“Five Stages of Memoir”

Reading the New York Time’s Book Review from Sunday, March 20, I came across this sentence written by Susan Cheever, the opening line of her review of John Darnton’s Almost a Family.

“We are all familiar with the five stages of memoir: Myth, trauma, revelation, redemption, book contract.”

I didn’t know we were all familiar with that.

I guess I hadn’t thought about “myth” as the starting point, but it rings true.  The “myth stage” in memoir is the state you were in before the complications occurred that began the story of your life.

After that in Cheever’s sequence comes trauma and (if one works to find meaning in it) revelation and redemption. Then, If one works hard at getting the myth, the trauma, the revelation and redemption into words–and gets lucky–the final stage,”book contract” arrives. (That too is a mythical state, a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow until you actually discover how disheartening the role of author in the book industry actually is. But still, your friends and family will be proud–if you didn’t diss them in the book, that is.)

Cheever goes on to say Darnton’s book is a wonderful memoir. Publishers’ Weekly describes it thus: “Soon after Pearl Harbor, Darnton’s father, Barney Darnton, a correspondent for the New York Times, shipped off to the South Pacific, leaving behind infant Darnton and his older brother and mother. By year’s end, Barney had been killed in the war. Darnton’s mother, also a reporter and editor at the Times, struggled to raise her kids on her own. Darnton describes his adolescence, such as attending and getting expelled from prep school, attending college, meeting his future wife, and eventually finding his own way into journalism. In this unsentimental narrative, Darnton vividly chronicles the high-water era of classic journalism and his stints as a Times correspondent in Africa and Solidarity-era Poland, but what drives his memoir are the pursuit of the fullest possible picture of his father’s death, the story of his mother’s alcoholism and sobriety, and most of all, the quest for deeply buried facts about his parents and their relationship.”

I look forward to reading it.

For now, enjoy pondering Cheever’s interesting 5-word summation of the memoir genre. A morsel for thought.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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