The Ambivalent Memoirist: Obsessions, Digressions, Epiphanies - Sandra Hurtes

This memoir recounts, as of course all memoirs do, moments in the authors life and times. Hurtes focuses on her strained relationship with her parents, their clinginess versus her desires to be independent, and a perhaps more strained relationship between her work life and her desire to be a famous writer. Incredibly well-written with very short chapters of quick snapshots throughout her adult life, the story provides both hope in achieving the life you want as well as stern warning as we recognize her sometimes self-sabotaging through an obstinance to rebel while at the same time wallow in regret over it. The writers life is not a glamorous one, nor an easy one, revolving around short-term writing assignments and slave labor teaching jobs. The work is a must read for those struggling with the adjunct lifestyle, and those interested in (or needing dissuasion from) becoming writers. It is also a powerful piece for independent minded women struggling to find their own voice, as well as poignant reflections for those that grew up in the shadow of Holocaust survivors, this book being part of the last generation that will be able to recount such events. Filled with clever and often hysterical turns of phrases (“hipsters take note – I had Brooklyn first!”), and painfully vivid memories of lost parents, my criticism is one of the author is probably already aware of, that despite the honesty of the work there are gaps to a larger story. It is in these gaps I believe a true novel awaits, yearning to break free of self-imposed restraints and self-criticism and doubt, so that the fuller story can be told. Perhaps one of the funnier(?) ironies to the tale is that the author, so eager to break away from family that wants to simply assist her in becoming herself and to show her love the only way they knew how: through random if obtrusive displays of assistance which she found stifling, and yet what has the author herself become, but someone whose writing is a gateway for others to find their own voice, and whose job it is to assist those who care nothing for writing, with all it formalities of grammar, and see no purpose in it, in order to help them become better people and to give them the skills, knowledge, and assistance they may not want, know they need, and/or certainly never asked for, simply so they can focus on their other more pressing pursuits.

Because the tale(s) jumps in time, in both the historical record and the more contemporary musings, it can be a bit jarring for the casual reader meandering through a short chapter here and there (I couldn't put it down, but others might not be reading it on vacation), especially in instances where she writes that Halfway Home is going to be referred to at HH from this point on, only to be spelt out at least four more times. Writers, pessimists (the latters aren't always the formers even if the reverse is usually true), and the perpetually envious like myself, will enjoy her constant begrudging of others' success, but I question if Hurtes actually recognizes that the success stories of others who took the roads she didn't are minuscule and far between, rather than just being a device to illustrate her mentality. Check her out at sandrahurtes.blogspot.com and/or @SHurtes