Country Girl: A Memoir/Edna O'Brien: Reflections

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It's called Country Girl: A Memoir, and it was the word "memoir" that I kept stumbling over, that one word that kept causing me to stop, look up, ponder.

For certainly this life story by Edna O'Brien is fascinating on several levels and beautifully written in many instances, and certainly O'Brien is a formidable writer, an important one, a writer so revered that the life she lives—the life she writes about here—is peopled with the great writers and the celebrity actors and the rock stars, even Jackie Onassis and Hillary Clinton. The notorious and notoriously famous are her friends. Entire counties are her enemies. Everything is escalated in her world, and Country Girl gives us a vibrant view in.

Does it matter, then, that Country Girl is not truly a memoir? That Country Girl is, indeed, autobiography? Memoir requires a universal stance, a politics of readerly inclusion, a this happened to me, did it happen to you, and how, in the end, does this make us both human? Themes percolate, and not just events. In autobiography, there is a divide—the audience in its seats, the storyteller on the stage, no mingling in the aisles, no presumed need for thematic integrity. Memoir gathers others in. Autobiography says, See, this. And this. Two very differently readerly experiences. Two different kinds of books.

Still, there was so much here—so much so beautifully rendered, so many episodes that provoke great sympathy, especially when the famous were off the page and it was O'Brien alone, O'Brien facing down her mother, O'Brien trying to recover her children from an angry ex-husband, O'Brien trying to write again, O'Brien musing on failure, and success.

And, always, O'Brien on love, of which she writes so knowingly:
Meanwhile, there was the vertigo of the affair, the many twists and turns, the reconsidered wisdoms, trade winds blowing hot and cold and hot again. It is impossible to capture the essence of love in writing, only its symptoms remain, the erotic absorption, the huge disparity between teh times together and the times apart, the sense of being excluded.


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