“Reading Scratched gave me the feeling of standing very close to a blazing fire. It is that brilliant, that intense, and one of the finest explorations I know of what it means to be a woman and an artist.”—Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend and Winner of the National Book Award for FictionIn a bold and brilliant memoir that reinvents the form, the acclaimed author of the novel Museum Pieces and the collection Mendocino Fire explores the ferocious desire for perfection which has shaped her writing life as well as her rich, dramatic, and constantly surprising personal life.Scratched is an intimate account of the uses a child, and the adult she becomes, will find for perfectionism and the role it will play in every part of her life. Elizabeth Tallent’s story begins in a hospital in mid-1950s suburban Washington, D.C., when her mother refuses to hold her newborn daughter, shocking behavior that baffles the nurses. Imagining her own mother’s perfectionist ideal at this critical moment, Elizabeth moves back and forth in time, juxtaposing moments in the past with the present in this innovative and spellbinding narrative.Elizabeth traces her journey from her early years in which she perceived herself as “the child whose flaws let disaster into an otherwise perfect family,” to her adulthood, when perfectionism came to affect everything. In the decade between 27 and 37, she publishes five literary books with Knopf and her short stories appear in The New Yorker. But this extraordinary start to her career is followed by twenty-two years of silence. She wrote, or rather published, nothing at all. Why? Scratched is the remarkable response to that question.Elizabeth’s early publications secure her a coveted teaching job at Stanford University. As she toggles between Palo Alto and the Mendocino coast where she lives, raises her son Gabriel, and pursues an important psychoanalysis, Elizabeth grapples with the perfectionism that has always been home to her. Eventually, she finds love and acceptance in the most unlikely place, and finally accepts an “as is” relationship with herself and others.Her final triumph is the writing of this memoir, filled with wit, humor, and heart, and unlike any other you will read. Scratched is a brave book that repeatedly searches for the emotional truth beneath the conventional surface of existence.
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- January 1, 1970Vincent ScarpaIn a word: perfect.
- January 1, 1970AmmaraThis is a deep dive into the author’s life and struggles with perfectionism, which is more destructive than many realize. The book is a little difficult to read but there are some excellent insights into the author’s issues that kept her from completing and publishing for two decades. Some of the issues hit a little too close to home, but I’m glad I gave this a shot.more
- January 1, 1970Shannon PufahlIf you read only one book in 2020, make it this one. Scratched is a book so unique, so profound and moving, so precise in both its descriptions of the physical world and the emotions we attached to and draw from that world -- it can only be the work of a singular, brilliant mind. I was deeply moved and changed by this book. ----So often a book is described as “re-inventing” such and such: the novel, the memoir, the essay, the modern conception of truth, the idea of love or fate or childhood. As If you read only one book in 2020, make it this one. Scratched is a book so unique, so profound and moving, so precise in both its descriptions of the physical world and the emotions we attached to and draw from that world -- it can only be the work of a singular, brilliant mind. I was deeply moved and changed by this book. ----So often a book is described as “re-inventing” such and such: the novel, the memoir, the essay, the modern conception of truth, the idea of love or fate or childhood. As a selling point, these descriptions suggest our strong, enduring desire for those things to be reinvented, to encounter, as readers, new forms of literary performance and feeling. We needn’t search far to understand why: Most books perform the same rituals of plot and character, they use prosody and lyricism to influence readerly feeling around dramatic standbys such as conflict, stasis, and catharsis. We actually like this far more than we will admit, since much of what we hope for when we read is to find our own ideas echoed back to us, in language we did not know or could not access, and to find in the rhythms of drama the cleansing and the usefully moving. There is nothing wrong with this. Our obsession with newness is a product of a 20th century literary culture that valued innovation, that saw innovation as the only conceivable response to a world gone crazy. Our 21st century literary culture seems to value the late capitalist appraisement offered by the unseen, the final newness that will sate our endless desire. That we still look to the literary to solve these problems seems to me a mostly very good thing. But real reinvention is painful, rare, and glorious, and it serves no “cultural” purpose. Scratched, which is one of the best books I’ve ever read, asks the tired old memoir form to accommodate the irony at the center of the book’s existence: The narrator could not, for many years, allow any of her work to be published, because a desire for perfection so profound enthralled her. Enthralled is the right word, I think, because she is not stopped by this desire but trapped by it, and she thus makes, as prisoners and writers must, a glory and a phrenic object of the thing that traps her. And yet (and so), this book, about that entrapment, exists.In asking the memoir form to accommodate this irony, the memoir is, in actual fact, reinvented. The first dazzling section, about the moment of the narrator’s birth, offers an understanding of a mother’s painful rejection of her own child (the narrator) that relies not on common notions of cruelty or entitlement, but on the mother’s own enthrallment to beauty and perfection. It would be easy for the writer to see this as implausible, because such empathy may seem to readers of the common memoir, livers of the common life, acrobatic and only literary. Instead, the writer illuminates something we only vaguely understood to be in darkness at all: Our own enthrallment to beauty, the way a desire for it embanks us behind narcissism and prevents our connection to others. The sections that follow offer some of the best and most insightful writing I’ve read about childhood. Like Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood (one of the very best memoirs), there is no pity or blame here, but an enduring, robust, athletic desire to understand. To watch an adult mind at work in this way is to give the lie to most writing about childhood, and to remake what we think childhood is -- a thing to be mourned, to be investigated only for its relevance to the adult life. Instead we understand childhood to be a continuation of the human need for beauty, which carries through a family and a life and into the next. A singular and very brilliant book.more
- January 1, 1970Kathleen GrayI find it hard to review memoirs because it feels as though I'm judging someone's life and life choices. That's doubly the case here because this is really the story of how Tallent struggled and continues to struggle with perfectionism, which is more destructive than many realize. Is she blaming her issues on her mother, who refused to hold her immediately after her birth because of a small scratch? Was she imprinted as an infant? Perfectionism took a huge toll on Tallent, who was unable to I find it hard to review memoirs because it feels as though I'm judging someone's life and life choices. That's doubly the case here because this is really the story of how Tallent struggled and continues to struggle with perfectionism, which is more destructive than many realize. Is she blaming her issues on her mother, who refused to hold her immediately after her birth because of a small scratch? Was she imprinted as an infant? Perfectionism took a huge toll on Tallent, who was unable to complete and publish anything for 22 years. This is at times a challenge to read but she offers interesting insight into her issues. Thanks to edelweiss for the ARC. For Tallent fans who have been waiting a long time for new work.more
- January 1, 1970Cor TIt feels mean to criticize an author who writes to explain why she couldn’t write a book for 22 years due to perfectionism. Part I had such a meandering beginning that I couldn’t get my bearings until this sentence: The summer my mother told me the story of how she had not been willing to take me I was nineteen. We learn how the author’s in utero scratches marked her as imperfect and that her mother refused to hold her at the hospital as a newborn. Later we get more on this key incident: While It feels mean to criticize an author who writes to explain why she couldn’t write a book for 22 years due to perfectionism. Part I had such a meandering beginning that I couldn’t get my bearings until this sentence: The summer my mother told me the story of how she had not been willing to take me I was nineteen. We learn how the author’s in utero scratches marked her as imperfect and that her mother refused to hold her at the hospital as a newborn. Later we get more on this key incident: While she [her mother] was alive there was never a moment when I could have asked why she told the story to me and what if anything she hoped would come of having told it. Even though it was never discussed between mother and daughter, it's the origin story at the center of the book.Part II has some of the best writing as Tallent describes 1950s suburban America as an incubator for replication, imitation, and suppression of individualism: The daylight absence of the men, the fathers, imbued the suburb with the suspense of desertion. Every blade of grass in every lawn was waiting. Every wife was waiting, every dog with pricked ears was waiting, and each blade of grass, each wife, each dog and child, whatever else they did, held still. This part also has a section on perfectionism as a trait that again, I thought could have gone earlier (a theme for this review): When other afflictions overwrite reality with fantasy—alcoholism, or addictions to gambling or sex—their self-destructiveness is bleakly acknowledged, but perfectionism’s rep as ambition on steroids remains glossy: it can present not as delusion, but as an advantageous form of sanity. The advantage lies in perfectionism’s command of the sufferer’s energies, its power to intensify, focus, motivate. Its exalted goals are likewise treated as plusses. A supposedly surefire means of pleasing a job interviewer is to answer What is your biggest flaw? with I’m a perfectionist.Part III has Tallent emerging as a writer and parent, describing her path through therapy, marriages and jobs, to her current career as a writing teacher where she’s “learned to extend a welcome to mishaps, failures, rifts, smudges, to effortfulness in general, to what I’d call, in talking with my students, process, is to conceal a thousand, ten thousand, eruptions of repudiation.” And ultimately, she's learned to “try to love this incarnation.” Ironically, my response to this book was mostly organizational: why is it ordered in such a non-linear fashion? - which maybe reveals my perfectionist streak. :-)more
- January 1, 1970Chris RobertsMemoir as make it stop, audacious in conceit, the dizzying, dragging minutia, of a life lived grasping for metaphors.
- January 1, 1970tarait’s what i deserve
- January 1, 1970PamAn interesting topic for a memoir, although I found the writing style over-embellished for my tastes.
- January 1, 1970Elbrackeen BrackeenLJ 09/19
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