The NPR podcast “Raising a Human” just released an episode called “The Perils of Pushing Too Hard, And How Parents Can Learn to Back Off.” So basically, if you’re a parent, you dropped everything and read/listened when it crossed your path even though you may have your own already-developed thoughts on the issue. (Yup, I do.) Why? Because a trend piece like this complements more than a few hot topics circulating the contemporary parenting world: a recent New York Times front-page piece about suicides at colleges and universities, the brouhaha over standardized testing (or more specifically, “teaching to the test”), and the lengths students (parents?) go to obtain perfectly perfect test scores in order to (maybe) gain admission to a tiny group of “select” third-level institutions. Notice a pattern? In America, privileged parents are almost universally focused on college and how our children will fare once they’re there.
What comprises “home”? How are we shaped by our communities? More importantly: Is there really no mountain high enough? This blog post isn’t really an essay with a nice conclusion. Rather, reading The Plains by Gerald Murnane has caused me to ruminate “out loud” on a topic that I’ve circled ever since I started this blog – and for certain, a topic that has lodged itself in my mind ever since I was a little girl, lying on our family room floor, feet propped up against our hearth, watching the light on the floor as it dodged in between clouds.
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.