Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Misery Memoirists: Part One

Edward St. Aubyn
All that I know about Edward St. Aubyn comes from an article published in the June 2, 2014 New Yorker magazine written by In Parker. It is an inspiringly written piece about a man who seems both highly accomplished and creepy. I have re-read the article a few times because of parallels in St. Aubyn’s life and my own. Essentially: Both St. Aubyn and I grew up damaged by abusive parents and wrote about it.

Parker writing about St. Aubin’s books: “But the books, which focus on a family named Melrose, are now widely admired for their forensic and comic variation on the theme of trauma and imperfect recovery. In Britain, the publishing marketplace has become so saturated with nonfiction reenactments of this theme that the genre is known, with brusque mockery, as the ‘misery memoire,’ and bookstores have “Painful Lives” sections…..”

I am guilty. My screenplay is misery memoire. I cannot believe there are “Painful Lives” sections in some British bookstores.

When St. Aubyn was three, his father threw him into the swimming pool he had always been advised to avoid for fear of drowning and his father watched him as he struggled to stay afloat and remove himself.

Later in life, after a period of “dark self-analysis,” St. Aubyn arrived “at a new understanding of him mother’s complicity in his father’s cruelty.” (The quotations are Parker’s words from the article.)

St. Aubyn, writing about his alter ego, Patrick Melrose: “The deeper truth that he had been a toy in the sadomasochistic relationship between his parents was not, until now, something he could bear to contemplate.”

That gave me chills when I read it.

St. Aubyn tells Parker about heart-breaking and poignant events that reveal that his mother knew about and ignored his father’s sexual abuse of him. My mother provoked my father’s beatings with lies about my behavior. I had never thought of my parents as being in a “sadomasochistic relationship” until reading this article. 

St. Aubyn and I were damaged by parental betrayal. St. Aubyn used heroin to deal with his emotional inheritance and avoided therapy. I used marijuana; it never occurred to me to seek therapy. I kept my life story secret until later in my life.

There are also huge differences between St. Aubyn and I, but we both derive tremendous satisfaction from writing misery memoires—he, of course, to an extraordinary level of literary success. And me? Well maybe a whole dozen people—maybe even a baker's dozen—of readers have loved my screenplay.

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