SURVIVOR: let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: saving graces (elizabeth edwards)

i was about a hundred pages into elizabeth edwards's saving graces (the 2006 post-cancer, pre-scandal memoir; i haven't read resilience, the one she released last year) when i decided i prefer it to both bill clinton's my life (2004), which reads like a bibliography and a fever dream, and hillary's living history (2003), which was lucid, well-mannered, and kind of boring. edwards is well read (she has a BA in english and did three years of graduate work in american lit before going to law school) and a fine storyteller; her account of a childhood spent following her father (a navy pilot) around the world is actually my favorite part of the book. The Early Years, generally a vestigial bit of memoir, are actually rather muscular in elizabeth's story. i actually bristled a bit when she mentioned john for the first time ("John Edwards? He was a textiles major from a small town, wasn't he? And wasn't he the one who had had a date to a football game with a majorette?"); i was sorry to have gotten to the end of the japan stories, for one thing, and i wasn't especially anxious to hear about her eventually faithless husband, for another. that's the stuff of resilience, though; this is the memoir about losing a child and fighting cancer.

...so hey (cough), let's have a book throwdown between 9/11 literature and dealing with grief and breast cancer! super-classy, no? i'm not too squeamish to say that i think edwards's chapters on losing her son, wade, are both extremely moving and just a bit unwieldy. she reproduces a number of her posts to alt.support.grief (a usenet support group) after wade's death in a 1996 auto accident; they're quite moving, but they're intended for a very specific group of people (for individual people, in some cases). her narrative would benefit from some pruning there, i think, but i sympathize with both her and her editor; would you like to tell a grieving mother to wrap it up? it hurts to think of how many hours edwards has spent at north carolina's oakwood cemetery literally tending graves; grief like that is unimaginable to me, and she deserves a lot of credit for making it public.
It doesn't matter to me whether all this sounds odd. I did it because it made it easier for me, easier for me to think that there were mothers who would come after me and tend to Wade's grave when I no longer could. Easier to think that we were all in this together, that we formed a bond, a community--these long-dead mothers and I, and the mothers who would come later--and the creed to which we all subscribed was the sanctity of the graves of our children.
i had a similar reaction to edwards's lengthy mentions of those who wrote to her after she announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer - and, similarly, i'm letting it go. she received sixty-five thousand messages, you guys, and is responding to every single one.
I started on a more sensible regimen of signing, but it was slow, and I was embarrassed that we had printed out all the letters with the same date, in the beginning of February [2005], and then it became April and then May, and I was still writing notes on the bottom of letters dated February 7th. Finally my hand gave out, after about fifteen thousand responses. It was not too long after the surgery [to have lymph nodes removed] when I developed lymphedema, for which I was supposed to avoid repetitive motions--and I had to stop altogether for a time. The only upside was that I didn't worry any longer about that February date. Now I have started again, despite the lymphedema, despite some neuropathy that has dulled the nerves in my right hand, and I will write--as slowly as I need to--for as long as it takes.

as those thousands of messages suggest, elizabeth edwards's story resonates with a hell of a lot of people; her memoir is about "finding solace and strength from friends and strangers," per the subtitle, and it would be ridiculous to quibble about the length at which she describes her processes. surely someone who's lost so much (i don't think i want to read resilience; seriously, universe? more for this woman?) has earned the right to curate her life as she likes.

VICTOR: call it a courtly, bloodless win for let the great world spin.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you read either of the clintons' memoirs? what did you think? which did you prefer, if you've read both?

02 if you were to edit an emotional memoir, do you think you'd be able to tell your author to tighten things up?

03 how did you feel about john edwards prior to the news of his infidelity?

04 should i have excused saving graces from THUNDERTOME?

*previous battle here.


Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

01: In aid of what?  C Hitchen’s remark about “not recalling any other White House which has had to maintain a quasi-governmental or para-state division devoted exclusively to the bullying and defamation of women” (this among a thousand cruel bon mots) from No One Left To Lie To and E Wurtzel’s musings about Ms. Rodham as feminist tragedy from Bitch (forgetting for a moment her seeming cooze-move w/g/t DFW’s death) are as far as I’ve cared to go thus far.  And yours is definitely not a ringing endorsement.  
02: If Ben Johnson can do it in twelve lines, surely...  
03: Super Creep Mode.  (After news of infidelity: Super Creep Mode.)  
04: Kind of.

kidchamp said...

i went back and forth on it, MDF, and ultimately my thinking was that it would be disrespectful to excuse it altogether; i believe inspirational writing should be evaluated. she sounds like a lovely person - and, it should go without saying, an uber-mom - and i imagine that what she writes is a real balm to people who have sustained losses like hers. i hope that was clear, though i know i tripped over my impressions a bit.

ma said...

Nicely done, and nicely put, Lau.
It's the 'apples vs oranges' conundrum---preferences can be expressed, but winners/losers?

Amanda said...

02 Ugh. I don't know. Perhaps, in theory, but I don't know.
04 See above. But that last line is perfectly, lovingly wrought. You're beautifully gracious.

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

02(second try): Ehhe, I’m on an altitudinous dose of Dylar at pretty much all times so my answers might have come off a little more impertinent-sounding than I’d been going for.  Her gestures, the ones you’ve selected, make for devastating reading.  I approach cautiously because pain of that profundity is also profoundly subjective (unimaginable even, as you say, for those of us without children), but anything rendered in prose (opposed to inarticulate sobbing) can be evaluated artfully, and as you insist, the loose manner of her delivery only lends it a more credible aura of verisimilitude the better to empathize with.  The book was Thundertome ready and worthy, so first you made the right choice by allowing the battle, and then you made the merciful one for all us (see: MDF) craven, flippant jokesters with the bloodless win.  King Solomon aint got nothin’ on you.  (Added shame: I generally love material like Saving Graces, from Peter De Vries untouchable fictional response to his daughter’s death to your very own beautiful and beneficent elegy about your previous cat, the one cowering between the tub and shower curtain.)

kidchamp said...

MDF, you actually confirmed for me in your initial response that i'd misfired on my first draft. (for what it's worth, i almost never tweak posts once they're up, and this is easily the biggest handful of edits i've ever made.) when i noted, for example, that edwards signed the copy i was reading, i was trying to convey some of the impossibility of talking about her objectively; how on earth could i read that passage about her writing all those letters, think about that signature, and then turn around and be all, "some of her metaphors seemed overwrought"? instead it sounded like a cruel joke, and i shudder to think of what you internets must've thought of me after reading that first draft. i'm relieved to have cooked something you can smell this time.  thank you for the candor, and thank you re: the jude post.

i will never forgive you for delillo, of course.  

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

Of course.