A Lie About My Father: A Memoir by John BurnsideThis is recommended for those seeking the quintessential evil father memoir. The father in this case is an alcoholic, a deadbeat and a Scottish hardman who mistreats his wife and son. The son (the author) then goes on a rebellious rampage of alcohol, sex and drugs. This culminates in a long spate of mental illness.
Uplifting? No. However, Burnside utilises a very poetic and compelling turn of phrase throughout, which lifts the antics from the potential whirlpool of navelgazing. He has a remarkable tale to tell and – because he can actually write with some profundity and wisdom – wipes the floor with the exploitative misery memoir market.
A Lie About My Father: A Memoir
Hilary Mantel is writing the third novel in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. The lie is told to a man he meets on the road; it is America, fall, the mids, when he stops to pick up a hitch-hiker in Upper New York State. It is almost the day of the dead, and he is tired, tired of himself and his history, wishing on himself a sort of disembodiment, or perhaps the kind of paper mask that, as he mentions in one of his poems, he used to make at Halloween as a child in school. His passenger — Mike, as he calls him — begins to talk about his father, a man who had run a building supplies store, and who now, a widower, a retired man, lives in a small house in the woods. Sometimes it is the inarticulacy of others that opens the gap to an uprush of feeling.
Miserabilist memoirs of childhood are two a penny these days. Why such grim material is currently proving so popular it is hard to say. Voyeurism and Schadenfreude may be part of the appeal, but there's also a feeling that it's morally right to get these stories into the open, since the bad stuff always happens behind closed doors. At any rate, the market for unhappy childhoods is so crowded that when a genuinely original memoir comes along - one prepared to explore, without cheap thrills or easy blame, the difficulties of a "difficult" parent-child relationship - there's a risk that it will be missed or set aside for something less taxing. John Burnside's father was a hard man of the old school: mean, drunk, taciturn, unpredictable and physically ruthless. For years he terrorised and tyrannised his wife, son and daughter, and inspired a mixture of awe and contempt among neighbours and relations.
He had his final heart attack in the Silver Band Club in Corby, somewhere between the bar and the cigarette machine. A foundling; a fantasist; a morose, threatening drinker who was quick with his hands, he hadn't seen his son for years. John Burnside's extraordinary story of this failed relationship is a beautifully written evocation of a lost and damaged world of childhood and the constants of his father's world: men defined by the drink they could take and the pain they could stand, men shaped by their guilt and machismo. A Lie About My Father is about forgiving but not forgetting, about examining the way men are made and how they fall apart, about understanding that in order to have a good son you must have a good father. This exquisitely written memoir is, literally, a journey into a heart of darkness - a darkness here lit up by beauty and truth".
John Burnside is an admirably prolific writer. With his work spanning novels, short stories and well-received poetry collections, essays for various websites and collections, it is clear his enterprise is not defined by form. Rather, it is perhaps best defined as bravery, as the writer takes on as many forms as possible.
He had his final heart attack in the Silver Band Club in Corby, somewhere between the bar and the cigarette machine. A foundling; a fantasist; a morose, threatening drinker who was quick with his hands, he hadn't seen his son for years. And for all those years the two estranged men had been falling - each at their own pace - towards their own vanishing points. John Burnside's extraordinary story of this failed relationship is an exquisitely written evocation of a lost and damaged world of childhood: from the condemned prefabs, overgrown gardens and haunted woods of Cowdenbeath to the simmering gang violence and industrial squalor of Corby. And through all this, the constants of his father's world: men defined by the drink they could take and the pain they could stand, men shaped by their guilt and machismo. This was a life of secrets - drunken rampages, adolescent fumblings, domestic violence, illicit affairs, angels in deserted houses - which was to set a pattern of falling: binge-drinking, drug abuse and emotional exile: trying to eradicate the past, trying to disappear.
John Burnside is a Scottish writer. He was born in Dunfermline and is one of only two poets to have won both the T. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same book. For me, memory begins in King Street, in the condemned house where my parents lived after they were first married. I seem to know this girl, first as a baby, then as a toddler , a girl who was just over a year ahead of me all the way through childhood.