When Books Don’t Deliver What They Promise

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

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?

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen King

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.


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