by Jerry Waxler
Sue William Silverman’s first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You took me into the disturbing experience of childhood sexual abuse. Even though the book was written entirely from the point of view of the child, I had the feeling I was standing shoulder to shoulder with an adult trying to understand and explain her own childhood. By the time I finished reading her memoir, I felt like the two of us had taken an important journey together.
Five years later, when I read her memoir Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, I felt like I was back in the company of an old friend. This sensation demonstrates an important feature of the Memoir Revolution. Through our stories, we are getting to know each other in the amazingly intimate method of seeing the world through an author’s eyes.
Getting to know someone intimately naturally invokes the familiar euphemism. To “know” someone in the Biblical sense means having sex with them. It turns out that Sue William Silverman has been on a lifelong journey to understand the difference between these two types of knowing. And her three memoirs lead us on the evolution from the quick sexual form of knowing to the longer one of mutual respect and support.
In her first memoir, her father tries to “know” her in the wrong way. By entering into a sexual relationship with her, he short-circuits the little girl’s need for the deep, trusting relationship her parents are supposed to teach.
As a young woman, she puts into practice the lesson her father taught her. In the memoir Love Sick, she carefully orchestrates sexual liaisons with men who have absolutely no interest in relating to her emotionally.
In the third memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club, she tries to grow beyond those limitations by seeking to understand her place in culture. As a young woman, she adores Pat Boone from afar. Then as a news reporter she begins to turn her cultural intrigue into the written form that she could share with her readers.
Through the course of decades, starting from childhood, then young adulthood, and then middle adulthood, she attempted to become a wiser more complete person. Then, in her later adulthood, she looked back across the years. Not content with keeping her lessons to herself, she needed to organize it all into memoirs that she could share. Thanks to her hard work, Silverman generously let readers experience her long painful evolution.
Then, she pressed on again, teaching others how they too could write their stories. In her book Fearless Confessions she shows how to find and share the story of your own life, creating a magical bond between author and reader that helps all of us grow wiser.
Stephen King, in his book On Writing, points out that writing is like magic. It allows us to telepathically know what is in someone else’s mind. In fiction, this magical effect takes us inside the imagination of the writer. Memoirs are an even more intimate form of telepathy, transporting readers into the dramatically compelling events that shaped the author’s life.
In the spectrum of human relationships, memoir readers are at the opposite extreme from Silverman’ emotionally unavailable sexual partners. Memoir readers are capable of emotional, intellectual and even spiritual intimacy. We want to experience the whole story.
Note about Knowing in the Biblical Sense
Speaking of books that take us inside characters’ lives, I came across a popular book called The Story NIV, which claims the Bible is a story of God’s relationship with society. The book calls into question the expression “knowing in the Biblical sense.” If the Bible is a sort of memoir that lets us know God in an intimate way, perhaps “knowing in the Biblical sense” implies getting to know someone intimately through his or her story.
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