When the Museum of Memory Becomes a Haunted House

From Electric Lit:

Jiordan Castle’s memoir-in-verse Disappearing Act follows the teen-version of herself as she lives through the arrest, court proceedings, and subsequent incarceration of her father while navigating the fraught years of the transition from girlhood to adolescence. Through mostly narrative poems‚ Castle invites us into her world as it’s changing faster than her mind can keep up.

The book’s dedication—”For me then, and for you now” —immediately signals to the reader a rare intimacy; that we will be led—sometimes smiling, sometimes wincing—into a moment in time not often shared beyond the performed facade of the nuclear family. Disappearing Act begins mid-story—following an FBI raid, Jiordan’s father’s suicide attempt, bad news from the attorney, Jiordan’s refuge with her best friend and their endless online personality quizzes (it being the early aughts)—the book progresses in a mostly chronological order.

In books about prison and “crime,” readers often desire—feel entitled to, even—grizzly details (look no further than the proliferation of true-crime podcasts and TV series). Castle deftly subverts this expectation: in Disappearing Act, we learn more context than content—her father’s mood swings; her mother’s torn support; her older sisters’ balancing of their own lives—though the reader does get a vague understanding that the father is guilty and the crime is money-related. This is not an attempt to hide or minimize the father’s actions, but is instead mimetic of a teenager toggling dizzyingly between an “adult,” “mature” perspective and the innocent confusion, sadness, anger, and helplessness of a young child.

Castle and I discussed her experience of crafting this book from painful memories; the role of the self in grand themes of “crime” and “punishment,” and how she navigated the personal and the secret when disclosing sensitive information.

Leigh Sugar: Disappearing Act is written in the voice of an early teenage you. What was it like writing the then-you, as the now-you?

Jiordan Castle: I have this sense of an inner child and a secret self when I write about myself, my life, no matter the when or the topic. To pull something not too grisly from True Detective, I think time, to me, probably is a flat circle. The person who lived this book is also the person who wrote it, but in time traveling through memory, I got to look at the character of myself as a kind of younger sister. I got to be generous and real and mean and thoughtful about the realities of coming of age in a way you can’t when you’re in it.

LS: That’s so interesting to me, because I realized recently I don’t have a strong connection to my inner child; I don’t really experience my life as continuous; it feels very disconnected. How did you get yourself in—and especially, out—of that inner-child/secret self headspace?

JC: For most of us, I think the hard-hearted memories live right at the surface. But that’s not all there is. I remember the funniest things, the sweet things. And when you’re a child, you’re feeling everything for the first time. Everything is, in some sense, the end of the world. And the beginning of a new one. I still feel that about that time, so it was easy enough for me to drop into character in a way and let myself feel the too-much-ness of that time. I remember presents and fights and how certain shirts looked and felt.

It also helped for me to create a playlist from that time in my life, and a playlist that’s more like what writing the book felt like to me. Having the two in conversation with each other is something special.

LS: What is different about this version than, say, a version for an “adult” audience?

JC: It’s so complicated because I do consider this book to be what I call “YA+” as if it’s for young adults and the dot dot dot of adults reconnecting with that version of themselves. Because this story still lives in me, I know it lives in other adults with similar experiences. The people I love talking to now, after readings, are teenagers who have a loved one in prison or have a friend who does, but also mother-daughter pairings. I find that so interesting. And it reminds me that maybe if we just allowed ourselves—and each other—to love what we love in earnest, without shame or bias, we would come to a place of more “we” than “I.” I’m looking for that “we” more and more these days.

I can’t ignore the fact though that if I had written, let’s say, a chronological, prose memoir looking back at the past in past tense—an adult lens on a teen experience—I would have a radically different book. I can’t say whether it would be better or worse (or whatever that means), but I do think it would pull me as the narrator further from the story I most wanted to convey.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

For some reason as he read the OP, the original definition of geek drifted into PG’s mind:

a carnival worker who was so unskilled that the only thing the worker could do at the carnival to entice an audience was to bite off the heads of live animals

Perhaps, it’s unfair to the author, the book and the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, but that’s what occurred.


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