Mendelsohn’s Memoir Melee

In News by Erin L. Cox

By Erin L. Cox

Photo by Matt Mendelsohn

Photo by Matt Mendelsohn

Much like many other New Yorker subscribers, I am one week behind in my reading.  Hence, I’ve just come across Daniel Mendelsohn’s piece, “But Enough About Me”, about the popularity of memoirs (though does not mention a memoir of the same name by a writer friend of mine, Jancee Dunn). 

In the piece, he discusses in some length the “enhanced” memoir.  A story based, in part, on an author’s idealized memory and not necessarily in straight fact.  Citing James Frey’s controversial A Million Little Pieces and two others that made headlines in 2008 (Love and Consequences and Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years), Mendelsohn states that their defense “it is true to the writer’s interior world,” is not an adequate defense for false memoirs.  Instead, he cites that this may be more a defense for a novelist and one of the reasons why fiction is so powerful.  “[T]he truth we seek from novels is different from the truth we seek from memoirs.  Novels, you might say, represent ‘a truth’ about life, whereas memoirs and nonfiction accounts represent ‘the truth’ about specific things that have happened.”

Truth is truth.  And, these three memoirs are extreme cases of making up entire false stories of the author’s life, but for less extreme cases, I think it’s important to note that memory is fickle and not always reliable.  Because memory is unreliable and we can’t always have facts, does that mean we shouldn’t write these stories down or share experiences with others? 

Read the story and tell me what you think.

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox has worked as Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives. She is a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.