Nothing has aggravated my writerly sensibilities as much as a recent review in the Atlantic that bashed writer Joyce Maynard for being the “Queen of Oversharing.” Except maybe those critics who bashed her for writing about JD Salinger, a man who had a totally inappropriate relationship with her when she was still a teenager– and an abusive relationship at that. “Jerry” wanted his privacy, they wrote. How dare this girl invade that.
In the era of Harvey Weinstein perhaps those critics have a different view. Or not. Because this is just part and parcel of what women must contend with. Not remaining in our place. “Oversharing.” These are charges men do not face.
I thought we were further along than that, but the truth has come out. We’re not. We have only to look at the man in the Oval to realize how much has lurked beneath the surface all these years but is now out in the light of day.
Which brings me to Joyce Maynard’s recent memoir, The Best of Us. It tells the story of her finding love at 60 and soon learning that her beloved new husband has pancreatic cancer. The story of their relationship and the progress of his disease–ending with his death– is the meat of this excellent memoir.
What made that Atlantic critic so giddy with judgment was that Maynard opens her kimono fully in this memoir. She reveals herself, flaws and all. And that makes some people uncomfortable. “Oversharing,” they call it. Well, hold on one minute.
Going there is required
Any writer who has attempted a memoir with any seriousness at all (including me) understands that they are expected to go to all the places they don’t want to revisit and reveal the things that don’t show them–or others– in the best light. My unwillingness to do that has stopped me short in telling my own story. But as my writing coach told me time and time again, revealing those all-too-human frailties and most embarrassing moments is a requirement of a good memoir.
Readers relate to an author’s flaws. Oh sure, readers may judge, but a writer has to be willing to show her own mistakes (leading, we hope, to redemption) to draw the reader through the story.
Memoir in the hands of a talented writer like Maynard goes deep and unflattering. Where I wouldn’t go. But the tension in the story, the cruel and brutal truth of it, those cringe-worthy moments, give it life. I loved this memoir. I loved its honesty. I loved the writing. I loved everything about it.
Like Maynard, I live in the San Francisco Bay area. I’d heard the story of the two African daughters she’d adopted and then given to another couple. I’d read and heard all the judgment about that. But I’d never heard Maynard tell the story. She holds nothing back in this memoir. Because she didn’t, the reader got more insight into her character and frankly, I think what she did was understandable in that context. More so than the gossip I’d heard.
The Atlantic critic seemed to feel that her time of penance for placing those girls in a better family was too short. That she had no right to fall in love and have fun just six months after placing those children in a better home.
Oh, the judgment by those who will never walk in her high heels. Pissed me off. That reviewer may think Maynard an unlikeable narrator. I beg to differ.
“I have come to live out loud.”
Maynard lives life out loud and that seemed to aggravate the reviewer. Somehow, only women are criticized for that, I’ve noticed.
She’s impulsive. And a little reckless. Some of her decisions may well have been questionable to those of us not living her life. Yet, when push came to shove what she did for her husband as his tireless advocate was more than what many would do in her situation. I admire her for it. And I admire her honesty. Not to mention her writing skills. I mean, she is a really good writer.
What the Atlantic critic fails to acknowledge is that relationship, that marriage and the more than a year spent as her husband’s health advocate and support person as he battled one of the most deadly cancers, THAT was Maynard’s path to redemption.
And so when I think of her, I think of that quote in the image at the top of this page. Only through our flaws do we grow. By the end of her book, I saw that Maynard had grown.
I like happy endings. Which is why I don’t read many stories about people who get sick and die. I’ve lived through some of this with my own loved ones and don’t like to revisit it, even in someone else’s book.
Bu Maynard’s book is different. She’s a skillful writer and an honest one. I have to say it’s the best book I’ve read all year and I want to recommend you buy it, read it and give it as a gift.
You can find The Best of Us on Amazon as well as other places. I hope you’ll read it and yes that is an affiliate link. And here’s a link to a NYTimes essay she wrote about the backlash she faced because she wrote about her Salinger days. Certainly looks different in these days of revelation
- Also don’t forget.
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