Reynolds Price and Memoir

A couple of weeks ago the NY Times Book Review published piece by David Leavitt on Reynolds Price’s memoir Ardent Spirits.

Reynolds Price

Leavitt makes an interesting observation about this memoir — it is old-school:

[Price]  sees memoir as an opportunity to reflect on youth from the sometimes cruel, sometimes merciful, vantage point of age. The trend among younger memoirists (and pseudo-memoirists) has been to recreate a specific trauma or traumatic period in the immediacy of its experiencing.

From the review, it seems Price delves into his homosexuality, but doesn’t suggest this experience was ever traumatic, just part of life. The bulk of the memoir, as Leavitt describes it, concerns itself with Price’s development as a writer. It’s nice to read about a memoir that for once doesn’t hinge on trauma. The review makes this memoir sound like a traditional autobiography, someone telling about a particular episode in or episodes in his or her life.

Also of note: apparently Price tries to distance himself from fibbers such as James Frey. Price apparently makes sure readers know up front that what he writes is to the best of his recollection.

I haven’t read the memoir, although I liked the excerpt from the Times, part of which Price writes about recognizing the talent of Anne Tyler, when she took his freshman comp course. What a great thing for a writing teacher to have happen — to know one is teaching someone with the potential to become a writer of some talent.

I do like Price. I’ve read a published collection of his notebooks, Learning a Trade: A Craftsman’s Notebooks, 1955-1997, a wonderful insight into a writer’s mind, and the process of writing. And his apologetic Letter To A Man In The Fire: Does God Exist And Does He Care?, is a powerful essay, a letter about faith to a man dying of cancer (Price is wheelchair bound because of cancer) that to me runs rings around anything C.S. Lewis ever wrote.


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