Last night I participated in writers revealed debut virtual book club, which was so much fun. There were about eight of us, and we all read Meredith Hall’s wonderful memoir, Without a Map, and then we called into the show for a Q&A with the author.
Hall became pregnant at sixteen, was completely shunned by her family and community, and was forced to give her son up for adoption. Her memoir is a story of struggle and loneliness and shame, and eventually, a story of healing and forgiveness. She comes back again and again to the ideas of abandonment and love, what it means to be loved. Hall’s prose is lovely and her story is compelling. (I read the book in two days, which rarely happens these days.)
I actually had read a couple of the chapters of the book when they appeared as essays in Creative Nonfiction, but I didn’t realize this until I began reading Without a Map. The book and her writing felt familiar to me, which I loved.
One of my questions for Meredith was about her use of the present tense. The whole book, with the exception of the prologue chapter, “Shunned,” is in present. For me, this had the effect of stacking time and memory, which made a lot of sense because she was constantly living with her memories and the knowledge of what she had lost. She says late in the book, “I carry the past each day.” She also says, “I am memory.” I was very interested in whether she chose to use the present for this reason, and she said in part, yes, but that she had originally written the book in past tense, but that past tense created a filter. It diffused some of the pain of her story, and she wanted the pain and longing and loneliness to be more palpable, more alive. She wanted the immediacy that present could offer. (This is my paraphrasing of what she said. Please listen to the podcast for her word-for-word response.)
I thought this was such a fabulous answer, and I totally agree with her. This is the same reason that I put Ready for Air in present tense. The story feels so much closer, more immediate.