Still, I’m glad to have read My Autobiography of Carson McCullers. Its mere existence stands as a warning of the cul-de-sac into which publishing has lately wandered (I mean, run, blindfolded, at full tilt). It could not be more modish, from the floating paragraphs of its fractured narrative to its breathless quoting of Maggie Nelson (of whom, incidentally, I’m a fan). In the US, it was a National Book award finalist; Carmen Maria Machado calls it – preposterously, given the single note it sounds – “symphonic”. Why the dazzlement? Why won’t anyone take this book on? Because I’m here to tell you that it often makes no sense.
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers is beautifully and sparsely written, and short-listed for several prestigious US awards, including the National Book award. It taught me that my gaydar is rubbish: I never sensed from her novels that McCullers was gay; I simply loved the haunting strangeness of her characters. And then, a personal epiphany: my family’s copies of the novels were presents from an unmarried aunt, a trouser-wearing career woman with a harsh haircut, the same age as McCullers, who was called by the male diminutive of her name. The power of biography is to reveal universal truths.