I was small for my age and rarely smiled at the camera. Not because I was unhappy, but because I didn’t know that little girls were suppose to perform like that I guess. Nobody in my family told me to act dainty. Plus, it was before all the digital screens that show people pictures of themselves in an instant. You could grow up relatively innocent of your own image.”
–Sarah Smarsh, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth
I’ve had a goal for awhile to read 50 Gen-X memoirs by women, and I’m finally on track to meet that goal before the end of the year. Over the last week, I’ve somehow managed to read two books: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and Heartland by Sarah Smarsh.
Smarsh, is also a late-wave Gen-Xer, born in either 1980 or 1981. She is unique in that her mother was also, arguably, a Gen-Xer. Jeannie, as she is often referred to in the book, was born (if my math is correct) in 1962 or 1963.
Comparing Heartland to Girl, Wash Your Face
I loved comparative literature in college, and I wish I had the time to write a paper comparing and contrasting these two wonderful books. They are very different, but each touch upon unique aspects of my own life, and so both really resonated with me.
Hollis, a lifestyle blogger and entrepreneur, weaves her memoir through the various lies she once believed about herself. The daughter of an Assembly of God minister, she grew up poor, in Weedpatch, California. Her people migrated there during the Dust Bowl, traveling from Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. She also grew up in a painfully turbulent household, marked by divorce and her older brother’s tragic suicide when she was just 14.
Smarsh is a journalist who earned a graduate degree from Columbia. She was raised Catholic, and weaves her memoir about growing up in rural Kansas through stories about generations of women in her family. Great grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers who lived on farms and who could not break free from the cycle of addiction, abusive men and poverty.
Spiritual Memoir, Hard-Hitting Commentary
Hollis’s memoir is thoughtful, magnetic and entertaining. It’s been called a publishing phenomenon and was the second most popular book on Amazon in 2018. It is a spiritual memoir and she winds her Christian faith through each chapter, which made it an especially meaningful read for me.
Smarsh’s book was a finalist for the National Book Award. It is more of a family memoir, but it is also something more. It is hard-hitting commentary about the lives of the poor and working poor in America’s Heartland.
I spent my formative youth in rural Kansas. Some of the people I knew back then were a lot like the people Smarsh wrote about in her book. Her people also remind me of folks I’ve seen and known throughout my many years of living in Oklahoma. So many died young — in accidents or from addiction.
Suffice to say, I could not put either book down.
I Love Gen-X Memoirs
I love memoirs — especially Gen-X memoirs. I have wanted to write my own since I was 11. Yes, 11. I may have been young, but I was already ripe to trauma and poverty. Writing stories and poems was how I healed myself. Like digging out a splinter or pricking a pocket of pus, writing released the pressure that trauma and poverty created inside me. It hurts to tell the truth, but it hurts far more to keep it bottled up inside. So, naturally, I am drawn to memoirs like Girl, Wash Your Face and Heartland because they provide catharsis.
Do you have a favorite memoir? What’s on your reading list for 2019?