Over the summer, professional sharer Joyce Maynard, well, shared an essay about her uncommunicative daughter. Ironically, now her daughter writes a rebuttal from her perspective. Because that's how families communicate, right?
Double X's new column, "Modern Love Revenge," is potentially pretty genius - provided, that is, the subjects are as prone to soul-baring as the original authors. Although Audrey Bethel, whose lack of communication causes mom Maynard to break into her email and discover a scary situation, you may recall - seems perfectly ready to go public, albeit in more diplomatic terms. Bethel's response is more measured and less personal than her mother's - but there are plenty of small digs in there.
It's pretty clear from Audrey's - and her mom's - pieces that living material is no novelty in the Bethel-Maynard house. As Audrey says, "My mother, Joyce Maynard, writes for a living, so I have spent my life learning that an event recounted by one person might not sound like the same event when recounted by another person, even if she was there, and witnessed it, and was at the center of it. It can be frustrating for me to let my mother own her stories-and by proxy, the stories of the people close to her." (As the daughter of two writers, I should point out here that this isn't typical. It probably is, though, of writers who write regularly about their own first-person.) "Over the years, my mother has often written works of nonfiction detailing my family's life and times-but never had anything so intimate or inherently mine to tell been the topic of her writing."
Here, Audrey reproduces the oddly loaded email her mom sent her before running the piece.
Dear Aud, I have written an essay that I need to show you. An editor at the New York Times would like to publish it, but I will not do this unless you can feel alright about this. I am guessing that if you could have chosen, you would prefer to have a mother who did not, as I do, write about her life. Though of course, if that were the case, you would have a totally different mother. And be a different person yourself.
And if that, in context, seems passive-aggressive - kind of defiant and impotent (how did "The New York Times" see this essay before Audrey granted her permission? Magic?) - check out this line: "I knew her primary purpose was not to write an academic piece to raise social consciousness, but I still felt strongly that the original draft of my mother's piece perpetuated certain stereotypes and assumptions. I knew how much she wanted me to tell her to go ahead with the piece, especially since it would be good publicity to coincide with her new book coming out."
Holy underlying tensions, Batman! In the end, Audrey, obviously a good sport, works with her mother to edit the piece into a compromise that acknowledges the social issues close to her heart. But her ambivalence, in the article, is palpable. And if this retort isn't an act of veiled aggression, I've never seen one. Sure, we know these people only by what they've shown us - maybe it's no relation to who they are in real life. But as characters in a public drama, they're choosing to paint quite a fraught picture. It would be interesting to see the exchange in which Audrey informed her mother of this piece - if in fact she did. Having made her, by her own admission, who she is by dint of her oversharing, Maynard could hardly object.
Related: Joyce Maynard Looks Back On Life?