Even if you have to ransack the magazines at a dentist’s office, or hack into Condé Nast using your ex-boyfriend’s subscriber info, I strongly recommend that you read “Cry Me a River” by Giles Harvey in the March 25 issue of The New Yorker. It’s a smart and even-tempered takedown of failure memoirs.
A growing batch of memoirs by literary screw-ups and also-rans suggests that mistakes—the bigger and more luridly described the better—might be a portal to the success, or, at the very least, the solvency, that eluded their authors the first time around. The formula is simple: when all else fails, write about your failure.
Citing “the widespread belief that candor will do the work of talent,” Harvey faults a number of recent memoirs for subscribing to “a doctrine of writing that values ‘honesty’ and ‘truth’ above the supposedly adulterating qualities of craft and composition.” In a culture where “self-analysis has been supplanted by mawkish exhibitionism,” suffering for one’s art can become a substitute for making art that’s worthwhile. Harvey traces the source of this evil to David Shields—the bumbling Antichrist of literature—and to the crumbling of the publishing industry, which has “created a generation of professional failurists whose great subject is how the publishing industry ruined their lives.”
Anyway, it’s good. Read it.
– Brian Hurley