I just finished Leaving Before the Rains Come. Man, was it good. I resisted reading Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs tonight because it came out when I was still working in the bookstore and it was too popular. (Yes, we are judgmental assholes who often don’t read something because it is too popular, but we have really good reasons for our judgments. C’mon, click on that link. It’s hilarious.)
When I resurface from a book, I often scour reviews to see if other people have seen its brilliance, or, sometimes, its horrid shortcomings. I came across the following by Emily Rapp Black:
The title of Alexandra Fuller’s latest book, “Leaving Before the Rains Come,” sounds like that of a sentimental Lifetime television movie, but this clear-eyed chronicle is perhaps one of the best memoirs ever written about divorce. In part this is because it is as much about identity, place, and the struggle to find and lead a meaningful life as it is about the disintegration of a relationship. Deeply introspective, fiercely intelligent, and free of bitterness or self-pity, Fuller’s insights about independence, authenticity, and the delicate line between madness and fevered inspiration will resonate with many.
I’ve been thinking a lot about sentences (and I don’t just mean the Boston bombings, that is another post entirely). Some of my older work in the memoir has killer sentences. Some of my new work is more deeply thought out, but I’m stuck with beginning every sentence with “I”. Fuller writes a killer sentence. Not only is it well-written and varied, it is packed with information, analysis, and images. And she avoids the “I” by telling her own story through other people, ideas, and images. No ideas but in things.
She does exactly what Rapp Black says above. Instead of focusing on the tiny things that she did, “And then I wept,” she talks about the two cultures—of family, personality, and country of origin—that came into the marriage and how they could not make it work. You could see from the beginning that they weren’t going to make it work, although the protagonists of course have no idea.
This is how you make a memoir universal. May those of us who are working through a memoiresque fucker do the same.
What are you reading?