Monday, June 30, 2014

The Novoir: Genius name for a new genre, or DOA?

So, one of my favorite subjects lately is the quite unnecessary flap about the difference between an autobiographical novel and a memoir.

A novel, based on some stuff that has happened to you but altered ON PURPOSE by you (for whatever reason) is a novel.  Fiction. Maybe even a roman a clef. (Ah, quaint term of yesteryear.)

It's NOT a memoir. A memoir, kids, is when you try to describe a part of your life in order to understand something about it.  ( It consists of  'information in search of illumination,' I heard Francine du Plessix Gray say (more or less) to Charlie Rose one night, and I loved that description.....  Her own hefty memoir about growing up with her beyond colorful Russian emigre parents is called Them.) You might "mistakenly remember" something in a memoir, but you really can't ethically do it on purpose (to increase your sales numbers or get a hotter agent).
Of course, no one remembers everything-or anything at all -with 100% accuracy. But you can try.  If you don't even want to try, write a frickin' novel!
Not that easy, is it?  Just because you get to make things up.... there're a few little things called narrative drive, and tone, and voice, and point of view....

An autobiography is your whole life....recollected at leisure.  Just because.  You can write a whole bunch of memoirs, maybe not so many autobiographies.  (And as many novels as your mental health will permit.)

Still with me?
Why do some people still want to call a messed-around-with memoir a memoir, when it isn't one anymore?
Because they don't want to do all the invisible, heartbreaking work fiction writers do EVERY DAY for (usually) essentially no money.  And perhaps memoirists don't really want to swim with the big kids, the novelists- they want to stay in the kiddie pool, splashing everyone.  Look at me!  I'm floating!!
(Anxiety of Influence, anyone?)

And because readers are such voyeurs these days, memoirs are often perceived to have more commercial potential. ( Don't get me wrong, I adore a well-crafted, honest memoir.*)

But maybe should we give these aspiring, anxious & lazy memoir writers a new genre to play with-
voila,  the novoir.  It has a ring to it, don't you think?  Solves so many problems.

When you are not honest & brave enough to write a moving memoir, and too lazy to write a novel-
just call it a novoir and you have covered all your bases!

Or not.


*(My all-time favorite memoir just might be The Coldest Winter, by the brilliant Paula Fox. I dare you not to read it.)