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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Ayelet Waldman


“I think that I am an exhibitionist.”

That is the opening line of Katherine Seligman’s excellent profile of novelist Ayelet Waldman in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle magazine. You know, the Berkeley woman who parlayed an essay about loving her husband more than her children into a new career, one talking about “maternal ambivalence.”

Waldman is an accomplished writer, with six books in her Mommy Track mystery series and a more literary novel, “Daughter’s Keeper.” But before a few months ago she was best known as the wife of Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Michael Chabon.

But my interest in Waldman – and that of many people I know – has been less about her writing then her self-revelations. She blogged about her youngest son’s receding chin, the baby she had to abort because of medical malformations, her bi-polar disorder, and many other issues.

She became a national figure in March when a piece of hers appeared in the Modern Love section of the New York Times. The article, in which she said she could survive the death of her children, but not the death of her husband, garnered her a spot on Oprah. The talk show queen chose to interpret Waldman’s essay differently, and turned her show into a discussion about whether women today pay too much attention to their children, placing their needs primary in the family. Oprah used Waldman as an example of a different kind of household, one where the relationship between husband and wife stood front and center.

Waldman has gotten a lot of ink as a result of that essay. Both San Francisco and Diablo Magazines have short blurbs on her this month. But Seligman’s piece is by far the most illuminating. Here’s a choice quote:

“It’s ridiculous to be so willing to expose myself and at the same time be so hypersensitive. Those are two contradictory impulses no one person should have.”

Waldman’s confession on the page even prompted ABC to look for other mothers who “put their husbands first.” (That is if this blog site is real; it may be a joke, as far as I can tell.)

ABC wants moms who put their husbands first!

Dear Moms,

Many of you have seen Ayelet Waldman's appearance on "Oprah" where she voiced her controversial views on putting her husband before her children. We at ABC are looking for more moms who follow that philosophy. We're always looking for unique families to feature on our shows and are fascinated by this approach to marriage, parenting, and romance! How has this approach benefited you, your spouse, and your children? Do you feel that other families could learn by your example? We want to hear from you! There is generous financial compensation involved!"

Of course, what’s going on is the transformation of literary culture in America. Like everything else, it’s becoming “celebritized.” It’s not enough for an author to express his or herself on paper. Now readers want to know details of the personal lives of writers – their tortured childhood (Waldman had a variation of this theme,) the state of their marriages, their every thought.

Waldman is a writer who realizes this, and has used her confessions to bring herself a broader audience than her books have. I don’t doubt that she still wants to improve as a writer and win converts that way, but she is aggressively going down another path: telling secrets, baring her soul, and hoping the shock value draws people in.

1 comment:

ed said...

The problem with Waldman is the potential harm she's doing to herself and her family by publicly exposing herself in the interests of "catharsis." When in fact she should be getting professional help. As far as I'm concerned, the editors who commission her pieces are just as culpable. And even though I have poked fun at Waldman from time to time, it sickens me that this has received so much public attention.