Reviews ...

Don Murray strikes a chord with readers

 ... biased non-review discovers that his story is ours

by Jack Driscoll

This is not a book review. Call it a commentary.  Call it reflections. Call it ramblings.

The publication of "My Twice-Lived Life" by Don Murray (Ballantine Books, 2001) prompts my musings. Or are they perambulations.

If you like Murray's column in the Boston Globe each week, you likely will relish this book, but I must quickly point out he is a friend. Call this blatant bias.

Having read his other books and all his columns, I approached this self-portrait thinking there was nothing new I would learn about his upbringing, his military ordeal, his heart attack, his journalism and teaching careers, the death of his daughter and his illuminations about writing. I was wrong.

The book tunnels deeply into areas of his life where he has never taken his readers and in some cases had blocked out from his own consciousness. He refers to them at one point as "the dark mysteries of my childhood" and admits that, when he has been angry with his beloved wife Minnie Mae, "I stopped and remembered, I was angry at my mother."  And he tells us why.
He discusses shame, aloneness, the risks and satisfactions of writing, death and fear, fatherhood and spousal caring.

I thought I knew the man after 15 years of attending his seminars, exchanging notes, chatting over periodic lunches and reading nearly all of his 20 books, but his fresh perspectives and personal insights into these often-avoided areas proved me wrong. The book is full of surprises, a hallmark of real writing.

So, you say, you are not a friend of his, so why should you care about the memoirs of Don Murray, despite his many claims to fame as a Pulitzer Prize winner at age 29 for the Boston Herald, chairman of the English Department at the University of New Hampshire for many years and the dean of writing coaches nationally?  Indeed, his career successes most likely have little relevance to your life.

The answer was provided by Murray himself in his June 5 Globe column, when he commented:
"In writing about myself, I am writing about others."

Murray tricks us into thinking we are absorbed in his memories, when in fact he is awakening our own stories.

Call it a readers' wakeup call.

To view the Murray column referred to above, go to:

Jack Driscoll is Editor-in-Residence at the MIT Media Lab

July 6, 2001

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