Sometimes I will read a book and like it so much that I will instantly want to start reading it again the second I am done. This was the case with Stop-Time by Frank Conroy. It seems like I had heard the title of the book a couple of times before, but no one had ever recommended it and I never got around to it. But then I was reading another memoir which praised this one, and I had to pick it up.
I’ve talked about it a little bit already, I know, but it was that good. I actually haven’t read a lot of memoir. I think I stayed away because, in my mind, memoir is like biography, and I don’t really like biographies (or didn’t, but that is changing too). The problem is that I was reading the wrong stuff. Conroy is a writer, and writers fascinate me. So reading a memoir about a writer is, of course, going to be interesting. My problem is that I was always attempting to read biographies about athletes or politicians. But I don’t like sports or politics. No wonder I was bored.
The main thing I like about writers is how they think. That and how they can express those thoughts. My favorite passage from Stop-Time (Conroy is lying in bed at 2 in the morning, awake, watching his sleeping wife, and writes):
My faith in the firmness of time slips away gradually. I begin to believe that chronological time is an illusion and that some other principle organizes existence. My memories flash like clips of film from unrelated movies. I wonder, suddenly, if I am alive. I know I’m not dead, but am I alive? I look into the memories for reassurance, searching for signs of life. I find someone moving. Is it me? My chest tightens.
Myself prone to late-night quandaries and existential crises, I find this somehow comforting.
He also talks about being a boy and growing up and “coming of age” (though he doesn’t put it quite that way, which I appreciate, because I kind of hate the term). He talks about gradually slipping into a state of perpetually being in trouble. Boy, do I remember that period of my life. It’s like the things you do wrong, and your parents’ corresponding anger, all bleed into each other, so that by the time you do the next bad thing, they are still pissed about the last bad thing, until eventually you are just constantly in trouble and not to be trusted.
The writing of the whole book is simple in a way. Not too simple, but minimalist, which I admire because I struggle with that. In another part, describing what must have been a terrifying home/living situation, he writes “Thinking was dangerous. By not thinking I attained a kind of inner invisibility.” So beautiful and simple. Nothing extra. I wish I could write like that.
Like many memoirs, Conroy shares some intimate looks at what would have been very sad and difficult times. Unlike other memoirs, he doesn’t over-focus on any one thing, sensationalize, or whine. He just tells it like it is and moves on.
This book was very good. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend it most highly. Seriously, if I could force everyone I meet to read a stack of ten books, this would be in that list. Check it out and we will discuss.