Three very different memoirs

One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton, Wham! George & Me by Andrew Ridgeley, and The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg are wildly different books. In fact, the only thing that unites them is that they are all shelved under ‘memoir’.

Morton reflects on his traumatic childhood and the definition of ‘poverty’ in Australia; Ridgely also recalls his childhood, however his included a stable home, music lessons, and his friendship with a school mate who would eventually be known as George Michael; and Wizenberg focuses on the disintegration of her marriage after she realises that her sexuality is ‘fluid’.

One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton

The story of Rick’s childhood on an extremely remote cattle station on the Queensland/NT/SA border was shocking and absolutely riveting. His experience added another episode to what had been decades of inter-generational trauma in the Morton family.

Inter-generational trauma is not a concept that was broadly recognised or understood twenty years ago. I think I first came to understand it through stories by children of Holocaust survivors (author Lily Brett comes to mind). There’s lots of research happening around trauma (particularly in the field of epigenetics, and in how trauma changes the physiological structure of the brain) but I do think that memoir has been instrumental in educating people about the far-reaching and devastating effects of ‘inherited’ trauma. Rick’s story shows how the experiences of his grandfather and father reverberated through his own life, and that of his siblings.

One Hundred Years of Dirt also exposes life in poverty in Australia. When I heard him speak at the Yarra Valley Writers Festival, Rick emphasised that ‘opportunity is not access’, and that the assumption of ‘providing opportunities’ is ‘enough’, is where systems in Australia fall over.

Rick’s story brought to mind Corey White’s Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory in terms of style – both are straightforward and unflinching. I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Rick – the pain, humour and sometimes incredulity at his own story comes through in his voice, making it a rich listening experience.

4/5

Wham! George & Me by Andrew Ridgeley

You could be forgiven for thinking that Wham! ended because of artistic differences, or that Andrew rode on George’s coattails; or that there was animosity between the pair – Andrew dispels all of those myths.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was positive (not in a cheesy way), surprising (success did not come easily for Wham!), and felt authentic – Andrew is honest about the highs and lows. Initially I wondered if this memoir was going to stray into ‘hero worship’ territory, however, what comes through most strongly is Andrew’s genuine admiration and love for George, based on decades of loyal friendship.

I played a lot of Wham! during my reading of this memoir. A lot. It was interesting to learn about the inspiration for some of the songs (Andrew makes no secret of the fact that not all of their songs were ‘meaningful’ – some were simply written to be catchy, in the hope that they would produce a Top 40 hit). Andrew’s description of particular events – Band Aid and their final concert, were wonderfully done – poignant and immediately transported me back to the eighties.

4/5

The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg

I thought I was straight. Straight enough to not think about whether I was straight.

After an encounter with a woman she found intensely attractive, Molly and her husband, Brandon, move to an open marriage and ultimately an amicable divorce. I need to stress the ‘amicable’ – the way Molly tells it, the separation and the shared parenting of their young daughter was smooth –  ‘Planning our end, we sometimes felt like a we.’

There’s a lot of philosophising in this memoir – about relationships, about identity, about certainty. The title of the book is drawn from Molly likening astronomers naming constellations to marriage –

The constellations we see are temporary human creations, our effort to draw order and meaning from a mostly unknowable universe… Marriage is like that too: a method we’ve devised to protect against the disorder of the outside world, to make sense of the wonderful nonsense that is love.

There are lots of honest reflections in this memoir, however, I did feel that in some parts, Molly relied on the quotes of others to describe her thoughts. While these quotes were all insightful and relevant, it gave the memoir an ‘essay’ feel that I think could have been avoided – Molly writes beautifully and I wanted to know exactly what she was feeling, rather than how others felt in similar situations.

Molly’s conclusions were refreshing – she finds a sense of peace in accepting that her change in sexual preference was something that ‘happened’, and not something that necessarily had to be fully understood or interrogated – some readers might find this light-weight, but it does take her considerable effort to get to this point, and it’s a concept that is applicable to anyone thinking about what is at our ‘core’.

What part of you is stable, if you’re actually changing all the time? You didn’t used to be a mother, or a wife, or a restaurant owner. Now you are… What if the one constant thing about you is that you’re changeable? 

3.5/5

I received my copy of The Fixed Stars from the publisher, Abrams Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

 

10 responses

  1. I enjoyed the Wizenberg memoir a bit more than you did, maybe because I’d read her other two books so was more invested in her story. I see what you mean about all the theory — similar to Maggie Nelson in The Argonauts, she feels that she needs to craft a framework for her new relationship.

    • Once I started, I realised some of her story sounded familiar – her book Delancy was on my TBR list, although I’m unlikely to read it now (knowing that the restaurant/marriage didn’t have a fairy tale ending!). Although I made mention of all the ‘supporting evidence’, I did highlight dozens of passages in the book – it was very interesting.

    • It was really enjoyable. Not sure if he had the assistance of a ghost writer and/or a team of editors, but the books was well-written and there were parts that were genuinely tense!

  2. I would eat glass rather than listen to Wake Me Up Before you Go Go, but having listened to a very long biography of Abba, which I enjoyed, I can believe that an honest account of the band’s rise would be worth listening to.

    • I believe I have that ABBA biography sitting on my shelf – (Bright Lights Dark Shadows??) – ABBA was my first musical love (I got Arrival for my 5th birthday) and I still play them (far too much according to my kids).

  3. Rick Morton sounds like an interesting man. He’s right about opportunity not being access. I think about that a lot in the sector I work in (heritage), where having the safety net of an affluent background dominates. Opportunity needs to be backed up with financial support for it to become access. Meritocracy isn’t real.

    I wasn’t a Wham! fan. I was a hardcore Duranie. I did always like Andrew Ridgeley, though. Anyone who the goddess Keren Woodward deems worthy must be decent! When the library reopens I might give his autobiography a borrow.

    • Yes, Morton is interesting and his book is the perfect balance between personal story and pushing a cause.

      Probably anyone who loved music in the eighties would enjoy Ridgeley’s book – it’s not taxing reading 🙂

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