A chorus of noteworthy memoirists reflects on the ethical consequences of airing dirty laundry.
“With family stories, the stakes are always high,” writes Castro (English and Ethnic Studies/Univ. of Nebraska; Island of Bones, 2012, etc.), who published her harrowing experiences as the abused child of fundamentalist parents. Naturally, she has firsthand knowledge of the memoirist’s internal struggle: a personal obligation to convey an honest narrative while straddling the thin line between authenticity and oversharing. This conundrum of writing within the “self-disclosing genre of our reality-hungry era” is pondered throughout 25 reflective essays from a wide-ranging group of writers. The four-part collection opens with essays personifying the ethical boundaries authors like emergency room physician Paul Austin must skirt when divulging a life working in a high-pressure environment while raising a disabled child. Novelist Paul Lisicky discusses the fragile “line between life and art” after his published remembrances became surprisingly offensive to his aunt, a reaction similar to that of gay memoirist Rigoberto González’s grandparents to his poignant, revelatory autobiography. Wrestling with artistic integrity, despite the pain caused to others, is also a theme running through the collection, along with the expected preponderance of the matriarchal mother figure. Several authors who share their experiences are also creative writing instructors, and they offer advice on crafting an effective, epiphanic memoir. All of the entries deserve attention, though some are disappointingly brief, while others excessively agonize over unresolved emotional baggage. “Such is the calamity of authorship and authenticity in revealing secrets,” writes Allison Hedge Coke of her process in exorcising personal demons onto the printed page. Other contributors include Ariel Gore, Alison Bechdel and Dinty W. Moore.
A well-balanced panoply of family-centric musings from authors conflicted between responsibility and retribution.