Deep Thoughts from Sunday Reading

The better part of Sunday was spent by me, on the couch, under my mother’s cream-colored afghan, rain outside, book in hand. In my world, this is a luxury.

As a writer, I believe the act of reading should be considered part of my work. However, I find it challenging to find the space to read with so many daily tasks that call me. And on this particular golden Sunday, there was nothing but chicken soup warming on the stove, cheese bread in the oven and a cloudy day. Still, I found it difficult to let myself ‘do nothing’ but read. Yet, I persevered (hah!).

If an afternoon of reading is a rare luxury, it seems meaningful to reflect on my chosen title. I’m still pondering what it was, exactly, about Joyce Maynard’s At Home in the World, that pulled me in, chapter after chapter this Sunday.ahitw_pb_cover

Her memoir is a recounting of her early days as a writer in the 1970’s, her experiences being published, her intense affair (and first-time love) with J.D. Salinger and her subsequent journey into a life of house holding and children (with another man). Throughout everything, she is always observing, always writing.

Blazing through her nearly 400 pages in a few days, I’m left to wonder what it was that captured me most in this story. There is the obvious intrigue of a glimpse into the world of the notoriously reclusive J.D. Salinger and the 53 year-old’s affair with an 18-year-old girl. Her retelling of this relationship has brought Maynard mixed reviews, raising the question of motives, truth and discernment.

I don’t believe that many are questioning the veracity of her story depicting a love shared for nine months with Salinger. But the theme of truth and its telling runs throughout her book.

There is her father’s alcoholism, the elephant never spoken of, even in a house of master communicators. There are Maynard’s own deep secrets: her unhealthy eating patterns, her virginity, and ultimately, her hidden relationship with the very private Salinger.

urlA Home in the World, lifts the stones and shines some light on all of these layered hidings. Though as Maynard exposes these most tender truths, she admits that even as she has written her way through life (not only publishing works in her youth, but continuing on to chronicle the daily married life of raising three children in a New Hampshire farmhouse) she hasn’t always been fully honest. In this memoir, she confesses, that she omitted things. Retold a story, but may have left critical pieces out.

I’m left wondering if she made these omissions by choice, or unconsciously. I’d imagine, oftentimes, it was a bit of both. Sometimes the truth is too close to write. Sometimes we are not ready, yet, to share it.  When do we dare?

As writers who draw upon life for material, how do we discern?
Is full disclosure always necessary?
What is fit to tell?
What is fair to tell when your story involves other people?

Was it ‘right’ for Maynard to share the private life of J.D. Salinger – often casting him in a less than complimentary light – even if it is her story of how their lives entwined?

Maynard’s forward in the reprint of the memoir (originally published in 1998) makes no apologies for expressing her truth. She explains that in doing so, it banished the sting of shame.

Maynard credits Salinger for encouraging her in their early days together, to write with her own honest voice. To stay true to herself, no matter what others may try to do to shape her into their own making, specifically in the publishing world. She says she still holds to this creed.

We all have stories and we all have our ways of telling them. As we share them with each other, I’m also left to wonder about motivations.

Which stories do we share and why?
What is the intent?

And when we do divulge our tales, are we willing to stand behind them, even when others question?

And in that steadfastness, are we also willing to admit, that there are at least two sides to every story? Your version will, most likely, be different from mine.

This Sunday I delved into the story of a girl who became a woman and, eventually, a mother. She loved deeply, she watched intensely, and she wrote her way through all of it. Finding herself, finding her voice, finding her place.

What a luxury to find my own little place, curled up on the couch, rain outside – reading – soaking it all in.

2 Comments

  1. Speaking of Salinger, a few years ago I read a revealing biography by his daughter, which was way less than flattering. Salinger was my literary hero in the 60’s. intriguing to get an inside look.

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    1. Yes, “Dream Catcher” by Margaret Salinger, and I believe it was published a year after Maynard’s memoir. What I found interesting was what Margaret’s brother was quoted in response to his sister’s account of their childhood: “”I can’t say with any authority that she is consciously making anything up. I just know that I grew up in a very different house, with two very different parents from those my sister describes.”

      As a side note, Maynard describes Salinger as having pretty different connections with his two children, seemingly much closer to his son than his daughter (his daughter being less than 2 years younger than Maynard at the time she lived with Salinger).

      His comment underscores the questions I’ve been pondering about recounting stories…how we all view experiences from different lenses…and what is ‘true.’ I guess all we can do is speak from what is our most authentic selves and the rest is up to interpretation…

      Thanks as always for chiming in!

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