This week I finished the non-fiction book My Story by Elizabeth Smart. I picked it up because I wanted to use it for research for my novel on how we endure terrifying events.
I knew this book had been out for a while but I didn’t want to read it because the worst nightmare of a parent is for their child to disappear from right under their noses. I had my suspicions as to what she went through but I was afraid that reading about her experiences would be like a dagger plunging deep in my own heart and I just would not be able to handle that.
I prepared myself for the horrific events but I should not have worried because the book was not what I expected. It was written in a very detached manner, almost as if the writer was someone who had no emotional investment in the events written about. And as a reader I did not make an emotional connection with young Elizabeth. I wanted to root for her but found myself not doing so. When she was rescued I felt that I should be crying happy tears and jumping for joy but I did not. All in all it felt very weird. The only thing that kept me reading was a combination of writing infused with lyrical elements and that maybe I would get what I expected on the next page.
Is that how memoirs are supposed to read? A simple recitation of events with a bit of lyrical language inserted here and there?
The only other memoir I’ve read is Stephen King’s On Writing. I remember feeling shock when he wrote about his accident (I missed hearing about that when it happened) and felt every pain when he wrote about his recovery. I rooted for him to get well. When his writing suffered because he couldn’t sit very long I felt heartsick. Writing was his soul food and if he couldn’t do that? I didn’t want to think of what that would do to him. But I continued reading because I wanted to find out how he overcame his horrific injuries to be the man he is today.
An added bonus was that by the end of the book I felt uplifted and had the courage to write anything.
Maybe I was the wrong audience for Elizabeth Smart’s memoir. Maybe me knowing that she had been rescued tainted my reading. Maybe I’m missing the whole point of a memoir. But I didn’t even get anything I could use for research. Yes, she talked about her feelings of despair and her question of whether after this would anyone ever want her but I didn’t FEEL her despair. I didn’t FEEL her sadness. I didn’t FEEL her homesickness when she pined for her home and family. I didn’t FEEL her terror of the man who took her from her bedroom in the dark of night with a knife to her throat. I wanted this book to deliver on my initial fear of a dagger plunging deep in my heart. I wanted to have to put it down every so often because it was just too much to handle.
What about you? Have you ever read a book that failed to deliver what you expected?
Take care now.