by Jerry Waxler
The modern memoir movement burst into being around the beginning of the twenty-first century, ushered in by a slew of bestselling stories about growing up such as Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, and Mary Karr’s Liar’s Club. Those books describe the childhood development of their protagonists.
Now the presence of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild on the New York Times Bestseller list signals an interest in the next period of life, called “Launching.” At the beginning of Wild, the young woman is unemployed, sexually active, and confused about her relationship with drugs, men, and life in general. To find herself, she goes on a wilderness hike, during which she ponders her past. With each mile that passes underfoot, she moves farther from her confusion and closer to her future adulthood. Her outer story relies heavily on the struggle with nature, an ancient backdrop for the universal task of becoming an adult.
This period of transition into adulthood is not new. It’s just that Strayed’s memoir is a current favorite, focusing the book buying public on a transition that all of us must undergo. In most memoirs, the transition doesn’t take place in the wilderness. Instead, their authors must sort themselves out amid mundane challenges.
Stephen Markley’s clever memoir Publish This Book, is a great example of a young guy who needs to figure things out. Markley had just finished college and needed a job. His brainstorm to write a book about “publishing this very book” paid off. The outer story is filled with self-aware irony about the absurdities of writing a book about writing a book. The inner story is about Markley’s transition from college grad to adult. To complete that transition, he must establish a career, form a relationship and in general acquire enough oomph to move on to the next step in his life.
At the end of Frank McCourt’s bestselling Angela’s Ashes, the young man has just left home physically but he arrives in New York with no idea of what to do next. In his second memoir, ‘Tis, he describes the next leg of his journey in which he searches for work and attempts to form a relationship.
In Jancee Dunn’s successful memoir, Enough About Me, the outer story is about the adventures of a young celebrity interviewer. But at its heart, Enough About Me describes a young woman trying to figure out how to gain sufficient competency to leave home, form relationships, and get a good job.
Both Jancee Dunn’s and Frank McCourt’s launching memoirs take place in and around New York City, a cultural hotbed, famous as a place to search for that next exciting step into adulthood. Another memoir about trying to make it as an adult in New York is Elna Baker’s New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance (NYRMSHD).
After Elna Baker moves away from her parents’ home, she has to figure out how to transform from a youthful adult to a fully functioning one. Her excellent memoir about launching contains an in-depth treatment of the developmental tasks a young adult must undergo in order to make the transition.
In fact, the author describes her transition into adulthood with such crisp, engaging storytelling, I think of NYRMSHD as a quintessential Launching memoir. In it, she offers an in-depth treatment of what I have come to see as the three fundamental tasks required to make this transition.
In addition to the two standard ones of figuring out how to earn a living and how to form a committed relationship, she adds a third. She needs to figure out how much of her parents’ belief system to bring with her into her adult life. I believe that this third task is every bit as important as the first two, but for many reasons, it has not been as prominently covered in memoirs. Elna Baker makes up for that deficiency in a fascinating exploration of her Mormon upbringing and the conflicts it creates in her launching.
In the following posts, I’ll review the way Elna Baker tackles these three aspects of Launching. I hope these posts will give you ideas about how you might be able to shape and share the story of your own transition into adulthood.
Elna Baker’s Home Page
Click here for another article about memoirs whose authors transition into adulthood.
Click here for a New York Times article Long Winding Path to Adulthood
For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.
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