Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Book Review

Thanks for all the suggested reading material. Some of the books you've mentioned I've read and others are now on my list to get when I go back to the library.

One of the suggestions on my previous post was the book about babyloss entitled "An Exact Replica of A Figment of My Imagination" by Elizabeth McCracken. I actually just picked this book up a week or so ago and finished it within hours (it's short, so don't be all impressed or anything). Anyway, when I got to the end of the book, to my surprise, there was a "Questions and Topics for Discussion" section. These are often in novels to help guide readers who are using the book in the context of a school project or book club.

However, I found the "Questions and Topics for Discussions" section in this particular book to be somewhat, um, how shall I put this....


Don't get me wrong. I'm a total book nerd. I usually enjoy reading the "Topics for Discussion" section after a good novel. I am totally into analyzing a good protagonist or plot twist. Why not pick it apart a character's motivations behind any given action? How did the author's use of language affect my personal view of that character? What is my speculation as to what happened to characters John and Jane after the end of the novel?

But in this book, where the author describes her pregnancy journey, her son's death, and the aftermath, it just felt so weird having a discussion section in the back. At first I couldn't figure out what was bothering me so much about it...but then I realized...

It was like reading the topics for a literary discussion ON MY LIFE!!!!

In case I'm not explaining myself clearly, one of these so called "Topics" was this:

4. McCracken struggles with labels and defining herself after losing her first child. For example, when she's pregnant with her second child, she's unsure how to answer when people ask her if she's a first-time mother. Do you think McCracken has found a way to resolve this uncertainty by the end of the memoir? Does she continue to define herself as a woman whose first child was stillborn?

My answer is: what the fuck? Who tries to write this insightful bullshit? This is SOMEONE'S LIFE we are talking about here. She is not a character in a book. Go and ASK HER if you are so interested. Here, I can probably pull up her e-mail address in short Google search if you want to know so bad.

I guess what I'm objecting to is the 'outsider looking in' that this "Discussion" section adds to this book. No one reading this book was there. We did not experience what Ms. McCracken and her husband did (although some of us come pretty damn close, but I digress...) We have not earned the right to 'judge' whether we think Ms. McCracken is 'resolved' or not. (and really, who cares if she's 'resolved'?) Ms. McCracken is not a character in a book. It feels wrong to me to comment on what she is or is not feeling, because any guess of mine would be only that. A guess. It feels wrong to judge or comment on her experience, because she cannot defend herself or clarify any points that I may have taken the wrong way. This is not a 'close' ended book. The answers are out there and they belong not to me, but to Elizabeth and her family.

Ms. McCracken's writing of her experience is as true and as complete to the extent that she wants to share it with us, and no more. Just as I read all of your blogs as a true and complete account as to what you want to share with me. Do I assume that all your blogs are a true and complete account of your life at all times? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. Is there lots of stuff that happens in your daily life that you do not share with me via your blog and never would? Probably? Likely? Absolutely?

I found the discussion questions tacked on to the end of this book to be as weird as if I asked all of you in my 'question' section "So, guys, do you think I'm resolved to Aidan's death yet? Do you think my black humour is preventing my healing? Do you think my husband and I are ready to try for another baby?" I would never ask any of you those questions because A) how the hell should you know? and B) This is my life we're talking about here. If anyone should be able to answer these questions it's me. Why would I bother asking other people to speculate on my life?

The reason that "Questions and Topics for Discussion" work so well in novels is that there is no 'right' answer. The book is done and complete. You can rip it to shreds all you want with insightful little queries...but in the end no one 'knows' if they are right. I guess I found that the questions in the end of "An Exact Figment..." were questions that Elizabeth McCracken would have answered if she felt that was necessary or relevant, or if she felt that she wanted to share that with us.

I suppose I'm feeling a little protective of another babylost mother. Why should the rest of the world be invited to comment on her very personal story?

So let us take a poll? Does she feel resolved? Who knows the answer to this question?

Elizabeth does, and no one else. Let's all just leave it at that.

Does having a "Discussion" section in a non-fictional book strike you as odd as well? Have you read this book and did it contain this section? Did you try to puzzle out any of the questions as they relate to your own situation? And I'm sorry, and I ask this totally sarcastically...but do any of you 'feel resolved' yet?


  1. i rarely bother with the question section at the end of a book, and i never really thought about it, but yes, it does seem strange to put them in a non-fiction book. you are absolutely right that mccracken told us what she wants us to know and the rest is up to her to figure out, and is none of her business. as much as it's none of our business to decide if she's resolved, or to decide if any of the other of us is ready to try again, i would hate to think that anyone else was sitting around trying to determine the same thing about me.

  2. I just got finished reading this book on Saturday, and there was a chunk at the end of it that went back into the book, and I didn't read it. So, I'm betting that was the discussion section...and I feel that if I would have gone that far into and found that, alot of my thoughts would have been similar to yours.

    I find Q&A's bizarre in themselves anyways...but especially at the end of a non-fiction book.