Monday, March 28, 2005

The Art of the Confessional Memoir

Editor’s note: I posted this Sunday. Then deleted it after Ayelet saw it. (She commented: I’ll see you at the gym, Fran) I decided I shouldn’t join the ranks of people criticizing her. Then I read this hilarious spoof and thought: who am I deluding? Ayelet is a major public figure and leading essayist.

The phone was buzzing this morning. “Did you see it? Did you see it? What do you think?’

The “it” in question was Ayelet Waldman’s latest confessional, this one in the New York Times provocative new column Modern Love.

Two weeks ago, Ayelet launched a new column on Salon in which she confessed she had threatened to commit suicide on her blog, but fortunately her distress was recognized by her husband Michael Chabon, who at the time was 2,000 miles away at a book event. Ayelet’s friends rallied to her side and made her see her profound despair was a result of skewed levels f medication for her bipolar disorder. They got her help. The residual damage? Her 7 year old son said, “Mommy, I’m afraid you are going to hurt yourself.”

The column has sparked deep reactions, from those with bipolar disorder who recognized themselves in Ayelet’s words and those who felt she was unnecessarily exposing her children.

In Sunday’s New York Times, we get to read about Ayelet and Michael’s great sex life, one that is so exciting that she fantasizes about stopping by the local sex store to see the new sex toys. She talks about how Michael – not her four children – are the center of the universe and that is why she is a Bad Mother. She goes on to say that none of her other mother friends are getting any, and while that is OK with them, it would not be OK for Ayelet.

“It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.”

I must confess that I know Ayelet. Sort of. We go to the same health club in Berkeley and have had a half dozen conversations. While we’ve worked out side by side on the stairmaster, she has told me (and lots of other people) about intimate details of her life – how high levels of lead and mercury in her body caused a miscarriage; how changing medications helped her lose weight; and how her daughter had to switch schools twice before finding a third that works.

By reading her pieces I have learned this: she aborted a fetus with genetic mutations; she thinks her youngest son has an odd chin, and she is a bookworm.

In short, Ayelet is a compulsive confessor – in private and in public.

I am not sure what I think about this. I have read three of Ayelet’s Mommy Track mysteries and have enjoyed them. I only made it through 25 pages of Daughter's Keeper. I loved her blog Bad Mother because I love confessional memoir. I think she is a brilliant essayist. But I am getting tired hearing these very private thoughts, not because they don’t fascinate me – they do – but because I suspect she writes them in part for their shock value. I worry for her children.


Anonymous said...

Frances, you go girl! Waldman better make a lot of money on her books, because she's going to need it for her kids' therapy. She's not the only mom "getting any"--just the only one broadcasting the tedious details in the NY Times and throughout the gym.

Anonymous said...

So now she's threatening people, too? ("I'll see you at the gym, Fran.") I hope you're wrong about "major public figure." I've had enough.