I never suspected that David Shields Enough About You, Adventures in Autobiography would be able to take me to the introspective and invigorated terrain I found myself wandering by the time I had reached its close. Anyone who doubts that autobiographical work has the ability to deliver the proverbial "literary goods", or who has mistakenly identified as the exclusive domain of "great fiction" the pleasures, the insights, or the lingering pain we adoringly call "emotional power", has obviously not read Shields' transformative work.
Enough About You is a string of disparate fragmented passages, a protracted collage. Of particular interest to me was the essay on Bill Murray (which alone should be anthology material on the study of humor theory), and a magnetic retelling of the old "I read your journals" teen-love thread. The connections are scattered and loose, sometimes you find yourself reviewing, going back to other bits, or trying to figure why things seem related. Memoir and essay make up a major portion of the content, strung together on the surface only by the mental activity of the reader.
I have to admit, I backpedaled against what I thought was only going to be a lolling stream of rambles, self-conscious childhood reveries and literary cliquishness. That's the postmodern trap, you know: fragmentation (collage) and use of the first person have often been a way to spiral a story into self-obsessed rigor mortis. At the universities and literary circles, these works are often the roadkilled raccoon around which the critics gather and plant their mental maggots for years of discussion. Referencing the self, along with so-called "creative non-fiction", and most other conventional "reality based" postmodernisms are academic buzzings so overused and overstated, any hint of them will usually flick me to a fitful, nervous sleep.
But it didn't take long before I realized that with David Shields, I was seeing the residuals of a different kind of thinking; his work is developed and spicy and poignant and has an uncanny ability to set your insides a-churning. More importantly, it's a lot of fun to read.
The passages are always short and pithy, and they are nearly-every one of them tasty mouthfuls. This is an example of where the "good read" stuff started to sneak in, despite my critical cynicism. Somehow I felt like I was cheating, like the bon-bon wrappers were piling up around me and I was having too much fun.
Shields takes a moment to clarify himself. While giving us a book review, says he loves collage pieces because "they're all madly in love with their own crises." The fragments work themselves back together. He seems to say, "yes, you're doing some of the work, but what did you see?" He shows us, especially critics like myself, that our issues are our own, and what we get from a writer is at least as much about ourselves as it is about what they are offering. He also makes a compelling argument that our greatest qualities are often one in the same with our deepest flaws.
Resist if you must. I did.