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Two stars for "Effort"
on September 26, 2007
Apparently, when you write a horrific account of your childhood and announce how wonderfully you've turned out it's considered rude behavior to question the memoir's veracity. I've seen many comments about Ms. Walls' ability to recall, with perfect clarity, the traumatic injuries to herself at the age of three. While, personally, I doubt her ability to recall her experience so thoroughly, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and allow that her memories are probably colored by what she recalls of the stories recounting the event. However, when her memories of later years are so obviously faulty, I found myself doubting everything and reading the book as though it were an anthologoy of stories and anecdotes collected from others.
She mentions living in Phoenix at the age of ten (and leaving for WV during that year) which would have been circa 1970, if she's truthful about her age in interviews. Her parents' adventures in Phoenix included, essentially, bank robbery via simultaneous teller withdrawals and ATM withdrawals, but ATMs were not widely installed in the U.S. until 1973. She also mentioned playing at the tennis courts of Phoenix University, though there is no such place and Phoenix College was not in their neighborhood. Phoenix Union High School is a possibility, as it was only a few blocks east of their street. The Civic Center (which was built between 1969 and 1972) has never housed a library, as the Central Library was only a few miles down the road on McDowell and Central, sharing a property with the Phoenix Art Museum.
While all these discrepancies can be put down to the typical transformation that occurs when time and distance have had their way with a memory, how can we then believe that everything else is exactly as described? It leads me back to the idea that much of the story is a series of collected anecdotes built around the framework of a dysfunctional family with mentally ill parents and emotionally disconnected children.
Others commented that they found it confusing, disturbing or admirable that the author held no bitterness or anger toward her parents and read no anger into the story itself. I found this to be symptomatic of a complete lack of emotion in the entire effort. It's as if it were written in a void of emotion.
I read an interview with the author in which she said she'd tried to write from the perspective of the child she was but any child would have been asking the question, "Why?" at every turn of event described in this book. Even with the mind of a genius it would be impossible for a child of three to rationalize the neglect that led to skin grafts by saying that boiling hot dogs is easy.
It reeks of a boastful attitude, as if to say, "Look at me! Look how horrible my life was and how well I did despite that!" She regularly mentions how gifted and well-educated she and her siblings were yet she glosses over the "how" of it. For someone with such a photographic memory, I'd expect a more concrete telling of the "homeschooling" they received at the hands of their parents.
As someone who had a terrible childhood and survived it, I feel as though she's taken that experience and trivialized it. She's allowed her parents to abdicate their responsibility for their children and credited them with creating vibrant, talented adults which leaves the rest of us wondering what people will think when we refuse to allow our toxic parents into our lives and the lives of our children. She makes it seem as though it's easy to forget about abuse and embrace the abusers as flawed but perfect embodiments of themselves. I can't help but think that she's holding back a great deal which doesn't do much to endorse a "Memoir."