Sunday, January 29, 2012
I didn't do that this Sunday morning. The thought (and this, I swear, is historic) never occurred. Because I had gone to sleep reading Buzz Bissinger's Father's Day, and, on waking, I was so wild in my want to finish the book that habit had no power over me. Subtitled A Journey Into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son, Buzz's book is a memoir about fatherhood and about a trip he took with his adult son, a second-born twin named Zach. Read the flap copy and you'll know why the story—about not wanting and getting, about bewilderment and exhilaration, about doing wrong and being wronged and loving hard and forever—should be important. Read the book to find out why it (absolutely, you-can't-deny-me-this) is.
"What is most irreducibly true about you?" I asked my memoir class at Penn last Tuesday. Memoirs fail, I told the kids, emphatic, when they lack compassion for both the subject and the self. Take risks, I told them. Be original; it's your one life. Care about language, go raw and interesting, don't be afraid to get it wrong, because if you do, you have a crack at getting it right. Be unafraid and perhaps, I meant to say if I didn't say, you'll write the true impossible mess of life.
I should have had Buzz's book in hand while I gave my talk. I would have read my beautiful students every word of this most moving, most meaningful, most wrenching, most clear, most important memoir, Father's Day. I am proudly Buzz's friend, and I know he struggled with this book, but on every page is proof of how an honest struggle, a desperate wrestling down, can at times yield a book that will be read for ages by all ages—not just for the story and for the wisdoms (which are many, accruing, and right), not just for the language (which is gorgeous as it both lances and limns), not just for the perfectly constructed asides that teach us the history of premature babies and savants, but also, if you want to get technical about it, for the structure. Father's Day is a perfectly structured book. And it's funny and it's sad and it moves you and it's honest. Maybe Buzz thinks the world is going to remember him for Friday Night Lights, and of course the world will. But Buzz Bissinger, I have news for you: You have just written your most transcendent book. You had all the words you ever needed. They were always waiting for you.
Buzz isn't the easiest guy in the world. Hell. He knows that. Indeed, Buzz uses his own trenchant bitterness, his temper, his neediness, his incompleteness to explore his relationship to his son Zach, who is a map-obsessed, calendaring-gifted, birthday-remembering, tender-hearted man who is loved by many but stymied in the land of The Normals, as Buzz puts it, by a low IQ thanks to a difficult, oxygen-deprived birth. Time and time again as Buzz and Zach weave their way across the country remembering the past together, Buzz is wrong and Zach is right. And Buzz is the kind of father who, after nursing his wounds, relishes that fact. Buzz is a bestselling Pulitzer Prize winner; sure he is. But what we love about Buzz after reading Father's Day, is who he is as a dad. Fallible, funny, trying, hurt, and loving the hell out of his sons.
I want to quote the entire book. I can't. I want to choose a single passage. I find, for the first time ever on this blog, that I can't do that either. If I choose Buzz writing landscape, then I ignore Buzz flailing in a motel room. If I choose Buzz at an amusement park with Zach, then I lose the scene in Las Vegas. If I quote Zach, then I don't get to quote Gerry, the twin who was born three minutes ahead and who is, Buzz writes, Buzz's very soul.
I can't choose, and so I won't. Buy the book when it comes out in May.