One of the most common pieces of advice given to inexperienced writers is for them to write about what they know. The reason for this is simple. There is a richness that emerges when we write about what we are most familiar with, a natural handling of details and an inherent depth that serve to give the story something more than a simple tale of fiction can ever hope to offer. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that memoirs, even ones about people far removed from the spotlight of celebrity, tend to appeal to us. Their truth touches us in places that a purely contrived plot can never reach. Metcalf's story of her childhood through early adulthood is a case in point. Well-written and unvarnished in its realism, her recounting of the experiences that helped form who she would eventually become has the ability to awaken similar memories of growing up from our own lives.
From its start in the 1940s to its conclusion in the 1960s, Metcalf's memoir rambles like its namesake but in a good way. Although set in California, the author's life is not a Hollywood movie with a carefully crafted plot and pulse-quickening climax. Instead, it is a well-paced yet leisurely journey through a life many readers who grew up in that time period can relate to. It begins with a small nuclear family made up of the author, her younger sister, Lynn, and her parents. But as is sadly so common in American society, the family unit is soon shattered by divorce. Remarriages by both parents follow, and Metcalf learns to survive in a new reality where the interpersonal conflicts between the various adults in her life impact her own. Her story then follows the typical timeline of many young people in America: dealing with the social rollercoaster of school life, the joys and pitfalls of dating, heading off to college, and, finally, through trial and error finding the person one decides to settle down with.
What makes Metcalf's memoir stand out, though, is its often brutal honesty, not only about the people who have shared her life story but also about herself. First there is her mother whose love for her children is frequently filtered through her concern for social standing and keeping up appearances. Then there is her sister whose erratic behavior was likely the early stages of what later in life would be diagnosed as a serious mental illness. Certain details from the private lives of her extended family are also placed into view and examined as are the motivations of both her biological father and stepfather in regard to their ongoing relationship with Metcalf and her sister. But Metcalf spends an equal amount of time revealing her own successes and failures. The reader travels with her through her troubles in school, her loss of virginity, a doomed engagement with its traumatic aftermath, and a wealth of other events that helped shape her. In essence, we are given a chance to walk with the narrator through a life not viewed with rose-colored glasses but seen in the pure, white light of reality.
For her parent's wedding, relatives from both sides of the family presented the couple with pieces of a silverware set called Rambler Rose. Just as the pattern adorning the knives, forks, and spoons gave them a distinct look, so, too, did Metcalf's family members and unique experiences play significant roles in crafting her character. How this transformation was achieved is well worth reading about.
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