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Another memoir by a young writer? I couldn’t help but ask myself this question while reading John DeVault’s piece on 29-year-old Julie Hilden and her new memoir, The Bad Daughter (Artifacts, 4/24). I find the increasing number of young memoirists to be an indication of my generation’s unfortunate tendency toward self-absorption. These works reflect a vision of the world where the “I” and the “me” are both the question and the answer. Time and age aren’t even given a chance to enter into the equation, as many of these memoirs are written before the author hits 35.
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What troubles me about these works is their often profound sense of self-centered detachment. They are written in a language of “I”s, “me”s, and “my”s, and are thereby an unmistakable product of our culture. We are taught that our emotions, our problems, even our sexuality, are our own singular possessions. We experience them as our private vehicles for living life, and we can imagine no other way to get at life except through them. It is therefore little wonder that we, as a young generation of writers, attempt to make sense of our world by telling the story of ourselves. Often, we can not even imagine there being another story to tell. The best writers, however, do not simply mirror our culture. The best writers are precisely those who can take us outside of ourselves and show us other ways to know the world. In an “I” world, the best writers show us how to be “we.” Toni Morrison comes to mind.
As a young writer, I am carefully and slowly trying to develop skills for seeing the world beyond myself. I do this out of an optimistic sense that my generation might not be as alone as we feel. So I say to Julie Hilden: I too am the bad daughter of a bad mother who was the bad daughter of a bad mother herself. And though I may be wrong, I would guess that your mother was a bad daughter, too, and that you might therefore have something in common with the woman that you shut from your heart. Somewhere in the midst of this is a story about us all. I suspect that it has something to do with us not being as bad as we think we are, but I’m not certain, as I haven’t written it yet. I do know for certain, though, that it won’t be a memoir.
via the Internet