House of Prayer No. 2, by Mark Richard

So, imagine you’re reading a book or article where someone recommends this great memoir, and it sounds good, so you check it out. And you start to read it, and the author tries to grab your attention with the rather funky device of writing in the second person. And you think, OK, this is interesting, but you find yourself hoping that he drops the second-person narration soon, once he gets out of the introduction, because it’s irritating to you and distances you from the narrative.


You read on, anyway, partly because you paid good money for the e-book and partly because it really is an interesting story, the tale of a boy growing up in the Southern U.S. with a brilliant unconventional mind, a physical disability, a tangled family life and a keen eye for observing the world around him. You appreciate that it’s the story of a writer’s coming of age, and also a spiritual memoir in which the storyteller finds his way from spiritual darkness to faith, and even considers going into the ministry, but it’s in no way similar to any evangelical conversion story you’ve ever heard or read. You appreciate the freshness and vividness of the author’s writing but every moment, on every single page, you can’t help being irritated by that second-person narration. It’s a gimmick, you think, and one that has never caught on broadly for good reason: it should draw the reader in, speaking so intimately to the reader as “you,” inviting the reader to put him/herself in the narrator’s shoes — but it does just the opposite. It creates a wall where there should be a window into another person’s thoughts. You decide that you really can’t cope with it.

So, in brief: you liked a lot of things about this book, but would have enjoyed it more had it been written in first-person, as memoirs more usually are.


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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

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