The Breakfast Table

Maureen’s Bane

Mr. Turque,

As always, I defer to you in all things Al. Of course reporters will write that anything Gore does is just one more cynical attempt at reinvention—thanks in part to you, my love. But he has to accept that Maureen is never going to like him.

And I’m kind of sorry I brought this whole thing up. So, how about that John Edwards?

Or better yet, how about the “Writers on Writing” feature in today’s N.Y. Times? John Sedgwick writes about slipping into a clinical depression as he was working on The Education of Mrs. Bemis, a novel in which the lead character is being treated for depression. In his journalism and other nonfiction, Sedgwick says, he never had any particular trouble maintaining the required distance from his story subjects. But “as products of my own imagination, my fictional characters were me. How could they not intrude?”

For the book, he drew on the experience of hospitalizing his mother for depression after his father’s death. Though Sedgwick also sought medical help, he feels the main thing that helped him recover was the process of finishing his novel, in which Mrs. Bemis eventually gets well, too. “Her cure became mine.”

The exploration of what writers choose to do with the raw material life throws at them is also the subject of Atonement, by Ian McEwan, which I read recently. At first, literalist that I am, I was annoyed to have been taken in by the suggestion that the lovers found each other after the War. (Turns out it happened that way only in the narrator’s novel—based on events she wanted to make sense of and make up for.)

But in the end I liked what the book had to say about the gift that the act of writing is to writers, the power that the process has to help us forgive ourselves and others, and how we are all essentially cruising along writing our own little memoirs in our heads, accounts that all depend on what we edit out. Or at least, I thought that’s what the book had to say …

So, how are you liking Theodore Rex?