Remember when James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces became a bestseller? No? How about when a guy went on Oprah in 2006 to defend a book that was originally touted as a memoir but later discovered to include multiple fabrications and embellishments? Yup, you totally remember that. Tuning in to watch Oprah ask a sniveling writer if he had blatantly lied to her was good television!
There’s a line of thinking that goes like this: “Westerners (Americans in particular?) are spoiled. Mothers obsess over sugar, self-esteem, and screen time. Meanwhile, there are mothers across the globe (and in America too) who are physically scrambling day in and day out to feed their children and give them an opportunity to actually survive.” In other words, “Hey, privileged people: Get a real problem.”
Identity 101: The pretend class that everyone takes in college as they sort out their awesome, autonomous selves. Identity 202: The real “class” that all adults will hopefully pass one day when they realize that “identity” is a little trickier and nuanced than a list of clubs and professional organizations – or car magnets.
I can’t imagine that Roddy Doyle sat down at his computer and claimed that he would write about an amorphous notion of “identity” (because that seems like the territory of angsty 20-somethings attempting to write the next best thing) but, really, Smile reads like he did. That is a compliment, by the way, primarily because Doyle’s latest is more of the 202 variety while having a little fun with the 101 level. Doyle is a prolific writer and chronicler of Irish life (more on that in a sec) and Smile is his eleventh novel; he deserves a more mature course load.
Over three years ago, I started this blog as a repository for my musings about books that I read and how their themes or imagery could be viewed through the lens of “real life.” (You can read the “About” page of this blog here.)
Blogging – and my pace of reading – took a hit, however, when we moved back to the US and the details of work and resettling a family took precedence.
Last weekend in the Guardian’s “Family” section, Sarah Leipciger – a self-proclaimed “Canuck living in London” – addressed a topic that people are more apt to discuss with children rather than with adults. Whether on the first day of kindergarten, in the car before a sleepover, or perhaps at the threshold of a college dorm, one can find parents wiping tears (either theirs or those of their offspring) and offering whispered assurance that this feeling – homesickness – will subside. But as Leipciger, who moved from Canada to London with her English husband fifteen years ago, can attest, “the underrated power of nostalgia” can make even the most adaptable person long for “home.” Adult homesickness is a real thing, and although grown-ups have more tools and mental know-how to combat it than children, the magnetic pull of all that is familiar and yes, comfortable, is a hard one to ignore. As a friend who lives with her husband and children in his home country wrote in an email to me, “There is a day care centre for Alzheimer’s patients near where we live. It’s in a lovely setting with a farm, but I remember once driving by there on a pissed off day and thinking, what if I get early Alzheimer’s and I end up there? What if I never get away? It’s not a true reflection of my foundation feeling which is more balanced and upbeat (I’ve worked hard on that) but I do have days like that. And I too harbour hopes of living in my home country again. Indeed I would be devastated if I thought that would never happen.”