Not only does this show the distance she felt from herself, but it prompts the reader to buck against her assertions. When an author tells a story in the second person, they create a feedback loop, in which the audience is constantly asking " Is that what I would have done? She also mistrusts her own lack of emotion, which is another reason she writes this section in the second person.
Not only is it separate from her, but it seems somehow fake. She says, "The numbness feels unnatural. Not credible. Wickersham is looking for a way to tell a story she believes is messy and unbelievable. A story from which she herself is alienated. A standard memoir will not work for her, because she is not the authority on her own life. There is no one story, only multiple points of view that in pastiche add up to a larger, though still incomplete and perhaps incompletable picture.
In fact, his peculiar genius is in telling a story through absence. Thus, he supplements-and often, supplants-his life story with the history of the suburban development in which he grew up. He is uncomfortable with the vulnerability that personal writing entails, and in some of the most revealing moments of Holy Land, he leaves behind the first-person "I" entirely.
For example, after clinically laying out the specifics of his parents' deaths length and kind of illness, age, etc. After his father died, he chose to stay here. He stayed partly because he said he would to the girl he had loved. She is married now. His thesis for Holy Land is that almost everything about his life and, by extension, the lives of everyone raised in his hometown in the '50s and '60s can be understood through "the grid. In a series of questions added to the back of the paperback printing of the book, Waldie asks himself, "Is Holy Land a Memoir?
To reduce the significance of "the grid" to mere metaphor is to miss the point of the book. Yes, the grid stands in for all the many laws and obligations-understood, stated, and hidden-that make up the striving lives of the newly suburban families Waldie describes. If the idea of the grid were integrated into a standard memoir, it could be dismissed as a dominant metaphor, slightly heavy-handed and already over-signified. In Waldie's hands, however, the grid is the opposite of metaphor. Instead of being a point of comparison that gives us an inroad to understanding the actual subject, it is a roadblock to comprehension.
We are alienated from the subject Waldie's life by the monolith of suburbia-exactly as the author himself is. By turning to the third person throughout, Waldie literally makes himself, the author-as-narrator, a separate character from DJ Waldie, the omniscient author-as-writer. To be a separate character means to be unknowable to the author, and therefore, this device calls into question the validity of anything he writes about himself. His use of the third person is an admission of the great unknowability of life. The movement between the voices replicates for the reader the experience of transitioning back and forth between self-knowledge and mystification.
We move from inhabiting a first-person narrator to seeing the action happen at a distance, much as Waldie himself seems to. The majority of these alienated passages concern the question of why Waldie lived his life as he did. Earlier in Holy Land , he says "He believes, however, that each of us is crucified.
His own crucifixion is the humiliation of living the life he has made for himself. For example, when he disagrees with critics who contend that the suburbs create "lives of forced conformity and anonymity," his defense rings hollow, given that he has already compared his life to being crucified. By creating a narrative character from whom he is alienated, he implicitly puts himself and the reader on equal footing when it comes to understanding the motivations of this character. Holy Land , we understand, is merely his best guess. When Ann Marlowe first published How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z in , her subject matter-life as a junkie who never hit bottom, regretful but not repentant-gained more notice than her structural conceit.
In his New York Times review, David Gates relegated discussion of form to a single clause, corralled off from the rest of the text by some dashes "mini-essays under arbitrary alphabetical rubrics". But her structure is the key to understanding the memoir. In the book, Marlowe chronicles her triple life of the late '80s and early '90s: a powerful Wall Street stockbroker by day, a Village Voice cultural critic by night, and, at all times, a heroin addict. The book is structured, as the subtitle hints, in the form of a dictionary.
Each word is redefined by its relationship to heroin, because the drug rules her life and defines her world. The book is not chronological, but it does follow an internal order separate from the arbitrary progression of the alphabet. Marlowe doles out information in a way that is sensitive to what the reader needs to know at any given time. Thus her earliest experience with heroin, while not at the beginning of the book, is near the front.
She is concerned, not with the objective truth of linear time, but with the narrative truth of her story. This is a different kind of addiction memoir from a different kind of junkie: not the cautionary tale of the wunderkind who had it all and gave it up for drugs; the addict who nearly died but saw the light-though that character does appear. Instead, Marlowe is the functional addict, clearheaded about her own situation, doing heroin in the way many people choose to drink or smoke recreationally.
And yet hidden within the memoir are hints that Marlowe was not always as clear-eyed as she purports to be. These little admissions are the most difficult, intimate parts of the book. Other postmodern memoirists assume the second- or third-person voice to create space for vulnerability. In a similar fashion, Marlowe moves in to the voice of the cultural critic to show the cracks in her own persona. Under the entry for "digital," Marlowe writes, "TV routinized everything it touched, including violent death Why does Marlowe include this bit of philosophizing in her memoir? Many contemporary reviewers dismissed it as over-the-top and distracting from the actual point of the book-the "sober" junkie.
But translating that sentiment into a first-person experience unpacks the deeper truth Marlowe has difficulty admitting. For her, everything is routinized, the present moves under her feet, and there no longer seems to be an understandable relationship between cause and effect. With this in mind, it becomes obvious that her nonlinear structure is an effort to call her own story into question. Marlowe breaks with linear time in order to replicate, for the reader, her own experience of being unable to understand her life. This unknowability is compounded by her use of heroin, which destabilizes her perception of time.
Narratively, by admitting her own imperfection, she allows the reader to call into question her version of events. Her conclusions may differ from those we draw. For instance, in the section labeled "blurring," she introduces "Dave," her main relationship throughout the course of the book. She describes him as "eight years younger," "boyishly cute," and "much more innocent.
But although it is also arranged alphabetically, Encyclopedia is filled with charts and illustrations, making for a more playful text. Even more than Marlowe, Rosenthal makes it clear that her aim was to write a book that consciously avoids the neat linearity of most nonfiction. In the opening timeline, Rosenthal states her goal for her writing: "Work must reflect the randomness of life, with its incessant, merciless, almost humorous bombardment of highly contrasting emotions and experiences.
While close in form to How to Stop Time , Rosenthal's subject matter could not be more dissimilar. Rosenthal is a journalist and mother of two, living in the suburbs of Chicago. I am not a drug addict, sex addict, food addict, or recovered anything I have not survived against all odds. I have not lived to tell. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. This is my story. Thus Rosenthal sets up her book as a sort of anti-memoir.
She is not interested in the traditional narrative arc, the fall and the redemption, because there can be no easy narrative in a book that honestly reflects her vision of life.
Above all, I think this book brings to life these Victorian figures in ways that make them seem recognizable as real people who longed for things and made do with what they had. Nell Stevens has a degree in English and creative writing from the University of Warwick, and studied Arabic and comparative literature at Harvard. A vast majority of people used to live lives that would draw a C or a D if grades were being passed out — not that they were bad lives, just bland. Broadway Paperbacks. Learn the craft of transforming life experiences into literary narratives. The love affair with Max is not particularly conducive to helping her finish her PhD on Gaskell; nor, as far as I can tell, does it particularly help her understand or illuminate the relationship that Gaskell has with Norton.
She promises something different and delivers in both form and content. Her "ordinary life" is fascinating, both because of the power of her writing and the unique form she uses. In literary circles, memoir is often seen as being more about scandal than skill.
But Rosenthal makes good on the implicit promise of the genre-that anything can be worth reading about, if the writing is good enough. Experimental-and especially nonlinear-forms are often associated with writers whose lives are disastrous. The assumption underlying this association is that the form of their writing rises out of the content. This ghettoizes nonlinear narratives into the provenance of the literary "other.
Rosenthal's memoir is the case against this. For writers who came of age during postmodernism, it is not their lives that are chaotic-it is life itself. It is easy to create in readers a sense of knowing. State something as fact, and some readers will believe it to be true. Others will find it false. In both groups, you have created a feeling of knowledge, either for or against your statement.
But it is much harder to create a sense of unknowing. In traditional nonfiction, readers experience uncertainty as a problem of the author, not as a viable state for the narrator. It seems sloppy. More research should have been done, or that section should have been cut. Yet isn't doubt itself a state worth chronicling? Nick Flynn grew up with a father who was an alcoholic, a liar, and already on the path toward serious mental illness. Much of Flynn's relationship with him was based on uncertainty: where he was, if he was sober, whether he was telling the truth, or whether he even knew what the truth was.
Throughout the book, Flynn's father tells many stories-some of which turn out to be true, some false, and some neither we nor Flynn will ever know the validity of. In later years, as his father's mental illness progressed, the situation got worse. Flynn worked at a homeless shelter frequented by his father and many others in similar situations.
This gave Flynn a visceral knowledge of the life his father was possibly living. Where before it was all a mystery, a cloud-shrouded terrain with "here be dragons" written on it, now Flynn had a clear picture of the terrible places his father could be at any given moment: dead, in jail, in the hospital, drunk on the streets, unconscious, screaming. It would be easy enough for Flynn to lay out these possibilities. Yet it would again be a collection of facts, a list of "I thought this, or this, or this.
His father, he tells us in the paragraph immediately before the play begins, is working as a Salvation Army Santa. Already, before the memoir turns fictive, Flynn prepares the reader for a world in which the state of his father is unknowable. He says, "I realize I'd never noticed just how many Santas there are, I pass dozens of them, one on every corner, same black pot, same worn suit, but from now I'll never know if one is my father If I look too closely into any one of their faces an eye will wink, or blink, but this doesn't mean it's him.
Suddenly, there is a white space, then the word "setting" followed by stage directions. Five possible fathers, dressed up as five Salvation Army Santas, appear and address the reader directly. That is truly an accomplishment. While some narrative license is clearly taken, I think this is well worth picking up. Thank you to Doubleday for sending me an early copy for review! Aug 22, Janille N G rated it it was amazing Shelves: non-fiction , favorites , victorian-lit. This is very much a memoir for a specific reader, one who is in love with classic literature but also disillusioned by the idea of studying it in a clinical, scientific manner, and not everyone will follow or relate to Stevens' thoughts and frustrations.
I did, however, and so I would certainly be inclined to read more of Nell Stevens' work My Favourite Quote "'I'm not cut out to be an academic I don't think I care enough about the sorts of things academics care about I like reading the writing of writers I love, and I like reading about writers I love. But I'm not sure I have anything additional to say about them. I think I'm more of an appreciative fan than a critic. Feb 21, Sher rated it it was ok.
What I did like: Her creative process - taking her own life and reflecting on the life and attitudes, experiences, and emotions of a 19th C author. I liked looking at Stevens's experience and looking at what she wrote about Gaskell and trying to see what was going on for Stevens- but basically I used fictional analysis on her work. I felt like I was reading fiction. Well, partly, it was weird and weird mix of bio and memoir. What I did not like: I would have preferred to read her Ph D thesis on Eli What I did like: Her creative process - taking her own life and reflecting on the life and attitudes, experiences, and emotions of a 19th C author.
What I did not like: I would have preferred to read her Ph D thesis on Elizabeth Gaskell than her fictionalized account of Gaskell's life- too much guess work for me. I have some serious concerns about this genre blending "New" Genre. In the age of fake news, I have become skeptical and suspicious and even rather resentful that anyone can make up what they like and put it out there.
I would have appreciated this book more, if I had read a biography of Gaskell beforehand. Without really knowing Gaskell's life, we cannot know where we have been manipulated by the author to suit her interior life - the memoir part. Oct 14, Kiki rated it it was amazing. An absolutely wonderful and enjoyable memoir written by a woman working on her doctorate regarding Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell.
Ah, but the road to her doctorate is not a smooth one. Reflecting herself in the story of unrequited love, Nell is also madly in love with an American: the elusive Max.
And when he finally does reci An absolutely wonderful and enjoyable memoir written by a woman working on her doctorate regarding Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. And when he finally does reciprocate, Nell's world--and her work--is completely derailed. You don't have to know a single thing about Elizabeth Gaskell to appreciate every minute of this lovely and amusing book. And it did spark in me a desire to read some of Gaskell's works, so I'm excited to say, I've got those on the pile now!
I loved getting to know both Gaskell the Victorian of the title and Stevens the Romantic!
Great storytelling. I received a free advance copy through Netgalley and Pan Macmillan in return for an honest review. In this offering of fictionalised biolgraphy and autobiography Nell's thesis on Mrs Gaskell is plagued by vagueness and a lack of commitment as well as the long-distance relationship she struggles to maintai I received a free advance copy through Netgalley and Pan Macmillan in return for an honest review.
In this offering of fictionalised biolgraphy and autobiography Nell's thesis on Mrs Gaskell is plagued by vagueness and a lack of commitment as well as the long-distance relationship she struggles to maintain with her partner between London and Paris and then London and Boston.
Simultaneously there is a fragmentary second person narrative of Elizabeth's Gaskell's stay in Rome immediately following the publication of her controversial biography of Charlotte Bronte and her subsequent relationship with writer Charles Norton. The problem for me was that Nell's narrative was frankly uninteresting. I could feel little sympathy with her academic woes how on earth does one person manage to build a thesis around the misinterpretation of a single word, not once but twice?!
Then I found myself asking the same questions about the story in front of me. The Gaskell sections were so brief and lacking in depth and development that it really did feel like a faux-intellectual gloss intended to pad out the rather tepid contemporary love story. There was little sense of the characters even worse when the fictionalisation is surely intended to breathe life into the fragmentary evidence that remains despite the sad unconsummated love-story that lies at its heart.
There is little to link the two stories together except the vaguest sense of doomed love and the nebulous, unformed thesis. It needs more focus, more depth, more engagement and more commitment as the two stories put together fail to successfully redress the weaknesses of either. Nell Stevens is v good at filling the page with herself a description of Mrs Gaskell by the narrator who is called Nell Stevens.
This is largely a good thing - I really enjoyed her account of the break up of her relationship which sounds wrong but she tells it well and her PhD woes. Aug 11, Abby rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , favorites. Stevens: I love you. Normally I no longer write Goodreads reviews. But this book is one I really feel I need to, because this is one of the strangest reading experiences I have ever had.
If I had read this two months ago, or read it in two months time, I would hate it. It would easily be a 2 star review for me, because in many ways this book does so many things I can't stand. It makes stuff up, it plays around with history in a fairly self-indulgent way Samantha Ellis springs to mind , it intersperses reality with Normally I no longer write Goodreads reviews.
It makes stuff up, it plays around with history in a fairly self-indulgent way Samantha Ellis springs to mind , it intersperses reality with fiction, past with present in a way that is in many senses, entirely ill at ease. And yet over the summer, I have recently gone through an experience remarkably similar to the one Nell Stevens describes in this book. I too am a PhD student, self-disciplined, career-driven, I love my work also in the 19th century , and am in many ways independent minded.
And yet, like Nell Stevens' narrator, who is so clearly based on the author I feel no issue in referring to her as 'Nell', I met a man who just some how slipped under my defences. And so, I completely understand every single emotion she feels and defines in this book, because I have felt it too. When she sits in the British Library and can't concentrate because St Pancras is only a three minute walk away, and from there she can board a Eurostar to her lover in Paris. Or when she gets a message from her boyfriend telling her 'I'm sorry, but I can't see you right now', or when she hates him for how he treats her but adores him at the same time, or when she reads Gaskell's letters but constantly reads her own situation into them and intersperses her own lost love with the narrative of Gaskell's; I am there with her always.
Reading this book was an uncanny experience, because it felt so deeply personal to the core elements of my own recent past, and yet it was also incredibly cathartic because of it. To share in Nell's pain, felt in a strangely perverted sense, like allowing Nell to share in my own, just as Nell shares in Gaskell's, and so in turn Gaskell shares in Nell's across the centuries.
What a fantastic chain of association! Gaskell to Nell Stevens to Edwin Marr, lost love, heartache, disappointment reverberating and echoing again and again down the centuries, writer to reader to writer to reader. Forgive the somewhat rambling nature of this review, I have only just finished the book, and my thoughts are scattered.
But this book came onto my bookshelf at the exact moment it needed to, and I am grateful to share in Nell and Gaskell's pain, and by extension, to allow them to carry some of my own, too. Oct 16, Audra Unabridged Chick rated it really liked it Shelves: biography-and-memoir , erath-century , era-contemporary , historical-figure-fictionalized , womens-writing , place-as-character , place-italy , tbr , confessional , writers-on-writing.
I fell in love with Stevens' first book, Bleaker House , because she lived a life as I daydreamed about: dramatic escapes with the possibly deluded hope of being jolted into brilliant creativity. In this, Stevens settles for the more mundane: the painful pragmatism of everyday life, made all the more boring by a deep yearning.
In her case, for an almost constantly out-of-reach lover; for Mrs. Gaskell, a life lived differently. This is a fast read, breezy; Stevens fictionalizes Gaskell's life, a I fell in love with Stevens' first book, Bleaker House , because she lived a life as I daydreamed about: dramatic escapes with the possibly deluded hope of being jolted into brilliant creativity. This is a fast read, breezy; Stevens fictionalizes Gaskell's life, a second person kind of historical novelette. It was her own life I was most consumed by for the oddest kind of overlaps: I was in Boston during the historical winter that featured so heavily in her relationship, trapped in what I now know was post-partum depression, wading through 9-foot snow drifts for fresh air and adult conversation.
Stevens, as she articulates herself in her books, is a woman I have a friend crush on: I want to be her, and if I can't, then I want to spend time with her. She's goofy and vulnerable and dramatic and smart in ways that I find appealing and sympathetic.
My wife wouldn't be able to stand this book but I inhaled it because Stevens shared her joy and agony so easily.
Oct 23, Julie Mebane rated it really liked it. If only I could make my own dissertation fun to read about Bloody loved it! Aug 23, Dolores rated it it was amazing Shelves: memoir , non-fiction. Many scholars would like to write memoirs or novels, and many novelists would like to be scholars. British writer Nell Stevens has mastered all these skills.
In her new book, The Victorian and the Romantic, Stevens combines two stories: an account of her own romance with an American named Max, and a retelling of the flirtation between British novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and American critic Charles Eliot Norton in Rome is the center of Mrs.
Gaskell's adventures, and Stevens renders the place Many scholars would like to write memoirs or novels, and many novelists would like to be scholars. Gaskell's adventures, and Stevens renders the place with great verve. Her own romance spans Paris, London, and New England. This charming and elegant book will delight the literary reader alert to the nineteenth century correspondence underpinning the Gaskell plot, and the contemporary reader eager to read about love and work in the life of a talented woman.
Highly recommended. Sep 29, Aya rated it it was amazing. Like bleaker house this book weaves stories and styles but keeps a true character at the center— it reaches out on a limb like bleaker but catches itself. Aug 05, Melissa rated it liked it Shelves: books-about-books , to-review. Aug 20, Alyssa McNaughton rated it it was amazing.
It was refreshing, witty, emotional and relatable. I was surprised how much I fell in love with the struggles of Nell and how she wrote about them so honestly. It takes a lot for a writer to have this level of transparency and still communicate their feelings with such an eb and flow of beautiful words.
Jul 31, Catherine rated it really liked it. First, that cover: millennial pink, the trench coat? I was an English major so this book truly spoke to me. Gaskell as Stevens prefers to address her , living in Rome after the publication of her scandalous posthumous biography of her close friend, Charlotte Bronte. I loved this book! Nell made her own story and Mrs. I expected to me more invested in Nell as she fell in love, travelled to America for fellowships and romantic weekends, and butted heads with her PhD counselor.
I think it came to me at the perfect time in my life. Aug 06, Kales rated it really liked it Shelves: 4-star , mental-health , lgbtq , non-fiction , arc. I wasn't expecting to get so much out of this ish page memoir but it was, in an odd way, magical. I was transported into the world of Mrs. Gaskell, of whom I had never heard of previously. But then, her story was pleasantly juxtaposed with Nell Stevens own accounts and struggles. Gaskell's section was told in second person which I have honestly never read a book in the second person that wasn't a choose your own adventure.
I I wasn't expecting to get so much out of this ish page memoir but it was, in an odd way, magical. It was jarring at first but then flowed nicely. It helped distinguish Mrs. Gaskell's voice from Nell's -- not that you really needed it because both women were so different. It transported you into Mrs.
Gaskell's life and delve into her experiences. But it was also clever because the reader gets to experience Mrs. Gaskell as Nell envisions her. Which, frankly, is brilliant. I liked the format of the story as it jumped back and forth between the two lives. But I also liked the three act structure, as shown through PhD studies. I have never really wanted a PhD and I think this book only solidified that non-desire. It is tough work! And a crazy process. Nell's ups and downs with her love life were relate-able and oddly, not pathetic. I found sympathy rather than criticism because it was realistic pain, turmoil, decisions and pause.
The only reason it isn't a five stars is because some of the weird chapters that had nothing to do with Mrs. Gaskell or Nell and I didn't quite understand why they were in there. But the writing was delicious. The story well-told. I was transported and delighted.
It's a unique little book that I am glad caught me eye. I don't think I would have picked it up normally but I am very glad I did. Conclusion: Maybe I'll buy it in hardcover Very mixed feelings about this book. I like the idea - two writers a century and a half apart but apparently finding common ground in their lives.
Nell Stevens describes her personal and academic life over a few years in chapters alternating with that of the life of Mrs Gaskell in her late 40s when she met Charles Eliot Norton. The main problem for me was Steven's relationship with 'Max', a man who practically had 'keep away' stamped on his forehead - how could she not have heard those warning bel Very mixed feelings about this book.
The main problem for me was Steven's relationship with 'Max', a man who practically had 'keep away' stamped on his forehead - how could she not have heard those warning bells ring long and loud?