In a review of a new book by Susannah Cahalan, Leslie Jamison delves into both the narrative form of the memoir and the potential ambiguity of memory:
When memory is lost, in some direct or conspicuous manner, we have to acknowledge what we should always acknowledge: that memory is constantly betraying us, constantly layering another self onto the self we actually inhabited. Which is to say, addiction and illness distill something that is already true about memory; we just have an easier time accepting this truth when it comes tagged as a pathology. Carr even points to a formula—the Ebbinghaus “forgetting curve”—that illustrates diminished retention of memory over time. Memory is a “courtesan of the brain,” Carr writes—or, in Cahalan’s case, its prisoner.
To relate this idea further, she references New York Times writer David Carr’s excellent memoir, The Night of the Gun, to further illustrate the deceptive potential of memory:
Ultimately, any investigative memoir’s most important proof of authenticity is not its archive of transcripts or documents, but its willingness to use this archive to reroute or to thwart its own narrative. The investigative memoir proves itself by exposing its limits—acknowledging what it can’t see or know—and by sacrificing appealing story features (suspense, closure, metaphor) for the sake of accuracy. Carr is particularly adept at this. He begins the book with an anecdote about the time his best friend waved a gun at him, but readily confesses that his friend contests this—claiming it was Carr’s gun instead. Carr tells us, simply: “This is a story about who had the gun.”
Interesting. Very interesting.