If, as Murdock says, we use memory to create our identities, then at last there's an explanation for why members of a single family will remember in radically different ways an event that affected them all. For just as memory shapes identity, says Murdock, identity, once formed, shapes how we remember things: "If the image of the event we have participated in does not match the image of the self we have carefully constructed, then we rarely remember the facts of the event at all." Yet according to the author, each memory, no matter how discrete, has a structure similar to that of myth; beneath each memory is a psychological archetype, such as that of the journey. So while it's possible for a memoir to be narcissistic, Murdock claims, most of them transcend petty egotism; a book like Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes "stirs our collective memory and inspires our collective compassion." In trying to describe the writer's relation to his or her unconscious, Murdock counters the shadowiness of her subject by referring to such well-known memoirists as McCourt, John Bayley, Isabel Allende, Mary Karr and J.M. Coetzee, as well as lesser-known authors. Part One of this study outlines Murdock's general ideas about memory and identity interspersed with an often painful-to-read account of the author's relationship with an angry, controlling mother. Part Two is essentially a textbook, complete with exercises designed for those interested in organizing their experiences as best they can and, given memory's unreliability, making as much sense as possible of them.
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