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"An American Requiem" review
on October 26, 2006
James Carroll's memoir, An American Requiem, displays many examples of scenes and narrative structures that are simply ineffective. As I was reading the book, I often felt as though I was skimming through a history textbook. Instead of focusing solely on his lifelong memories, Carroll often would jump into a long, detailed history lesson in which he would drop names in order to try and appear knowledgeable. While one can see why these can be necessary in some areas, it seems as though Carroll doesn't focus enough on himself. One of many examples of this can be found on page 37, where Carroll proceeds to give a detailed overview of various events that took place in the 1950's.
Another area in which I feel Carroll could improve is character development. I felt as though we were always being told of characters that affected his life, yet not shown how. In comparing this book to J.R. Moehringer's, The Tender Bar, it is quite easy to see how many characters in this book are underdeveloped. For example, when writing of Patrick Hughes, Carroll simply states why he and Patrick were friends, but refrains from really showing us how he was so different from the rest of the Paulists (p. 101).
Finally, Carroll has a definite ethos problem throughout the entire book. By oversimplifying his father, while also ignoring his side of the story, it appears as though Carroll always thinks he is right, and that his father is wrong. The final paragraph of the book proves this when Carroll states that his father is "fallible," yet forbears from looking towards himself with criticism (279). By the end of the book, I was completely turned off to the story because of Carroll's inability to look at his father's point of view instead of always assuming his own as the correct one.