In my many years as a writer, I’ve discovered that honesty is the key to riveting writing. You just can’t forget those passages.
In Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars Club, she talks about her parents’ relationship:
“The first night he slept with her, he took a washrag and a jug of wood alcohol to get rid of her makeup, saying he wanted to see what he was getting into.”
My heart skipped a beat when I read that line.
In another Karr memoir, she talks about waking up at night to the sound of her baby coughing. Her husband offers to get up and take care of it, but she says, No, I’ve got it.
I tell the husband I’ve got it because it ticks another plus sign in my column in this game of shit eating I have composed my marriage to be. Whoever eats the biggest shit sandwich wins, and I’m playing to justify the fact that I’d rather drink than love.
In my own newly published novel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, Cat is a recovering alcoholic only nine months sober, and badly wants to remain so. I have dredged up from the bottom of the muddy lake some dripping honesty, as well:
Still, Cat never much qualified as a rebel when she was sober. She didn’t much like rap or hard rock or emo or punk or grunge or even Elvis. She didn’t like swagger or poses or attitude. She wasn’t drawn to tight dresses or showing off her skin. She wasn’t drawn to bad boys. But as she had begun hearing stories about herself when she was polluted, she began to realize that under the influence, she was a different person entirely. She called that woman Kick, as in, Watch out, that horse has got a mean kick! Cat had no idea why Kick did the things she did. Sober, Cat would never dance on a table in high heels and a short dress. Cat would never throw a drink in another girl’s face because the girl had called her a slut. Cat would never wake up from a blackout in a railroad boxcar headed for Tucson, a homeless man sitting across from her with lipstick smudges on his face. But Kick apparently would.
Not all readers want complete honesty. I had a UK reviewer who criticized the characters in my new novel for having “too many issues.” (She still gave it three stars.) It stung for about ten minutes, until I looked at her preferences in books, which focused on vampire romances and other fantasy material. Really now, that kind of reader isn’t going to want my level of honesty.
I want the kind of honesty that grabs you by the ears, stays in your stomach for days, or preferably, years, makes you say, Wow. It’s hard won, that honesty, and it comes only from pitiless self-searching and disregard for one’s own reputation.