Monday, May 18, 2009

Between Panic and Desire

This weekend I finished Dinty W. Moore's Between Panic and Desire (2008, University of Nebraska Press). Loved it. The term he uses for it is "cultural memoir" and, to an extent, it is. But it's also just a collection of insanely witty essays (employing many forms or genres of writing along the way) held together by the search for father-identity, drugs, music and Nixon. And it's the only memoir-type-thing I've read all the way through in a long time.

I still want to call it a collection of essays rather than a memoir -- most of the sections are 3-5 pages in length, have independent structures and themes and (my fave) frequently abuse other forms of writing to their advantage. There's also only minimal chronology between each of the pieces. If you put the book down and come back to it in a week or a month, there is no need to reread all that stuff you only vaguely remember; if it's important, Moore will reiterate what the hell he's talking about. Thumbs up for that.

And how can you not love a memoir-type-thing that closes the first part (there are three in the whole book) with a quiz. Two multiple choice questions, four true/false and one short essay. All insanely easy if you have indeed read the thirty-two pages prior.

The quiz is one of the forms of writing I previously mentioned. (If I were to explain it to my composition students I would call them "genres" and then I would sigh lovingly over how easy Moore makes it look to stuff "odd" content into traditional forms, like ---, and then grit my teeth and try to explain to my students that yes, they can stretch their imaginations and create a full page resume for being an invalid, or dog owner, or girlfriend, or car accident victim without lying about what has happened to them.)

Some of the well-abused forms in Btwn Panic and Desire include an A to Z list of father figures (annotated), a screenplay, a presidential timeline, an Aldous Huxley quote annotated line by line (that may sound so cerebral that it turns you off but, really, it's readable and kind of magical), a coroner's report, and a segmented essay titled "Number Nine" in which each segment is numbered. Almost all of the segments are numbered 9 with no ascending or descending numbers following.

"Number Nine" I found before I found the collection; it had been published in the back copy of The Pinch which I purchased on a whim while at the AWP conference (they had a plastic flamingo at their booth: I had to stop and buy something). The essay leads the edition and it totally screwed with my head then dropped me back on my feet -- content-wise. Form-wise, I'm still smiling.

Highly Recommended