I’m no good at contemporary literary fiction. Not writing it, I’ve never tried, God help me, I once got reamed out by a professor in a fiction writing class for being to fanciful and frivolous. (He was not interested in my coming of age story about two preppy teen sisters wandering NYC on the day of their grandmother’s death or my Gothic story of a teen girl who when visiting relatives for a summer fell in love with a ghost. What a loser!) But even reading it, I never learned properly.
This is partially by circumstance, there just wasn’t much opportunity at Scranton for serious contemporary lit. It’s also partly preference, what little there was was taught by professors I disliked. I liked the Romantics and Renaissance and Victorian and Non Fiction professors, so my serious work stayed with them. (I can explicate on a Victorian Novel for days even a shitty one I don’t like very much. Same with Romantic Poetry, or Memoir)
As I try to self teach reading contemporary literary fiction I find myself alienated by fluid story structures and unlikable narrators and prosaic detached characters who refuse to speak to one another like human beings. The Memoir Club is like that, except that it also has a bunch of hallmarks of shitty contemporary fiction, like nonsensical plot twists and serendipity and a character who might have been a ghost or an angel or something.
I don’t mind those kinds of things, I really like them in fact, but when they’re in a book by an author with all kinds of fancy grants in her bio and blurbs from The New Yorker on the back cover, I have to roll my eyes at the overwrought-ness of it all.
The Memoir Club is about a group of women who join a memoir writing class and when the class ends decide to continue meeting. Nell and Caryn are long time friends who are now doctors together at a women’s clinic. Nell has given her life to Caryn who lost her ex husband and children in a plane crash five years earlier. Francine is an older wife to a celebrated academic tyring to find life after her died. Jill is a thirty three year old who wants to start a business with her partner (I think?), Sarah Jane actually wants to be a writer, to fulfill a promise to her father and Rusty is a divorcee who is processing a traumatic adolescence. Their teacher and leader is Penny. (Spoiler Penny’s the one who might have been a ghost.)
Kalapakian’s women don’t feel real. They feel like bundles of neurosis and secrets and traumas, who smash into one another but don’t connect. As their secrets are exhumed they scream and shout and alienate and reconnect to love ones, but none of it seems to mean anything to any of them. They don’t talk like people, they don’t react like people.
I didn’t like this book. Luckily it was brief but it also wasn’t good.
Up next, we finish where we began. Merrick by Anne Rice. I’ve missed my witches and vampires and silliness. This book in particular reminded me why I like them in the first place.