Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What is the attraction of the "I" story?

Many years ago I took summer writing workshops in Provincetown, Mass, at the very tip of Cape Cod. The fiction crowd, of which I was one, looked down on the memoir folks, who were packed like sardines in their classroom, all trying to be the next Mary Karr or Kathryn Harrison. "Autobiography is faker than fiction!" I thought. And, given what we've learned about "memoirs" like James Frey's or recently that of Margaret B. Jones, maybe I had a point.

Yet there's a unique power of the first-person story. Without a measurable distance between author and subject, as there is in biography and fiction, memoir seizes your attention and brings you close, as if the author were sitting on the next barstool telling you the story herself. Reading an actual person's recounting of, "I did this," "I made this choice," or "This happened to me" feels terribly intimate and revealing--ironically, even if it isn't true.

Any other thoughts on the subject?

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