Vanishing Point is not a memoir. It says so in the bottom right corner on the cover. On the back of the book, it says “Literature/Essays.” In this book, Ander Monson serves on a jury, spends time at Panera Bread, details his self-Googling results, and devotes a section to the flavors of Doritos. But Vanishing Point is about all of us. How the I of my life, of your life, of every life, blends together and vanishes, at least a little.
The asterisk plays a large role in Vanishing Point. Monson says that through the asterisk, “you will become in it, in me, as it, this set of spun ‘I’s standing on the sides of a pentagon.” Most sections start with a specific situation Monson is in, and quickly spiral out to envelop more and more “I”s. The first section of the book, “Voir Dire,” beings with Monson in the Kent County Circuit Courthouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A few pages later, Monson talks about his criminal past. On the next page, a colonoscopy. Truth and fact are wrapped up in all of these events, and are weaved here, and throughout the book.
Some of the most telling parts of the book are the “assembloirs,” where text is culminated from 83 memoirs on the subjects of disclaimer, significance, and ending meditation. When one thinks about memoirs as a whole, it is not hard to imagine at least these three areas stretching across the broad horizon of memoir. But to read a section filled with paragraph after paragraph about why a book is significant, it gets boring pretty fast. But these compilations make it easier to understand why memoirs are experiencing a boost of popularity. It also explains why some people would rather read fiction.
One of my favorite sections of the book was “Vanishing Point: Middle West, Citizenship.” I would argue that most anyone from the Midwest would recognize the feeling, as Monson writes, of “escaping from little, escaping to little, incapable of any real sort of escape.” Flyover country is what the Midwest feels like to many of us who live here, at least to this Midwesterner. Things go in and out of this place, but they don’t stop, “an orgasm on the move.”
This section talks about the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, located in Alexandria, Indiana. Monson observes that if it weren’t for this ball, Alexandria might vanish altogether. Abandoned buildings, decrepit machinery, nature gaining a foothold in these once industrialized places...the Ball grows, while everything else is vanishing.
As a Hoosier, not even from Alexandria, this vanishing feeling seems ever present. More close to me than I want to admit. As a Midwesterner, my state, my friends, me, are part of a place that seemingly doesn’t exist to a lot of people. The only way some people would know it is real is by looking out of an airplane window. We Midwesterners are moving, are ghosts in our own country.
Monson objects to “our unthinking cultural embrace of the I phenomenon, to our readerly desire for unmediated ‘I’s, for confession booths, for more reality in everything we see, including our fiction.” He wants to experience “the unreliability, the misrememberings, the act of telling in starts and stops, the fuckups, the pockmarked surface of the I.”
Isn’t that what memoir, nonfiction, whatever, really is? There is no way (minus if one documented every moment in his/her life in one way or another) that each memoir we read will be absolutely “true.” And why would we want it to be? Memory is one of the most unreliable faculties we have...and so getting accounts from friends/witness to these events, newspaper articles, other sources, is part of the fun in assembling the pieces of one’s life. Each of us has an I, but are also a part of a “we.” Our lives are connected through all sorts of tethers to other people, places, and events. Vanishing Point is where “[we are] everyone at once.”