They Can Sing

March 15, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m reading “Wild”, Cheryl Strayed’s hugely anticipated memoir and my friend Sallie who lives in Plymouth asked me if I’d read Cheryl’s novel, “Torch” and I told her I hadn’t and probably wouldn’t (even though I am devouring the memoir) because I have a bad habit, bias, whatever, of rarely reading works of fiction written by someone who has written a great book about something that really happened to them, or to the world.  I’ve read novels by Ann Patchett, Kathryn Harrison, Michael Ondaatje and others and feel that their memoirs are their best work.  And it isn’t just the movement of the prose or the lucidity of the subject matter or the beauty of the syntax turning on a line or any of that (but also all of that) that I think makes the non-fiction better, it’s the fact that when I’m reading the other stuff — the fiction — I know they are lying.  Each one of these writers — and there are others, Elizabeth McCracken, Anatole Broyard, Suzanna Kaysen, etc. etc. — are so compelling and wide-ranging and improvisational and completely original in their autobiographical impulses that listening to them tell a story they invent is like watching an opera singer warming up their vocal cords before hitting that made up world of wall to wall music.   You already know they can sing.

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