Happy New Year, Fellow Bookmen!
The five of us present last evening (including one new member; welcome!) took part in a lively discussion of Kevin Sessums' 2007 memoir, Mississippi Sissy. We all enjoyed the book and recommend it, though the first half--which recalls the trials and tribulations of the young Kevinator/Arlene as he comes to terms with his sexuality, the loss of family members, and his early awareness that the only way he can fit into his environment would be to sacrifice his essence--is overly drawn out and cluttered with details. (I did not feel this nearly as strongly as did my colleagues, I should note.) But we all found the second half, where Kevin comes into his own (so to speak) both as a character and memoirist, compelling and masterful, and wished it could have been even longer.
Questions of authenticity and truthfulness arose, as they always will in the consideration of memoirs, and here opinion was more divided. My own upbringing in Shreveport, Louisiana (a bit bigger than Jackson, Misssissippi, but all too similar), where I was born about five years after Sessums, was, mercifully, far less Southern Gothic than his, but observation after observation, and character and character, in the account rang true for me. However, others were less persuaded, and Sessum's use of reconstructed dialogue (which he acknowledges in his preface), in particular, seemed to be a sticking point. That is a valid criticism, but I still tend to subscribe to the "If that's not what they said, then it's what they SHOULD have" school in situations like that.
A final observation: I recall commenting to the group when we discussed Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors a few years ago that while the events he recounts may well have happened, I didn't believe it--and more crucially, I didn't believe Burroughs. I feel exactly the opposite about this memoir, and I warmly commend it to you all. Thanks to whoever recommended it. Cheers, Steve