From time to time, Auntie M veers away from crime to feature something different in terms of genre. Today it’s novelist Christine Hale who has taken a turn to memoir and tells us about her unusual approach.
A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations
by Christine Hale
(Apprentice House Press, 2016)
People often ask why I wrote a memoir (since my first book Basil’s Dream, was a novel). The next thing they want to know is why I wrote the book in “collage” or kaleidoscope form instead of telling a story straight through from beginning to end.
I’ve come up with a lot of long-winded answers in the past but today, writing this note to readers who enjoy mysteries and crime stories, it dawned on me that there’s a very short, very true answer: my parents were mysteries to me.
Married for over 60 years, they were hard-working, God-fearing, honest and frugal country people, and they passed those qualities on down to their daughters. But my mother also did and said some shockingly mean things to me, my sisters, and our father. And he, it would turn out, was secretly physically abusive to her for most of their marriage. My sisters and I never knew that until he got caught in the act soon after they moved to assisted living in their late eighties. We were summoned to a meeting with the facility manager and the police, because my father was about to be thrown out for his behavior. We were dumbfounded–that he was in that kind of trouble at his age, and that we’d been blind to it for so long. My oldest sister said, while we wrung our hands in the waiting room, “Somebody should write about this.”
Some of you may remember something Flannery O’Connor says in Mystery and Manners. She attributes the remark to a neighbor with whom she’d shared her early work. The stories, the woman said, “just showed how some folks would do.” That phrase captures exactly the way I feel about my parents’ struggles and mistakes (and my own): people will do the most surprising, confounding things, and it’s an unsolvable mystery to ever really know why.
Well, I’m a writer, and I process what confounds me by writing about it. The result, after a number of years and many drafts, was a memoir in collage form. Layered and overlapping memories–a patchwork quilt–from many different points in time, about my parents, my children, my husbands, and other people and events that instructed me, bruised me, transformed me. My intent in structuring my memoir as a collage was to mimic the way we remember and strive to make sense of memories. In her blog Backporchervations, LuAnn Braley described the book’s effect this way: “When we meditate, or think over our lives…we pick and choose certain memories from certain points that do not arrive in neat chronological order. Then, our subconscious wants to join the fun and grabs memories we forget we have along the theme of what our active mind is considering.”
It’s been tremendous fun to hear readers’ take on my book. So many people have contacted me to say it caused them to remember things they’d forgotten, and that without quite knowing why–another mystery–recovering and re-inhabiting old memories helped them feel better about their lives.
You can learn more about me and my work at:
www.christinehalebooks.com. Or, if you’re in the neighborhood, I’ll be reading from A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations at McIntryre’s Fine Books in Pittsboro, NC, on October 22 at 11 am. The book will be available for purchase there. You can also buy it through independent booksellers anywhere, and online at IndieBound, Amazon, and Walmart.