe this wasn't a good time for me to read this memoir of your, as I seem to be nit-picky about the book, questioning. I am glad you got through this time and very happy you seem to be surrounded by wonderful friends. Friends can make all the difference.(less)
Oh, Keef, you are wise and funny and your brain is rather impressive. Your body is a whole other matter and I really would encoura...moreDear Keith Richards;
Oh, Keef, you are wise and funny and your brain is rather impressive. Your body is a whole other matter and I really would encourage you to donate it to medical science for research because, clearly, something is going on in you that defies the laws of nature. Curing hepatitis C "on [your] own...without treatment", say what?? Staying up for nine days straight, sustained by heroin, coke and booze?? Not human. Although your means of hydration was, apparently, enough.
Admittedly, your nine lives ran out years and years ago and yet, here you are, still breathing, walking, talking and writing. I am glad you explained the reason is because you were a smart junkie. That really cleared up a lot for me. If I ever go down the junkie road, I will remember your advice to not push it by taking a little more, to get a little higher. I will remember I can't get a little more high. I will invest in precision scales and I will only trust the pharmaceutical grade smack. I will avoid the Mexican Shoe Scrapings no matter how twitchy I get. I will trade in the Jack Daniels for vodka and feel better about my drinking.
Oh, yeah; I will invest in a big knife and a gun and have one or the other on me at all times and sleep with the gun under my pillow. That will be really helpful on the occasions when people try to wake me up and I am not having it.
Despite all of these quirks - is it okay to say that?? - you are a right charming bloke! Well read, interesting and...a romantic. It made me really happy to know that not all rock stars are the same and that you wouldn't go in for "just a fuck" if it didn't mean anything. I guess I hadn't given much thought to this part of your character as, I admit it, I figured every rock 'n roll bad boy is slutastic like a porn star. Thank you for sharing your cuddling nature. I like picturing you spooning groupies. Also, I am so, SO glad you didn't go in for the plaster cast of your dick the way the guys from Led Zeppelin did. You really do have standards. That has become evident. And it's not in a snobby way either. It is just sensible. Keith Richards, sensible. Who'd a thought it?
Well, I should quit this rambling, I suppose. I really loved your book and reading about your "Life". Through reading your story, my perceptions were challenged and new thoughts were formed. You are an alright cat!
Well, Slash, holy fuck man! I sort of want to take you under my wing and give you a hug dude. But first, I want you to have a shower because you are d...moreWell, Slash, holy fuck man! I sort of want to take you under my wing and give you a hug dude. But first, I want you to have a shower because you are dirty. And I don't mean that in a "dirty-sexy" way. I mean it in a "remember Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown, how filthy he was?" way. I would like to introduce you to soap and laundry detergent and, what the hell, underwear. I get that living on the road, touring, has its challenges. And I get that junkies are, well, junkies. But seriously. You grossed me out a little bit, and that is really, really hard to do. I am fairly certain we did not need to know about your treatment-resistant penis-warts. But, gosh, I am sure glad you had them cleared up before reuniting with Sally. Phew! That was a close one, eh?
You definitely seem to be a wise old soul so, for the love of humanity, man, stop sticking needles in your veins. That is not cool and you are way smarter than that, dumb-ass. I am glad things are calmer in your life and that, by the end of the story you are clean and sober (this book is from 2007). It seems you and your wife, Perla, have had more ups and downs in the past year but your two little boys are super-cute so I hope you are making life easy for them and not stressing them out with your bad-boy antics and Perla's party-mama ways; though reading about it all was very cool. I have to ask you a favour though, Slash. Stop using the word "literally". Please? Now!
One niggling annoyance: your co-author sort of sucks. A lot. And your editor sucks too. If you ever do another memoir, a part two to this book, choose someone else to co-write with. Apply the same logic and gut instinct you use in feeling the groove with other musicians to seeking out writers and editors. It wouldn't take much to turn your okay story into a totally kick-ass book!
So, from your book I came away still thinking you are underrated as an axe-man. Your vibe (as a human being) is totally excellent and I am sure a lot of people could learn from your ways. And I don't mean your not-so-smart-junkie ways. I mean your sit back, take it all in, accept people as they are for who they are ways. I am pulling for you to have a happy and calm life filled with a lot of music-making.
I felt the need for a visual, here. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!!
Jeanette Winterson's memoir is written sparsely and hurriedly; it is sometimes so terse it's almost in note form. The impression this gives is not of sloppiness, but a desperate urgency to make the reader understand. This is certainly the most moving book of Winterson's I have ever read, and it also feels like the most turbulent and the least controlled. In the end, the emotional force of the second half makes me suspect that the apparent artlessness of the first half is a ruse; that, in a Lilliputian fashion, what appears to be a straight narrative of her early life is actually tying the reader down with a thousand imperceptible guy ropes, so that when she unleashes a terrible sorrow, there is no escaping it and no looking away.
"Why be happy when you could be normal?" is the real-life question of her adopted mother, as Winterson is evicted, at 16, for taking up with a second girlfriend (the attempts to exorcise her sexuality after the first having been unsuccessful). There are passages and phrases that will be recognisable to anyone who's read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: this is not surprising, since that first, bold announcement of Winterson's talent was a roman à clef, and never claimed to be otherwise.
So anecdotes and jokes crop up in both books: the mother says the lesbian sweet-shop owners deal in "unnatural passions", and the young Jeanette thinks it means they put chemicals in their sweets; the gospel tent, the CB radio, all the memorable details of the first fictional outing come up again, but the point is not that this is repetitive. Rather, that the documents are intended as companions, to lay this one over the last like tracing paper, so that even if the author poetically denies the possibility of an absolute truth, there emerges nevertheless the shape of the things that actually happened. I had forgotten how upbeat Oranges was; it may have been peopled by eccentrics, with a heroine held in alienation by the aspic of impotent childhood, but there were upsides. "I suppose the saddest thing for me," Winterson writes now, "thinking about the cover version that is Oranges, is that I wrote a story I could live with. The other one was too painful. I could not survive it."
The upbringing as she tells it now is far bleaker; she was beaten, she was often hungry, she was left all night on the doorstep by a mother whose religious excesses might even have been a secondary influence on the household the first being her depression, which was pervasive and relentless. She was not well loved. However, the story's leavened throughout by other observations. The geopolitics I sometimes found bold, and other times found too broad to be conclusive: "In a system that generates masses, individualism is the only way out. But then what happens to community – to society?" But it wriggles with humour, even as Jeanette describes Mrs Winterson, who, in between her violent homilies and dishonest violence, had like any good tyrant various crucial absurdities – "she was one of the first women to have a heated corset. Unfortunately, when it overheated it beeped to warn the user. As the corset was by definition underneath her petticoat dress, apron and coat, there was little she could do to cool down except take off her coat and stand in the yard." There is Winterson's quirky favourite hymn ("Cheer up ye saints of God," it starts, "There is nothing to worry about"), her loving, impressionistic descriptions of classic authors, from TS Eliot to Gertrude Stein, as she first encounters them. And even with all this new, distressing detail, the story of her childhood ends well – it ends in escape.
Then there's an odd page or two entitled "Intermission", which finishes: "The womb to tomb of an interesting life – but I can't write my own; never could. Not Oranges. Not now. I would rather go on reading myself as a fiction than as a fact … I am going to miss out 25 years … Maybe later …"
And suddenly we are on to territory which is alarming, moving, at times genuinely terrifying; skip forward a quarter century, and Winterson has just split up from her girlfriend, the theatre director Deborah Warner. She finds her adoption papers in the effects of her dad, when he's moving to an old people's home. She has a nervous breakdown and attempts suicide. "My friends never failed me and when I could talk I did talk to them. But often I could not talk. Language left me. I was in the place before I had any language. The abandoned place." At times she describes the process with precision. Other times, though, the scars of this first abandonment are given in the most unadorned, uncharacteristic prose, as though she's trying to gnaw her way through her own sophistication to get to the truth of it. In a way, the presence in the narrative of Susie Orbach, with whom Winterson started a relationship just before she started looking for her birth mother, acts as a reassurance to the reader as much as to the author, a fixed point to whom we can return, whose very inclusion means that, whatever happens, a fresh abandonment won't be the outcome. Otherwise I genuinely think it would be unbearable. At one point I was crying so much I had tears in my ears.
There is much here that's impressive, but what I find most unusual about it is the way it deepens one's sympathy, for everyone involved, so that the characters who are demons at the start – her adoptive mother but also, to a degree, her acquiescent adoptive father – emerge, by the end, as simply, catastrophically damaged. In the process of uncovering that, she painstakingly unpicks the damage they wreaked on her. The peace she makes with her adoptive family is, in this sense, more important and evocative than the more complicated and double-edged peace that comes with tracking down her birth mother.(less)