THE PRIVATE I: Privacy in a Public World

Molly Peacock, Editor . Graywolf $16 (220p) ISBN 978-1-55597-313-1

Poet and memoirist Peacock (Paradise, Piece by Piece) presents this ambitious but uneven anthology, fourth in Graywolf's Forum series. Its impressive roster includes Jonathan Franzen, Yusef Komunyakaa and Wendy Lesser. Though all 18 essays (three previously published) address the subject of privacy, they vary in approach, tone and readability—some are focused and cogent, a few are disjointed, others are academic with lengthy footnotes. Dorothy Allison, Vivian Gornick and Kathleen Norris probe the topic most successfully. Allison tells of retreating to the "sanctuary of my own mind" to survive childhood abuse, while Norris good-naturedly recounts advantages and disadvantages of living privacy-free in the South Dakota boondocks, and Gornick succinctly weighs in "On the Question of Invaded Privacy in Memoir Writing," arguing that writers must tell the truth rather than worry about "what to reveal or conceal." Lesser-known contributors range from Josip Novakovich, who recounts his boyhood search for private spaces in repressive Croatia, to legal philosopher Anita Allen, who compares Bill Clinton's and Oscar Wilde's untruths about scandalous sexual relationships. Peacock and her husband, Joyce scholar Michael Groden, present back-to-back essays: Peacock reflects on "privacy and creativity," her mother and poets Anne Sexton and Elizabeth Bishop, mentioning Groden only briefly, while he considers his role as a "secondary character" in Peacock's memoir. Though not a wholly satisfying excursion into a hot issue, the volume contains challenging ideas and questions for those who want to pursue the topic in depth. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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