This weekend, I went to the bookstore and came home with I’m Looking Through You by Jennifer Finney Boylan and Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida. And who knew: There was a theme.
I missed the big huzzah when Boylan’s book She’s Not There came out; this book is another memoir. Boylan—who used to be James Finney Boylan—riffs in this one on the conceit of hauntedness. She spent her childhood in a haunted house; her father, at one point, is being treated for cancer; and—the theme!—she writes on making sense of the past, in light of the present.
Vida’s book is a novel but tackles a similar issue, albeit from a different angle: What happens when your past isn’t what you thought? Does it affect your present? In this case, the narrator find out, on the day of her father’s funeral, that he wasn’t her bio-father. Her mother has long been out of the picture.
Good times, great cognitive dissonance.
It all reminded me of what positive psychologist Martin Seligman wrote in Authentic Happiness—that you can have three distinct emotions about your past, present, and future. What he doesn’t say (pointedly, at least) is that for most of us, it’s human nature to make some sort of narrative out of the past, present, and future of our lives.
In the interview with the author at the end of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, Vida talks about the philopher Galen Strawson’s essay “Against Narrativity.” Says Vida, “There’s a small percentage of people who don’t view anything they do now as being related to anything that’s happened in their past.”
It’s a pretty fascinating idea to me. It got me thinking about what we have to edit it out of our pasts to make the narrative run smoother (smootherly?), to make it feel as if we are the same continuous person from childhood till now. If I can be so immodest, I’m very good at making the narrative. So much so that when my sisters, Erin, usually, remind me of something my younger self did, I sometimes can’t remember it at all. And it’s unlikely that she’s fucking with me.
Speaking of narratives, Tracy has an interesting conversation going on about craft and Books You Love. Take a gander!