[Critique of a second draft of a memoir, 255 pages.]
Hi, Liz. I've finished editing Elizabeth. Here are my comments in a nutshell:
The biggest suggestion I have is to end on page 215, for reasons I will explain. But first let me tell you how gorgeous the rest of it is. Chronological order does absolute wonders for the narrative! Now the reader is led by suspense through the succeeding episodes of your life and development. The dialogue in particular is remarkable. It sounds realistic, and each person has his or her own speech pattern (as they do in life). Right on the button. The ability to write good dialogue is a real talent.
That is great stuff about the convent years, and not only is it of literary value but also historical and psychological value. Haven't seen the like since The Nun's Story, and that was published more than 50 years ago.
The use of clothing as a representation of spiritual and other kinds of development (or regression) I really like and think all women can relate to.
Now about the ending: I made comments on most of the ms. but in the last 20 pages or so I made suggestions for significant cuts. I end it on the little brunette girl's "Where shall we begin?" The memoir bogged down with details of Mother's decline – not because Mother's dying is trivial but because it's pretty typical of the decline of a very elderly woman, and not really of special interest to a reader who is a stranger. And because Mother has not been presented as a sympathetic character, we readers don't sympathize much with her decline – and it feels as if too much time is spent discussing the whole thing. Readers want to get back to your own story. Around page 203, in the exchange of letters between you and your brother, you both get to sounding a little petty, scrupulous and aggrieved, just like all siblings when an elderly parent's curtain is coming down and everyone wants some power (or goods or money), or to be the family saint or hero. I don't mind the inclusion of these letters, but it is no wonder to me that Mark cut off such communication. I would like to read less about the problem and more about how you rose above it -- if you did. If you didn't rise above it, be honest about that also.
I remember the previous ending as having much more power than the current draft's far more detailed and analytical ending. I preferred it. This one felt "staged." However, if you are invested in the way this draft ends, or if that previous ending won't fit onto this draft, you have my suggestions written on your manuscript.
Total time I spent is 12 hours. I will send you an invoice for you to keep for tax purposes.
Congratulations on finishing yet another draft, this time making truly incredible progress.