He Said, He Said

One of the most well-written memoirs is by the granddaddy of memoirists, Tobias Wolff. His coming-of-age memoir, This Boy’s Life, is often held up as the gold standard of memoirs.

This Boy's Life

And it deserves this place, although I think it ought to share the position with some others ;).

But if you had never read a coming-of-age memoir, and you wanted to sample one, this book would be a good place to begin.

I read this book as a woman reading the story of what it’s like to be “this boy,” and I learned what it’s like to be the son of a single mother and  to be a boy in the home of a man who isn’t his father.  It’s the sort of book I can imagine suggesting teen boys read. But I think teen girls should read it, too. And women and men.

Toby grows up in a home with his mother and sometimes with a stepfather, but his knowledge of his father and older brother (who grows up with the father) is sketchy at best. He does spend time with his brother Geoffrey when he’s a little older, but they are more like acquaintances or remote cousins.

Interestingly, Geoffrey, the intellectual brother of Tobias, has written his own memoir of his childhood and their father: The Duke of Deception.

The Duke of Deception

In Geoffrey’s book I learned of the extreme personality and antics of their con man father. But Geoffrey’s tone is different from that of Tobias who sounds fairly well-adjusted and humble. The older brother seems a bit elitist, the sort of person who is very well educated and doesn’t let others forget it. In this respect, he reflects their father’s influence on his own personality. In fact, it is up to the reader to decide at the end how much like the father is Geoffrey. Is this resemblance Geoffrey’s fear or is it reality?

While This Boy’s Life is the book read by so many, I think reading The Duke of Deception afterward makes for an enriching experience.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

21 responses to “He Said, He Said

  1. Glad to see you still reviewing memoirs – I’ve decided to look through all of them again to find another recommendation. i read both Zippy memoirs and they have got to be two of the best books i’ve ever read! I was so disappointed when they ended. The “sequel” is even better than the first one.

    • Luanne

      Ooh, I love hearing that you love those books! It’s true that they are really unique. I haven’t read another memoir that has quite the voice and type of humor as the Zippy books. You need a book while you’re laid up . . . .

  2. Oh my, I’m going to have to get a second job to pay for all of these excellent memoirs you’re bringing to my attention. 🙂 These both sound great, Luanne!

    • Luanne

      You see, that’s a catch-22 problem. If you get a 2nd job to pay for more books, you lose time to read the books! These are wonderful books, so definitely add them to your list! Maybe you need a library card to a really good library!

  3. Luanne, I love this series. You bring to light memoirs that I normally would not consider. Thanks for both of these suggestions.

  4. I’ve read “This Boy’s Life,” but now I would like to reread it and read “Duke of Deception” too.

    • Luanne

      I will really want to hear what you have to say about “Duke”!!! So maybe re-read the Tobias first and then read Geoffrey!

  5. Oh, goody! Another memoir tandem! I’ve not read these but will search them out. I really like the idea of getting two different perspectives on circumstances and events that overlap significantly, even if they aren’t exactly the same.

    • Luanne

      Jennifer, I just discovered another sibling pair of memoirs! I haven’t read them yet and they are OLD, but I want to read the memoirs by Gypsy Rose Lee and her sister June Havoc–both have a focus on their mother “Mama Rose.”

  6. This Boy’s Life sounds like a really good coming of age memoir. Once again, I read the beginning on Amazon…gosh there are so many good books to read…it’s just a matter of time:)
    Thanks for posting this.

    • Luanne

      I really believe that it’s true that if you can only read one memoir “This Boy’s Life” is probably the one to read.

  7. I had read, “This Boy’s Life,” and had not heard or found out about the other book, Luanne. I am so glad to hear that there is another perspective, albeit a more negative and elitist picture of the family. So sad to think that one man in a family may turn out ‘just fine,’ with a humble and appreciative attitude and the other, who may have had more ‘brains’ and talent, not as positive in his attitude. I had recommended the first book when I had first read this, to a friend. I have two brothers, raised close in age with me, and my youngest brother and I, (the oldest) have a different and more positive outlook on our parents. I feel that it is mainly due to his life experiences, jading my artistic (middle) brother more. We all three deeply care and check in on each other, just different in which brother I will take a problem to… Hugs, Robin

    • Luanne

      Robin, here’s something I didn’t make clear in this post. Geoffrey is the older brother who was left behind to grow up with the father who definitely had a serious personality disorder. Toby got to leave with his normal mother and grow up with her. I actually have a lot of sympathy for Geoffrey, and I admire how he wonders near the end of the book how much of the father is inside of him. It’s impossible for the reader to know how much is nature and how much is nurture, but Toby was very lucky to be taken away from that father.

  8. One of my favorite books! I did a review on Goodreads and my blog too! Excellent review~

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