In The History of Great Things Elizabeth Crane has done the miraculous. She has brought her deceased mother back to have a conversation. Together they tell a story. Is it fiction or memoir?
Well, they even argue about this.
As mothers and daughters often do, they have intersectional “talks” about what may or may not have happened. Things get especially heated when Betsy is planning her wedding to Ben. Mom wants to know why Betsy selects to include some details and leave others out—a question many memoirists struggle with—how do I keep it real without hurting others or bringing up something better left unsaid/unwritten. Not everything is grist for the mill.
Where upon the mother reminds her daughter: YOU SAID THIS WASN’T A MEMOIR.
It is a kind of memoir. One with all those souls looking over your shoulder, some with their own questions, and their own perspectives on how it all went down. A kind of Spoon River Anthology memoir-ish book.
My own contribution to this non-memoir is that I met Ben, supposedly. At least that’s what Betsy said when I met her at AWP in Chicago. She said, My husband went to your church.
And I tried to think: There are lots of people who come and go and stand in the back. I rarely meet them all. And, that’s okay.
Church, like life, should be about participating as much as you’re comfortable. Sometimes I take breaks. Ben was probably looking for something and was trying us out. (I can’t remember Betsy saying how long he tried us out for. I can’t remember if I asked her). I can imagine feeling nervous talking with her, trying to imagine how I should feel.
You see at every AWP I’ve been to I’ve snuck into the Exhibition Hall. It was all pre-meditated. I have several colored lanyards I’ve saved and some wide scarves I wear on such occasions. So I put on a lanyard to approximate the ones required for admission and a scarf to camouflage, and a tote bag, and pretended to walk confidently past security.
I did this because:
1. I have no credentials
2. I am not a member
3. I cannot afford to even be a student
4. I shouldn’t be there
5. I don’t belong
But Betsy speaks to me in a friendly way and puts me at ease. Almost to the point where I point out I have trespassed. But I do not. almost to the point where I pretend she is my friend and I ask her if she might be a reader on my novel manuscript. But I don’t.
So in this non-memoir memoir flash . . . she and I keep a healthy distance and in future message each other via Facebook.
But what about Ben?
I swear I cannot think if we've ever met. I’ll save that for another non-memoir flash.