The danger of memoir is the unreliability of memory, and the danger comes with the territory. In remembering, I am telling myself a story about something that happened in my life. Did it happen the way I remember it?
Sometimes when my mother reads some story I’ve written about my childhood, she remarks to one of my sisters, “Pamela has a wonderful imagination.” Clearly, my mother thinks I’ve taken literary liberties with the past. Have I? A friend of ours is continually trying to “set the record straight” with his siblings. Will he ever succeed? I have no desire to substitute someone else’s memories for the ones I’ve cherished and relived for years--reinforcing them on each visit--but our friend is a historian and, as such, wedded to the idea of the facts, the facts and nothing but the facts.
Well, imagine that you do not consider yourself either writer or historian and you have someone else write your memoir. Your desire is to have your story told, and the ghostwriter invents a few literary devices and scenes to make it “better.” Should you object? Doesn’t the writer know better than you what makes a good story? I mean, is that what you think? Now imagine that your story becomes a best-selling book and you are asked to speak to groups across the country and are able in this way to raise a lot of money for your cause. What do you think now?
Do you know the book I’m talking about? Do you know the man whose story it is? What do you think of recent accusations of falsehood made against him?
The jury is still out on this one, but you can probably tell I’m sympathetic to the poor beleaguered nonwriter. I don’t think he set out to perpetrate a fraud. But again, what do you think?
Then there was Jim Harrison’s first non-poetry book, a novel titled Wolf: A False Memoir. That really puts the ball back in the reader’s court, doesn’t it?