Sunday, October 08, 2006

Misery memoirs

Last week, inspired by a couple of new cases in Britain and in Ireland, Boyd Tonkin discussed "misery memoirs, with [their] monstrous mums, uncaring siblings and plucky, tormented survivors...."

A couple of years ago, I tried to unpick the thickets of claim and counter-claim around Dave Pelzer's weirdly toneless books about his years of maltreatment in the family from hell. One Pelzer brother stated that he never received so much as a slap; another that what lucky Dave underwent was bliss compared to the tortures he endured. Monty Python's competitively abject Four Yorkshiremen did spring to mind. You might cry; or you might, guiltily, begin to laugh. As I did when I heard some of the objections lobbed at Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes by aggrieved sons of Limerick. If his clan were so cripplingly poor, one asked, how come shoeless Frank had joined the second poshest scout group in town?

These tales of trauma have less to do with healing souls than selling books. Yet children do suffer, in secret and in silence, and we sometimes need a plausible narrative of what happened to them. The problem is that, in an adversarial culture, single-viewpoint yarns of pain and blame always serve specific emotional, commercial and, indeed, legal ends. No one ever won a case or topped the charts by seeing all sides to the story.

Not my kind of reading material.

A few years ago David Plotz took a look at the Pelzer book industry here.

--Marshal Zeringue