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Her: The Memoir, Not the Movie

March 4, 2014


I’ve just finished “Her”, Christa Parravani‘s memoir of surviving the loss of her identical twin. (I’m oversimplifying, but click the link and there is a better description.) I can’t believe it, but this is the first book I’ve finished in 2014. Normally I would be at least three in by now, but I’ve been having a really hard time getting into anything. Mostly I’ve been reading essays, short stories, and bits and pieces of pregnancy/baby books.

I was excited about Her. I remember when it came out I would pick it up and turn it over and read the jacket, but for whatever reason, I didn’t buy it until a week ago. Maybe some part of me knew I wouldn’t love it as much as I thought I would?

Not only did I not love it, I had to force myself to get through it. I like a memoir that is a journey. Emotionally, I want to get from A to B. This didn’t do that. First, the dead sister: frankly, she was an asshole and when she died I was relieved for everyone in her life- including Christa. Second, even in the retelling Parravani can’t give her first husband credit for sticking by her and putting up with so much. I understand that she was looking for blame wherever she could find it, but she clearly has no perspective today.

After I took a night off, breathed through it, and picked it back up after page 150- you’ll know what I’m talking about if you read it- I was kind of into if, if not fully invested still. In my opinion, the book should have started there, with Cara already dead. There were a few more times when she lost me and got me back, but overall I just wouldn’t recommend this book. (Unlike every other person and paper and magazine in the western world.)

I feel guilty about all of the above.

This woman wrote a book. She put her dead twin on the page in all her raw ugliness, how dare I think she’s horrible. At least that’s what’s going on in my head. But I have a need to talk about it- to understand it- and I can’t. (I feel safe here, because she’s not likely to see it, as opposed to if I posted on goodreads or amazon.) That’s the problem with memoir though, isn’t it? Bottom line, I am speaking ill of the dead and who wants to do that?

I’ve blogged about this before so I guess I’m not following my own preference of an evolving journey.

*The author of that other book is now friends with my friends- another reason not to publicly review a book.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2014 8:04 pm

    Maybe you just put in print what some or many others thought while reading. Its not like you just summarily trashed the whole book. You justified the challenges you encountered along the way. You explained some of the problems inherent in the memoir genre-as you see them. You really didn’t speak ill of the dead; you would have preferred that the book begin after the death happened, You spoke ill of the living, but not of the person, of the person’s presentation.

    Dorothy Parker disagreed with almost everyone at some point in time. Maybe you’re on to something here.

  2. KFS permalink
    March 5, 2014 8:10 pm

    *Warning: SPOILERS BELOW* – I hope it’s ok to post this.
    I read this book and you summed up my thoughts. It was hard to read. I got to exactly the same point – around page 150 – and I just had to put it down. The way that it kept switching between Cara’s poetry and the story…it just didn’t flow? Is that the word? I don’t know. I found both the characters to be unlikable, and I didn’t really know what to make of the mother and stepfather in the end. Did he try his best to be a good stepfather? What really shocked me was the approving way she talked about her mother’s decision to lie about taking birth control. According to Parravani, her mother told her biological father that she was on birth control, when really, she was only taking vitamins. The way she talked about it, it was basically like this: ‘I don’t want a baby.’ (Biological father) ‘I want a baby.’ (Mother) *The mother takes vitamins instead of birth control* ‘I’m pregnant.’ *The father is disappointed, but wants a boy if he has fathered a child* ‘I’m not only having one girl, I’m having two.’ *The father is very disappointed* It was like some weird Maury Povich scenario or something. That’s how it came across. Overall, I just really didn’t enjoy the book. I heard her interview on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ and decided I wanted to read it. It turned out to be a disappointing read.

    • March 6, 2014 9:20 pm

      I, too, heard her on NPR and decided to read the book. I agree with the “weird Maury Povich” scenario feeling which overtook me midway through the book. I kept feeling more hostile as each page progressed. As I sat there torn between hostility and dread (as in could this possibly get any worse), I’d pick it up then put it down only to pick it up again later. I made a deal with myself that the next time I picked it up, I would read ten pages and make the decision whether to finish reading or not. Not won. Father lamenting the potential arrival of two girls was more than I could stand. I was reminded that sometimes the biggest problem with memoirs is not what they leave out, but what they include.

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