My reading goes in spurts: a geyser of fiction followed by science non-fiction followed by something else. Lately I have been reading memoirs. There is no particular reason for this, but in the last few weeks I have read Elizabeth Gilbert's EAT, LOVE, PRAY (which is going to be a "major motion picture" next year), and Ayelet Waldman's BAD MOTHER. Next up: Carrie Fisher's WISHFUL DRINKING. Gilbert copes with spirituality, Waldman with motherhood, and Fisher with alcoholism. Apparently you cannot have a life without a theme.
The Waldman, although very well written, troubled me. She is a essayist for Salon, and is married to novelist (and Nebula winner) Michael Chabon. They have four children, and would have had five had Waldman not chosen to abort their third child several months into the pregnancy because genetic analysis revealed that the child had a genetic defect that would have resulted in physical and/or mental abnormalities. The doctors could not say at that point if the abnormalities would be mild or severe.
Waldman writes about all this with terrifying honesty. She details her position, Chabon's position (not the same), the agonizing that went into the final decision, Chabon's support, her regrets and reactions and feeling that she would do the same thing if offered the choice again. I'm not going to comment on her choice, but rather on her memoir. Everything is exposed here: sexual history, marital disagreements, her children's difficulties (one is ADHD, one was born with a palate abnormality that made it impossible for him to breast feed) -- everything. The author says she cleared all this exposure with her husband and with the two children old enough to understand (although at 10 and 14, can they really?) Even so, I wondered what daughter Sophie is going to think someday about knowing so much about her mother's sex life.
The whole thing made me reflect on Freud's comment that memoirs must be "of necessity mendacious," leaving out a person's genuine, complex, often unattractive inner life. Freud made his statement long before the modern tell-all atmosphere that produced Waldman. So I asked myself, just as a hypothetical, could I ever write my own memoirs? We're leaving aside the question of whether anyone would be remotely interested in reading them ("No"). Would I want to choose either Waldman's brutal honesty or Freud's mendacious acceptability?
I would not. My life has not been as fraught with drama as Waldman's or Fisher's, but it's been fraught enough. The autobiographies of SF writers that I have read -- Pohl, Asimov -- have been interesting but also lacking; I know enough about these people to know what's been left out. I would want to neither put in the juicy stuff nor leave it out. Besides, my life lacks a theme.
None of which stops me from reading other people's memoirs. And with relish.