Holiday Books 2006 – The Progressive, 12/20/2006

In a year when Oprah had blown a righteous gasket at being pretexted by James Frey, I waded cautiously into the memoir genre. The following memoirs invite such deep experiential reading, all caution is gone with the wind.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, My Life Out West with the Last Black Widow of the Civil War, by Rita Williams, is her story of being orphaned at four and being both unwanted and raised by her resentful Aunt Daisy in the Colorado Rockies. The long lunacy of slavery fuels Rita’s story of extended family, legacy, and ambition in the 1960s and 70s. Williams is a great storyteller and at excruciatingly personal moments, layered with adolescent angst and racial isolation, I hoped she was lying, but knew she wasn’t.

Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-Obsessed World by Eve Ensler is a mix of personal history and reportage. She candidly reveals the terror beneath her secure-seeming childhood and connects that with the terror told her by women in Mexico, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and America in 911 and Katrina. Ensler’s voice is of a practical and spirited spirituality as she worries the many complex strands of the conundrum of security and freedom. I kept thinking of Mae West’s devastating, “Most men want to protect me; can’t figure out from what.”

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, though it lacks the long clarifying subtitle that is apparently mandated in publishing law, is a stunning, poignant, literate graphic memoir. And you thought Jim McGreevy’s memoir was graphic. This is a memoir that keeps on giving. I reread it. I stared at individual pages. Through nearly obsessive, perfectly rendered graphic detail and sparely perfect prose, Bechdel documents her coming of age as a woman and lesbian in the context of her relationship with her closeted father.

Somewhere the poet, Muriel Rukeyser, who asked, “What would happen if one woman told the truth of her life?” and answered, “The world would split open,” must be smiling.