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Memoir (and) on Pants on Fire

In her Editorial Board Chair’s Note to the newest issue (v3 n2) of Memoir (and), Claudia Sternbach comments on (re)reading Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes:

“But as popular as the life story of McCourt is, there are those who take issue with it. Those who question McCourt’s ability to recall in such great detail events which took place decades ago. How could he remember which of his brothers begged for berries or the look on his mother’s face when she had to plead for an egg or the head of a pig for her children to eat at Christmas.

“These are fair questions. If I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night or whether I recharged my cell phone this morning, how can a writer sit down at his desk and starting with words, build sentences, paragraphs, pages, and finally an entire life story like a bricklayer constructs a solid house? And would a reader trust the construction?

“We have been taken a few times, I’ll admit. Well-regarded memoirists have turned out to be not so honest. Their pants burst into flames and it makes news. But I believe it makes news because it is rare. For the most part I believe when people sit down to tell their story, they do their best to tell it with truth. Their truth. And that is the key. They are communicating to the reader what they remember. They are spilling out on the page those images and sounds they have carried with them their entire lives.”


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