Memoir: Set This Submarine on Fire

Memoir’s a tough genre. For memoir to appeal to a broad audience its got to succeed in one of two ways.

wildEither the voice asserts some irresistible quality: rich, engaging, dynamic, inspiring, insightful without being pedantic. Or the narrative relates circumstances of an extraordinary nature: the subject is a half-Kenyan young lawyer who rises to become the U.S. President; a soccer team survives a plane crash in the Andes by feeding on fellow passengers; a scientist’s submarine catches fire at the exact moment she discovers a new species capable of saving the planet.

So much the better if the voice and the sublime work in cahoots.

But in memoir where these traits are lacking altogether, we wind up with a book like Devon James Hoffman’s Wild Enough to Get to You. The narrative voice tends toward the abstruse, and the undertaking is a well-traveled road.

As a memoirist Hoffman’s first order of business is to bring clarity and coherence to his experience. He explains his efforts this way: “You may be disappointed to find that this book isn’t about my service but is, instead, about what my service was about.” The stories, he tells us, “may seem disconnected and eclectic, but they are my memoir. This book achieves its unity by following the journey of my changing paradigm, instead of my physical body.”

Original review in its entirety at Peace Corps Worldwide

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