Catherine Hollis at Public Books:
Any number of recent memoirs—most, but not all, by women—face down the question James posed in his essay “Is Life Worth Living?” Should we go on living, and if so, what will our lives look like? If terrible things have happened to us, is healing possible? Each of the four writers under discussion here—Jessa Crispin, Jacqueline Rose, Rachel Moran, and Sandra Cisneros—confronts these questions to varying degrees. Constructing a life, like constructing a memoir or a biography, involves asking how to live. Any reader confined to her bed by depression may find whole communities of fellow travelers in the ranks of memoirs published during the so-called memoir boom.1 Best-selling examples of this trend include Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (2006), Jeannette Walls’s Glass Castle (2006), and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012). Although Walls and Strayed face serious issues including poverty, homelessness, and addiction, Gilbert’s own memoir has been taken to exemplify a genre of narrative we might call “first-world white girl problems.” It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who treats her depression with trips to Italy, India, and Bali, even if we empathize with her grief at ending a marriage.
Other notable, if less famous, entrants in the “Live Through This” genre include three memoirs about surviving difficult parents. Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004) is probably the best known, and documents with lyrical honesty his relationship with his homeless father. Domenica Ruta’s With or Without You (2013) is a stunning portrait of a mother-daughter relationship shaped by addiction and violence in an Italian working-class neighborhood near Boston. And Ariel Gore (publisher of Hip Mama) writes tenderly about caregiving and emotional boundaries in The End of Eve (2014), when she finds herself tending to an insane and impossible mother dying from cancer.