Monday, April 21, 2014

But I'll be Back Again: An Album...

     But I'll Be Back Again: An Album is a memoir for the author Cynthia Rylant. While I enjoy many of her children's books, I am not sure that I found this book as captivating as her other stories.

     The book is a short version of the story of her early life. She begins by talking about how she lost both parents by the time she was four years old. She feels to blame for her parent's horrible marriage and grows up feeling that if she had tired harder she could have made everything okay. Except for a few letters, her father never really returned to her life. This trauma is magnified by the fact that no one talks about him, leaving a huge void in Cynthia's life. Her mother takes her back to her grandparents in West Virginia and leaves her for four years to go to nursing school. Rylant feels loved at her grandparents, but she desperately misses her mother and father. When her mother returns, they move to Beaver, West Virginia, where she finishes growing up. The rest of the book is about her learning about friendships, boys, and the Beatles.

     As a young adult I loved biographies and read my way through that section of my school's library. However I thought Cynthia Rylant's memoir was a little boring. I felt that it was written in a sort of  "stream of consciousness," which seemed odd for an author who is well-known for picking the perfect words and designing the ultimate phrase.  To me, the book felt like it was more of a therapy session for her, with the reader along for the ride.  Early in the book she says,
"children always think they can make their parents happy, so they try a 
hundred different ways to please them, but nothing works. the parents 
still yell at each other and they still yell at their children, and all the 
goodness in the world, or in one little child, won't help it. No one 
ever told me when I was little that my parents' battles were not my fault. 
I am certain I must have felt they were, and I believe I grew up with this 
big feeling inside that said, "Whenever anyone who is with you is unhappy,
 it is your fault." I didn't know, growing up, that I didn't have to make people 
happy." (pg. 6) 
It's a sad reflection on how she tried to live her life and that sadness comes through in the story. 

     Another reason I may have not connected with the book is the fact that the book was written 25 years ago about something that happened 50 years ago.  It relies heavily on important events in sixties to carry meaning. Things like the death of Robert Kennedy and the Beatles movement were life-turning events at the time.  I am aware of them, but they have limited meaning to me. She also includes verses from different Beatles songs that relate to the topic. It was a nice touch, but I am not a Beatles fan, so once again I miss the connection. In general the story was okay, but not one of my all time favorites.
     One thing that I did enjoy about the book, however, was learning about the events in her life that helped develop ideas for her future books. I thought it was interesting how the preaching at her grandparent's church influenced the stories in works in Waiting to Waltz, A Blue-Eyed Daisy, and A Fine White Dust. She also mentions how she borrows qualities from an old boyfriend, Robert Rufus, to create the character of Rufus in A Fine White Dust. I also liked that she connects how the unhappiness in her childhood to her becoming a great writer. She says,
"They say that to be a writer you must first have an unhappy childhood. I don't 
know if unhappiness is necessary, but I think maybe some children who have 
suffered a loss too great for words grow up into writers who are always trying 
to find those words, trying to find a meaning for the way they have lived." (pg. 5)  
I am glad that she found an outlet for her pain since it gives us some many great books. 

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