The Duke of Deception/Geoffrey Wolff: Reflections on one of the best memoirs I've ever read

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I could go on about this; I won't.  The Duke of Deception is one of the best memoirs I've ever read.

I speak as one whose shelves are overflowing with the form, as one who has attempted the beast more than a few times herself, as one who teaches this dastardly, presumptive first-person art, begging emerging writers to think harder about scenes, longer about story, more purposefully about what any of it means.  Leave the right things in, take the right things out, be scrupulously honest without ever being dull, learn and let the reader learn with you, do not summarize your past, evoke it, avoid the scold and the didactic and the exhibitionism, be only yourself, grant your work the possibility of reach and stretch, write for the right reasons.... It's all here, all the lessons I've ever laid out, urged toward.

Duke is a father-son story.  It's a forgiveness story.  It's an adventure.  It's a lesson.  Geoffrey Wolff's father hardly ever told the truth, and he was a wreck, and he wrecked things, and he was a shameful disappointment, and he died ignoble, and yet every word in this breathtaking book is written from a place of love.  Like this:
I was harder on my father after I had the goods on him than he had ever been on me.  He had always had the goods on me.  And he never made cruel use of them.
Like, also, this:
My father's vocabulary was a schoolboy's vocabulary because among us he was among schoolboys.  He was a chameleon.  He gave his clients what he thought they wanted:  companies got his constipated management jargon, headmasters got piety, car salesmen got bank references, car mechanics got engineering lore.  He was a lie, through and through.  There was nothing to him but lies, and love.
No excuses.  Read it.

6 comments:

Lindsey said...

It is going on the list now. xox

Liviania said...

Both of those lines are amazing.

You have read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, no? If not, you'd love it. I know it.

Lilian Nattel said...

Wonderful writing. It's going on my list.

reiko rizzuto said...

I love assigning this book to students along with Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life... If you ever thought, what would my life be like if only I stayed with the other parent!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the heads-up about this book -- I look forward to reading it. I'm new to your blog (though not to your writing) -- visiting via The Betty and Boo Chronicles.

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