cover image The Hero of This Book

The Hero of This Book

Elizabeth McCracken. Ecco, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-297127-2

McCracken (The Souvenir Museum) blurs fiction and memoir with a mischievous and loving portrait of her late mother. The unnamed narrator dislikes memoirs, and her mother, Natalie, whom she revered, “distrusted” them. So the narrator turns to fiction, claiming that all it takes to leap from the dreaded realm of grief memoirs is to make a few things up, such as the desk clerk at the London hotel she checks in to in 2019, a year after Natalie’s death, to sort through her thoughts and feelings. Despite her avowed opposition to memoir, she unleashes a flood of details about Natalie while wandering around London, describing how the short Jewish woman’s cerebral palsy made walking a struggle, and how she had to cultivate a stubborn nature to ignore the “muttering” of those who doubted her potential. (She ended up a beloved magazine editor in Boston.) The narrator lists a few made-up details that diverge from McCracken’s own life: “the fictional me is unmarried, an only child, childless,” and she notes how novelists are free to kill off characters as needed. What emerges alongside this love letter to the restive Natalie is an engaging character study of a narrator who views everything through the lens of fiction (“Your family is the first novel that you know”). It’s a refreshing outing, and one that sees McCracken gleefully shatter genre lines. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Oct.)