Review of The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken
McCracken straddles the line between novel and memoir in a work whose heart is a love letter to her extraordinary mother. The author explores her own wonder, joy, loss, and peace as she reflects on the formidable woman after her death.
After her larger-than-life mother's death, the narrator of The Hero of This Book faces the sale of the family home in New England and travels to her mother's favorite city, London.
She considers whether her role as an author offers an opportunity to write about her mother and gain deeper understanding of her, or whether doing so would violate her mother's long-held, fierce desire for privacy.
The Hero of This Book straddles the line between fiction and memoir, as the book feels like a deeply felt love letter to McCracken's own mother Natalie, yet the book jacket clearly states that it is "A Novel."
The narrator/McCracken states how much her mother detested memoirs, and The Hero of This Book even includes a photo of a prior McCracken book's dedication: "For Mom: who will never—no matter what she or anybody else thinks—appear as a character in my work."
Perhaps you fear writing a memoir, reasonably. Invent a single man and call your book a novel. The freedom one fictional man grants you is immeasurable.
Yet the novel structure feels like a way for McCracken to free herself from her lifelong promise not to write about her mother in order to share scenes from her mother's extraordinary spirit and life.
In The Hero of This Book the author shares recollections and imagined current encounters with her mom, refusing to allow her many vivid memories of her formidable, funny, striking mother to slip away without documentation--while acknowledging that she couldn't possibly tell the full story of her mother's life because there is too much she doesn't know. The blurred line between fact and fiction allows the true heart of the book, a daughter's wonder, grief, joy, and yearning for her lost mother, to shine.
I love how McCracken's books feel like peeks into the way her mind works; she lays bare the underpinnings of a small or a complex situation so skillfully, I highlight endless passages; her humor is wonderfully biting; she acknowledges her weaknesses and pokes fun at herself; she breaks your heart with the messy, gorgeous, complicated truth of living in the world.
I received a prepublication edition of this book, published October 4, courtesy of Ecco and NetGalley.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
McCracken is also the author of The Giant's House, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (to be reviewed on this site soon), Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, and other books.
I mentioned one of McCracken's short story collections, Thunderstruck & Other Stories, in the Greedy Reading List Six Short Story Collections to Wow You.