“An emotional roller coaster!” That’s how one reader described my memoir, The Sportscaster’s Daughter. The same could be said of the book’s first month of publication.
The official publication date was August 23, but it seems that only the likes of JK Rowling can keep those boxes sealed until the release data, as friends advised me Amazon pre-orders had shipped the week before. So my local book club had an early, impromptu gathering. I advised them: they were only invited if they agreed to be brutally honest – about the book and its secrets that most of them hadn’t known. They are a highly educated, opinionated bunch. Just don’t get us going on The Red Tent, and keep that wine flowing!
It’s no doubt a tricky thing to discuss a memoir. How can you critique a character in the same way, when it not a fictional character, but rather, a real living, person sitting in front of you? I had to assure them that writers’ workshops are a tougher audience and showed them samples of marked up manuscripts that had more red pen than black typeface. The conversation started with the usual comments: my book club hadn’t known how heart breaking my childhood had been and some of those scenes were tough to take. Some revealed that their husband’s borrowed their book, because they wanted to know about the famed sportscaster, George Michael. They criticized him for his failings, but credited him for the things he did right. And then the conversation that every writer hopes for: how my story made them reflect on their own family relationships … what is the limits of their own inner strength.
During book club, one friend asked me, “Does it hurt you when we criticize your dad?” This is a tricky question. And over the past month, I’ve learned that so much depends on who is criticizing and how. I am still protective of my dad; it’s so important to me that people recognize him for when he was a good father (The Golden Years chapter) and understand the challenges he had from his own abusive child hood. A Deadspin article on the memoir and only on my father’s worst mistakes most certainly hurt. But I guess that is also that site’s style. People don’t like to have their idols tainted in any way, and I suspected the book would draw anger from those fans. Beyond that, I do love hearing from people who remember my dad as a disc jockey. Those were happy times. And I’m not thrilled to hear that people preferred Glen Brenner over my dad. He will always be my favorite sportscaster.
There were a few posts on Good Reads that gave me pause. Ironically, even though I am an avid reader, this is not a site I had used before. One reader said they would have liked to have heard more of my father’s side of the story. I would have too! But in memoir, we can’t make things up. All I could give you was the chapter The Letter, because that is the most he gave me. From my sister, the only explanation is that I hurt him … how remains unclear. By moving away? By getting married without him being there? That was his choice as described in the chapter Fairy Tales. I’ve included speculation by others – his Uncle and a therapist, but their views are their own interpretations of trying to explain that which my father probably didn’t understand himself. I mean, really: he wasn’t reflective to begin with and his work schedule didn’t allow much time for soul searching. As I’ve said, his coping technique and mine works for a period —being a workaholic can dull an unnamed pain. I find it no small coincidence that my father died less than two years after he retired of an illness he should have been able to beat. Did too much free time allow for too much time to think (Repeating the Cycle chapter)?
Another Good Reads reader surmised that I must have left something out— that I must have done something worse to lead to being disowned. Nope. I would have preferred to leave out the chapters My Fall from Grace and Dying. Reliving those scenes almost killed me, again, but to leave those out would have been misleading to a reader and unfair to my father in explaining that first rift. Victims often blame themselves, as I did for a time. It’s taken me years to come to realize the fault was not mine. And as a mother, I really can’t think of what my own children could ever do that would justify a disowning, period. As one person pointed out to me: did the Jews deserve what happened in the Holocaust? How could Hitler have convinced an entire country to persecute the innocent? And yet, it happened. A more light hearted comparison: The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Beyond the readers’ reviews, it’s been so nice to reconnect with some long forgotten friends, to hear from people who say their book helped them reflect on their own family dynamics, and of course to be compared to one of my favorites The Glass Castle. I am honored the book made a few important fall round ups:
- Buzz Feed: 10 Memoirs That Shed A Light On Unseen Family Life: “…candid and deeply touching as it reveals one family’s struggle with forgiveness and faith.”
- Culturalist: “10 Memoirs Exploring Family Relationships”
- Book Sparks: Ten Memoirs for Fall By Trailblazing Women: “…sets the bar for familial understanding, forgiveness and hope.”
I never thought of myself as a trailblazer, only a survivor. Thank you for reading!