Saturday, May 14, 2011

The widowhood memoir (scandal)

There has been a small amount of criticism and issue taken with author Joyce Carol Oates' recent memoir about widowhood, A Widow's Story (which, for the record, I have not read). Some reviewers, rather than focusing on the memoir itself, have turned a sharp gaze towards the fact that though Oates' memoir focuses on the sudden death of her husband and the grief that followed, she neglects to mention at any point that she married a little over a year after her husband's death.

This of course raises the question of full disclosure in a memoir. Does the author need to reveal what may seem (to them) as irrelevant to their story? Oates clearly did not see need to include mention of her remarriage - perhaps to her this was not part of the grief story. But it may also seem as though something is missing. Indeed, Oates has been quoted as saying that she should have added an appendix to the book, including her remarriage and that she hopes such an appendix will be added to later editions.

Commenter Kristin writes the following:
If someone can write a memoir at 22 years old, why can't Oates write a memoir about a particular time in her life? 
When you think about it, Kristin has made a pretty good point. Memoirs are not autobiographies. They don't have to include what you ate for breakfast every day. They don't have to provide a full summary of your life. Memoirs are, in fact, defined by their flexibility and the way they don't have to tell everything around the author's world. Oates decided to discuss the grief of widowhood, not the possible joy of remarriage. That's not what the book is about. That she remarried does not exactly cast the book into a new light. It's just a different story, one that may deserve its own focus (should Oates decides that's worth it).


  1. I totally agree with your concluding paragraph!

  2. Very good point. Her remarriage has very little bearing on the actual subject of the memoir, and if reviewers wanted her to include "everything", that would be more a life story than a look into a particular time in Oates' life. I've also not read the book, though.

  3. I've always felt that memoirs are different than autobiographies for this very reason; they don't necessarily tell the entire story of the author's life, but rather, are meant to address a particular aspect of that person's experiences.


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