While telling her own story, Lisle often employs secondary sources, arguably transforming memoir into autobiography. Throughout, she characterizes the challenge of developing her own singular voice as the “ongoing bifurcation between my third- and first-person voices.” Word for Word exemplifies that battle, as her prose, while watertight and laced with insight, often discusses but doesn’t convey emotion. The contrast when she quotes her journals or poems, though, is revelatory: “What matter if others ignore or glorify this silver night? I see it as I do.” She, too, is moved by reading her younger self’s private thoughts: “At moments I applauded her daring or despaired at her hesitancy, gyrating from exhilaration about an insight to excruciating sadness about the loss of love.”
The book pulses with intellectual discussions, lived feminist history and its resultant tensions, and the fascinating literary milieu she encounters at writing retreats. She’s admirably frank about her inner world of vacillation (to have a child or abstain?) and the challenges of both writing and sustaining a career as she covers wide-ranging ground (youthful ambition, O’Keeffe, a visit to the Left Bank) and offers compelling insights and anecdotes of a writing life.
Takeaway: This unconventional memoir details one accomplished woman writer’s dedication to developing her voice.
Great for fans of: Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments, Rebecca Solnit's Recollections of My Nonexistence.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A