House of Prayer No. 2/Mark Richard: Reflections

Saturday, February 26, 2011

You get saddened up, out here in life, by all the hum drum and the done before, the standard issue, the colors shimmed off to gray.  So that when you pick up a book like House of Prayer No. 2, a Mark Richard memoir rendered in meaty second-person prose, you let a smile crawl across your face and stay.  Just two weeks before, in my creative nonfiction class at Penn, a student had asked if memoir had to be, by definition was, a first-person accounting.  Tuesday I'll head back to class with House of Prayer No. 2 in my bag.  Second person works, I'll say.  It works, if you're Mark Richard.

Well, first, you have to have a life like his to tell a true story story like this, and I'm pretty sure no one else has lived precisely Richard's way—poor and "special," his hips whacked out, his days (or far too many of them) stuck in the hopeless heat of a hospital for crippled children, and, afterward, everything you hope your child doesn't do, doesn't get involved with, doesn't risk—all that done, by Richard, on his way to growing up, on his way to faith and writing.  Jeepers, where to start?  With the snakes he battled, with the things he stole, with the run-down houses he thieved into, with the ship captains and the small-time jail stints, with running off to Cuba, with running more (but hardly running, with those hips), drunk and from the law?  Smart kid, this Richard, big reader, fine writer with stories to tell, but so intent on his own dissipation for so long that if it hadn't been for editors and other writers mailing Richard's stories to contests and all, who knows what would have happened to this guy and his talent?  Who knows?  Richard was living one crazy thing after another, no plan, and no plan takes him, eventually, to New York, Nan Talese, Pen/Hemingway Award, Norman Mailer, Hollywood, and a bunch of other stuff—oh, incredibly and also, to helping to build a church after almost becoming some kind of southern minister—you'll have to read about in the book.

Read about it, second person.  Read about it, time flying or time going slow, and every sentence so rich with things you haven't seen before.  Or, at least, I haven't.  Call me sheltered.

I folded down pages to share with you.  I am having a devil of a time deciding.  All right, here.  A paragraph plucked from Richard's early wacky newspaper days—a tame paragraph, as this book goes, but a little show and tell of Richard's rhythms, his capacity, despite it all, for fun.  One thing leading to another.  Second person. 
Overall it's a good place, and you fill the pages with your name and several of your pseudonyms.  You cover the world's largest naval base and its air wings, NATO, the shipyards, the weapons centers, and anything else that interests you, and it all does.  You interview admirals and senators, enlisted men, pilots, and junior intelligence officers in their crisp khaki shirts whom you talk into taking you into the restricted areas down in Dam Neck.  You write editorials for the Op-Ed page, and you write scathing letters under fake names back to yourself, and you write letters the next week in answer to those, and you feel like Mark Twain, and it's a lot of fun to feel like Mark Twain.


bermudaonion said...

What an interesting approach for a memoir. I think you have to be a pretty darn good writer to pull off second person narrative in any book, but to make it work in a memoir would be amazing!

Melodye said...


I've been reading your blog for a while now (with pleasure), and I returned to this post to say "thanks" for this book recommendation. I just finished reading it--and loved it! I'm curious as to why my library shelved it in the fiction section, though. Any guesses?

Melodye said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now (with pleasure!--and I returned to this post to say "Thanks" for this book recommendation. I just finished reading Mark Richard's memoir, which I loved. I'm curious, however, as to why my local library categorized it as fiction. Any insights on that?

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