by Nancy K. Miller ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1996
An unsatisfying amalgam of autobiography and literary criticism that achieves the dubious distinction of rendering its subject less, not more, interesting. Miller (English/City Univ. of New York; Getting Personal, not reviewed) examines Philip Roth's Patrimony, Simone de Beauvoir's A Very Easy Death, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and several other memoirs about the death of a parent. She leavens her didactic analyses (which rely heavily on feminist and psychoanalytic theory) with brief passages of autobiography. These fragments are meant to bolster her arguments and, more importantly, to demonstrate a correlation between the literary task of memorializing a dead parent and her own attempts to come to terms with the deaths of her mother and father. But the short personal sections, most less than a page, provide only glimpses of Miller's uneasy relationship with her parents. Too brief to sustain narrative momentum and too disjointed to develop cumulative emotional power, these details--which hint of a long-running ""war"" with her mother and a sense of regret about her own childlessness--seem coy and elusive in the absence of context. Considering her willingness to divine the psychological motives of Roth and company, this elusiveness is curious. Miller ably delineates the pitfalls memoirists encounter: the fear of invading privacy balanced with the desire for self-knowledge; the danger of self-censorship inherent in family narrative; and most provocatively, the disturbing mix of regret and relief many feel at a parent's death. But ultimately she is more successful at drawing connections among the books she discusses than at using them to illuminate her personal struggle. ""The critic's classic move is to track the places where the autobiographer seems blind to the screen of his own self-disclosure,"" Miller notes. This volume would be more compelling if Miller examined her own motives more closely.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996
Page Count: 208
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996
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