“Whoring! Grandiosity! Self-promotion!” More hisses from the tree branches. But is that what this is, this memoir writing, this offering up of our trembling selves? Most literary memoirs are discrete, modest. They have no grand slanders or salacious gossip to reveal. They are hard-working books, endeavoring to crack life.
How many literary memoirists make a bundle or wind up in Hollywood, consultants to movies of their own childhoods? That question should stop the arrows mid-stream. I think, rather, that most literary memoirists are working dawn to dusk with tiny nets, trying to separate the fishes from the weeds in the murk.
Jamison declares her first psychotic mania a fizzy chaos, “a marvelous kind of cosmic relatedness.” She goes on to describe the follow-up stage of her bi-polar illness:
Then the bottom began to fall out of my life and my mind. My thinking, far from being clearer than a crystal, was tortuous. I would read the same passage over and over again only to realize that I had no memory at all of what I had just read. For several weeks, I drank Vodka in my orange juice before setting off for school in the mornings, and I thought obsessively about killing myself.
This kind of writing is not self-aggrandizement but courage.