catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #104 – Women’s Memoirs, Book & Video Raves – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler


The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew

by Sue William Silverman

Reviewed by Lanie Tankard

“The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!”
—Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

The vinyl record on the cover of Sue William Silverman’s third memoir is an apt metaphor. Here, in The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, Silverman collects a medley of thoughts as if they were individual songs recorded on a long-playing (LP) album. Indeed, an album is a scrapbook to preserve things such as photos, stamps, stickers, cards, autographs, wedding mementoes, baby milestones — and yes, music.

For the tunes of Silverman’s life are narrative ballads from the Album Era of popular music, the time of Pat Boone. Silverman expresses woeful events in lyrics imbued with wry wit, plucky fortitude, and cultural observations.

In her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You (1999), she wrote of repeated sexual abuse from ages four to eighteen by her father, a highly respected banker and government official, and of her mother turning a blind eye.

Silverman’s second memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, was made into a Lifetime TV movie. The book details her sexual addiction as an adult, as well as her self-destructive behaviors, and how she overcame her dysfunctional family in a recovery program.

Now, in a third memoir, Silverman continues her search for identity as she explores the person behind the public mask she wore to hide both her Jewishness in a Christian school and her nocturnal homelife, finding that mask hard to shake off even as an adult. Silverman’s own family appeared as ideal to the world, with their shadows hidden in the dark as her father abused her sister, too.

“The perfect family” is a common theme in childhood sexual abuse. Former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur also wrote a memoir (Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love) about her own experience. Van Derbur once commented in People magazine, “We had all the trappings of a perfect family.”

Dr. Christine Cortois, author of Healing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy (Second Edition) (Norton Professional Books), is a psychologist specializing in trauma and childhood incest. Cortois has noted that Van Derbur became two people: the day child, who disassociated herself from the night child.

Sue William Silverman also found ways to disassociate herself from the night child, and one of them was her strong belief in a hero. She found her safety net in a man whose own website today dubs him “the original American Idol.” The songs, photos, and concerts of Pat Boone helped Silverman survive her father, whom she labels the “Anti-Boone.” She met the singer three times throughout her life, backstage following his concerts, after he read an article she wrote about how he saved her. She always kept imagining what it would be like to be part of his seemingly perfect family, and that’s what had kept her going.

Silverman pays attention to the atmosphere around her wherever she is, and weaves the ethos into her story strands. The memoir has a braided structure that cavorts from one era to another with abandon, which does make it a tad hard to follow on occasion. Time waltzes forward and backward. GPS coordinates blur as she zings from Michigan to DC to Israel to Texas to the West Indies to New York, New Jersey, Yugoslavia, Georgia, Missouri….

Yet what drives this book is the glory of the writing, which has a lyrical, poetic quality in certain sentences. She employs various voices — sometimes a distancing third person, at other times a first person dispassionately describing her actions one minute and then speaking directly to the “Gentle Reader” another. One section is written as a movie script of her life.

An especially interesting segment appears at the end of the memoir as a newspaper story, with Silverman in the role of “Sue, Girl Reporter” (assisted by Lois Lane and Clark Kent) as she interviews Pat Boone about why he’s never been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His outspokenness, perhaps? Maybe his product endorsements? Possibly his recordings of songs by black artists? What about his conservative-righty political views? Silverman, a liberal-lefty baby-boomer bobby-soxer, attempts to reconcile the opposing contradictions in her savior here. She wonders whether it all comes down to a case of “double identity” for both of them: “White bucks versus blue suede shoes.”

Silverman is ruminating in this memoir — kinetically and frenetically on occasion. Most of the time, though, she’s in no hurry. She’s already laid out her life’s tale in prior books. In this one, she’s picking up the bits and pieces she missed the first two times around to deepen the backstory while bringing it up to date. She stops for a while to ponder philosophical questions, such as why no one is satisfied with what they have or what will happen to her objects when she is gone. Then she pauses to lob a few insults at former husbands and employers from a trebuchet of reminiscences. Her spouses never really emerged as full-fledged characters for me, but appeared instead as flat cardboard targets (which, the more I think about it, may have been her intention).

Silverman loves to play with words and phrases, however, rolling them around for all their nuances, which more than makes up for anomalies elsewhere. The overarching theme, perhaps, is a girl who (in her own words) just wanted to “blend in with the locals.”

Through these varied techniques, Silverman has braided herself a lyric memoir. She interweaves various narratives, dialogues between imaginary characters, self-references, and plays with words. One is reminded somewhat of Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979; new ed. 1999) in this regard, even though it’s not a memoir. Yet Hofstadter’s Law, “It always takes longer than you expect,” might offer insight about more than mere chess-playing computers. In Silverman’s determined long-running quest for her true underlying identity, she needed this third memoir.

Silverman found her calling, her voice, through words. She’s also author of a writer’s guide to memoir, titled Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, and a book of poetry, Hieroglyphics in Neon.

Viewed as a trilogy, Silverman’s three memoirs form an epic poem of tragedy, downward spiral, and heroic recovery.

Below is a video of Silverman discussing her latest memoir.

The Pat Boone Fan Club is published by the University of Nebraska Press as part of its American Lives Series edited by Tobias Wolff. “The series features works of creative or literary memoir,” according to the UNP website. “The singular American life is a source of endless diversity, and the methods of telling the life are as important as the details themselves.”

NOTE: The Kempe Foundation for the Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect in Denver has compiled a page of guidelines for spotting signs of sexual abuse. If you need help or know someone who does, please click here for a list of other organizations that can provide additional information.

Lanie TankardLanie Tankard is a freelance writer and editor in Austin, Texas. A member of the National Book Critics Circle and former production editor of Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, she has also been an editorial writer for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

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