cover image My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

Jenn Shapland. Tin House, $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-947793-28-6

In this uneven hybrid biography/memoir debut, Shapland seeking affirmation of her own emergence as gay by combing archival materials for proof that author Carson McCullers was a lesbian. Predicated on Shapland’s belief that “to tell another person’s story, a writer must make that person some version of herself,” she cites—in what reveals itself to be a nonlinear collection of observations—similarities between herself and her subject, overlaying “my own life as a writer, as a queer person, as a chronically ill person, to tell Carson’s untold story.” Many of Shapland’s assumptions about McCullers are derived from transcripts of McCullers’s taped therapy sessions during the late 1950s, during which she discussed her two tumultuous marriages to Reeves McCullers and her passionate female friendships. “Carson didn’t feel shy about what the tapes contained—she aimed to publish them,” Shapland explains, which made her feel “comfortable... parsing them for subtexts.” Yet even she admits her findings are slippery: “I was a confused queer person looking to Carson as a role model... seeing what I wanted to see.” In stating that biographies “are built of artifice and lies... and this is not a biography,” Shapland’s intermingled autobiography and biography of McCullers’s life unsatisfyingly blurs what is real and what is imagined. (Feb.)