Monday, April 13, 2009

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

This slim memoir of the births of fiction writer McCracken's stillborn first child and her healthy second child is moving and poignant and agonizing for all the reasons you would expect when a horrific subject and a beautiful subject meet a skilled and subtle writer. But through all the tears (mine not hers) I couldn't help but read it as an insight into the writing life of the novelist who wrote one of my personal favorites, The Giant's House. What kept making my jaw hang were all the pages that McCracken referenced writing that never saw the light of the printing press. She described a novel she gave up on, a memoir of pregnancy (pre-stillbirth) she gave up on...literally hundreds of pages, years of effort... Now I'm well accustomed to the idea of writers having first manuscripts that never got published (and never should) pre-success but it was a bit disspiriting and a bit reassuring to realize that writers also have projects that get drawered post-success. So in part I liked this book for the same reason that I like Ann Patchett's memoir Truth and Beauty (which lots of people criticize because they see it as exploitive of its subject, her friendship with the (deceased) writer Lucy Grealy)... because on the margins it's a book about being a woman writer and how that fits into a larger life.

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