Autobiography, like surgery, isn't for the fainthearted. Here, noted biographer Givner (English/University of Regina, Saskatchewan; Katherine Anne Porter, 1982, etc.) coolly dissects her own family, career, and—occasionally—herself. Declaring that ``the writing of an autobiography induces a last-will-and-testament frame of mind,'' Givner proceeds to tell her life story in numbered paragraphs that are as much vignettes as reflections. She recalls her English childhood in a lower-middle- class home where books were rare—the family didn't even own a dictionary—and where gardening and listening to the radio were major diversions. Home for Givner was a place where ``every act- -even the simplest one of eating a meal, choosing a helping of this over that—was subjected to criticism, moral disapproval.'' Her parents were ill-matched, she thinks, with her mother's lack of imagination particularly exasperating. Only the author's success at school proved an escape from a crippling relationship with her parents—particularly her success at college, where she met and married a rich American. Givner elliptically describes the later breakdown of the marriage; her continuing academic success in the US; her move to Canada, where she remarried and gave birth to two daughters; and her teaching career in Saskatchewan. Equally elliptically, she details how her dissertation on Katherine Anne Porter became a book and how she came to write the biography of popular Canadian novelist Mazo de la Roche. Now in her late 50s, Givner ends with an observation that abruptly and disconcertingly undercuts the vehemence of her earlier discontents: ``To go out of your native land and to leave your people is to sustain a great incurable wound.'' Well written, and certainly tart and opinionated, but too narrow and small-scale, offering no riveting insights into writing or even just living.
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