by Jerry Waxler
In this second installment of my interview with Sue William Silverman, we continue to talk about her latest memoir The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew. In the first segment, I asked her about her stylistic choices. In this one, I dig a little further, trying to learn more about the unusual writing style with which she successfully portrayed a woman attempting to blend into the dominant culture.
Jerry: You seem so obsessive about pop culture. In addition to your passion for Pat Boone, you show how you were afraid to move from one city to another because your new home doesn’t have a cable channel with your favorite television show. And later in the book, you seem to be obsessed with Superman. As I’m reading this memoir, I’m feeling that you are relying on pop culture as a sort of talisman to ward off your fears and insecurities. By immersing yourself in pop culture, you hope to finally melt into the melting pot. That’s a fascinating part of your story, and you do it beautifully, but you communicate your obsession in a really unusual way. You show your obsession by diving so far in, you become a character inside the pop culture. Rather than an observer, your writing takes you into the stories of pop culture so when reading the memoir, I feel like I’m inside your mind, and your mind is inside the television show, or the fan-worship or the Superman comic. Tell me more about those stylistic choices.
Sue William Silverman: One section of the book you’re referring to is “I Was a Prisoner on the Satellite of Love,” in which I was obsessed with the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is now (sadly) off the air. Not only did I love the show, but I was particularly smitten with one of the robots on it, Crow.
Anyway, I wrote the chapter or section almost as if it were an episode of the TV show, so I included Crow, adding his interjections at appropriate times.
Here is a short excerpt from it to better show what I mean. My writing is in blue and I put in red ink the sections where Crow speaks, and these are real lines of his, from the TV show, that I “borrowed” for my book.
To set the scene: My husband, “M,” and I have just flown into Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we’re moving for his new job, from our home in Georgia.
Rich, our realtor, glides to the curb in a black Jaguar. He leaps from the car, enthusiastically welcoming us to west Michigan. I barely shake his hand before collapsing in the back seat, forcing M. to sit in front. Let him schmooze with Rich, listen to the glowing Chamber of Commerce sales pitch. Let him hear about this “perfect” house, that “perfect” neighborhood. [“Hour after hour of heart-pounding small talk,” Crow says, in a mock-stentorian voice.]
Just two years ago…, we bought our first house [in Georgia], only recently completing the re-decoration. That’s the house in which I want to live. But now, because of this job offer, we must sell it. I must give up my adjunct teaching job. I must leave my therapist and my group. [“Goodbye,” Crow calls. “Thanks for the Valium!”] Worse, I fear I might also have to leave Crow – Crow, the robot, whom I think I love more than my husband. At least it feels as if I’m leaving Crow behind. Surely, though, I reassure myself, cable television stations in Michigan – just as in Georgia – must air the Comedy Central series Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which Crow is one of the stars. But all in all it feels as if I’m leaving my life behind—or as if I’m being abandoned. [“Does anyone have a copy of Final Exit?” Crow asks, innocently.]
In another chapter of the book, “An Argument for the Existence of Free Will and/or Pat Boone’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” I write as if I’m part of a Superman and Lois Lane comic book, an episode in which the young singing sensation Pat Boone visits The Daily Planet. This comic book, published back in 1959, actually exists.
It seemed the perfect invented structure in which I, playing the role of a newspaper reporter, could interview Pat Boone to help him understand why he hasn’t been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (because of his conservative political and religious views). It’s not a conversation I could ever actually have in person with him, so I surreally portray us all as comic book characters, a format in which I could encourage Pat Boone to be more of a liberal Democrat, along those lines.
Why do this? Because by playing with structure and format (that TV show and the Superman comic book), I’m better able to draw both myself as well as the reader inside the actual experience. Everything we write needs to have its own voice, its own tone, its own structure to best work in conjunction with the content and context.
One thing I love about creative nonfiction is its openness of form. It’s a genre that encourages writers to experiment and push the envelope.
In the next section of the interview, I ask Silverman more about the angst of assimilation and her desire to be included as an “Anglo-Saxon.”
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