“We’ve got two lives — one we’re given and the other one we make.” ― Mary Chapin Carpenter
Jane Devin doesn’t agree with Mary Chapin Carpenter, she has a more deterministic view of the universe. Jane sees her life as a river flowing beyond her control, going places she doesn’t want to go, and forcing her to be something she doesn’t want to be.
All memoirs like to find one note and continue to strike it over and over again. Memoirs by chefs and restaurant critics tell how food rules their lives. Memoirs of artists talk about art, musicians talk about music, and so on and so forth. Jane Devin’s theme is poverty, abuse, and an unjust world that doesn’t understand her. This is the kind of encounter Jane has from the age of five forward:
Jane: Hi, I’m Jane, can I be your friend?
Random Stranger: I hate you. Your nothing but a lying slut. I want you to die.
Jane:Why would you say that? I’ve never done anything to you.
Random Stranger: Die, Bitch, Die! (stranger proceeds to hit with baseball bat, rape, kick, bite, or otherwise physically assault Jane.)
Jane:That wasn’t very nice. I wonder if they’ll still be my friend?
Everyone Jane meets hates her. Her parents, siblings, boyfriends, husband, children, and random strangers all take an instant and permanent dislike to her. Elephant Girl could have been subtitled Life Sucks And Keeps On Sucking.
Jane Devin tried to be a bit of a stylist, formatting her story in a kind of Flowers For Algernon fashion using a slightly different voice for the three phases of her life she recounts. It didn’t really work for me and I ended up finding it impossible to keep her jumbled time lines straight. Jane Devin is first and foremost a blogger and that is what shines through in Elephant Girl.
Having lived in poverty myself from time to time, I can relate to a number of her stories about having no money, not quite qualifying for government assitance, and finding she can only get entry level jobs that don’t pay enough. Yeah, poverty sucks. Cheap apartments suck. Bad neighborhoods where low-lives fire guns and yell at each other all night suck. Poor people are often pretty nasty and horrible people. Do I really want to read a first person account about poverty in America? Not so much.
Elephant Girl ends on a preposterously upbeat note. She goes in a matter of paragraphs from contemplating suicide to setting out on a cross country writing trip sponsored by GM and Verizon and gifts from her countless blog readers. The book ends before she sets out, of course, because this is one of those rare positive events in Jane’s life and it doesn’t belong in Elephant Girl. If she had been hit by a bus on the way out of town, I’m sure she would have included that.
Elephant Girl is a self published book, and that’s a pity. Bloggers, despite what many of us think, are NOT writers. We are at best half writers, we are masters of banging out rough drafts and creating hundreds of thousands of words. Jane Devin’s book has no glaring grammar or spelling errors, she did mention she worked as a copy editor one time. There is an odd bit where she insists on using dialect for her ex-husband John. She mentions several times that she has a copy of Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style, she must have missed the bit about not using dialects. The real problems are stylistic and contextual. Elephant Girl might have been a great book if it were about two hundred pages thinner. But clocking it at nearly five hundred pages it was less a memoir and more a collection of random blog posts. Blogs are easy enough to take one day at a time, but try sitting down and working your way through a couple of years worth of posts sometime.
Elephant Girl is a book in desperate need of an Editor. The jumbled story hops from place to place and time to time. Sometimes years fly by between paragraghs, and I was never sure about the who, what, where, when, and why of Jane’s endless tale of woe and misery. The writing is bland and often childish in its over-thought word choices. And did I mention that it was at least two hundred pages too long? This endless string of hard luck tales and bad choices gets pretty damned old after a while.
More than once I thought about sitting it aside and reading something a bit more upbeat, like Beloved or The Lovely Bones or maybe The Road, but I kept going back.
Elephant Girl should give hope to any blogger out there, that yes, your blog can be made into a book. But the real question is; should it be made into a book?