Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Norris Church Mailer: five best memoirs

Norris Church Mailer is the author of A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir (Random House, 2010).

For the Wall Street Journal, she named her five favorite memoirs. One title on her list:
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, Knopf, 2005

In "The Year of Magical Thinking," Joan Didion shows she is the stuff of which our pioneer grandmothers were made: delicate lace crocheted out of steel thread. She relates the story of visiting her comatose daughter in the ICU only to come home and have her husband drop dead while she's fixing dinner. In the telling, Didion seems so fragile that you worry she's going to keel over at any minute, yet somehow she manages to prop up everyone around her. She's the one who takes care of things: the phone calls, the autopsy, the cremation, the memorial service. At the same time, in what is for her a perfectly rational state of mind, she refuses to throw away her husband's shoes because he will need them when he comes back. Through a lifetime of self-discipline as a writer, she is able to step away from her own strong mind and observe what she is doing; at the same time, she is powerless to control what is happening. If we haven't all yet been where she was—the emergency room, the funeral home—we will be eventually, and she shows us that it's OK to go a little mad when you need to. Madness sometimes is only sanity stretching its legs before it tackles another stint of work.
Read about another book on Mailer's list.

The Year of Magical Thinking is one of Douglas Kennedy's top ten books about grief.

--Marshal Zeringue