Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Book Review: Autobiography of a Face

Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face
Houghton Mifflin , 223 pages
ISBN 0-395-65780-6

Lucy Grealy was 10 years old when a ball hit her in the face during school recess. That playground accident probably saved her life because an x-ray of her swollen jaw revealed a malignant tumor. Autobiography of a Face is Grealy's memoir of the surgery that removed most of her lower right jaw, the following chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and the pain of growing up disfigured, the butt of other children's teasing and cruel jokes.

What Grealy went through is so awful that it seems irrelevant and insensitive to criticize her writing. She paints a horrifying picture of the treatment she had to go through, particularly the chemotherapy that made her body want "to turn itself inside out." As if the treatment itself weren't bad enough, Lucy has to go through it with a mother whose only concept of moral support is to insist that the child be brave and to reprimand her when she cries.

Yet I can't help thinking that there's a lot more to the story than Lucy Grealy tells us. Her portrait of her parents, particularly her father, is nebulous. Early on she comments that when she was a child she didn't understand that her mother's anger was caused by depression, but she never follows through on this perception. And Lucy has four siblings: two older brothers, an older sister, and a twin sister. We catch only two glimpses of the older children: (1) one of her brothers cries when the call comes from the hospital announcing their father's death, and (2) when Lucy visits her older sister Susie in London after graduating from college, Susie pays for the train ticket Lucy needs to travel to Scotland to consult with a doctor about reconstructive surgery. And she refers to her twin sister in only the most offhand way, with statements along the lines of "that fall Sarah and I entered junior high." Since twins are often extremely close, this lack of any significant references to Sarah suggests volumes. Where were all these other children when Lucy was undergoing treatments and suffering the taunts of other children at school?

It's possible to argue that Grealy's book is about herself, not her parents and her siblings. But she would have had to interact with her family every day, and those interactions would have contributed to her total experience. Since Lucy's cancer was discovered when she was 10 years old in the late 1970's, she must have been at least in her late 20's at the time her memoir was published. Her reticence about her family suggests that there are issues at work here that this young woman has not yet worked through.

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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