A Memoir of Perfectionism
“Reading Scratched gave me the feeling of standing very close to a blazing fire. It is that brilliant, that intense, and one of the finest explorations I know of what it means to be a woman and an artist.”—Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend and Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
In this bold and brilliant memoir, the acclaimed author of the novel Museum Pieces and the collection Mendocino Fire explores the ferocious desire for perfection which has shaped her writing life as well as her rich, dramatic, and constantly surprising personal life.
In the decade between age twenty-seven and thirty-seven, Elizabeth Tallent published five literary books with Knopf, her short stories appeared in The New Yorker, and she secured a coveted teaching job at Stanford University. But this extraordinary start to her career was followed by twenty-two years of silence. She wrote —or rather published— nothing at all. Why? Scratched is the remarkable response to that question.
Elizabeth’s story begins in a hospital in mid-1950s suburban Washington, D.C., when her mother refuses to hold her newborn daughter, shocking behavior that baffles the nurses. Imagining her mother’s perfectionist ideal at this critical moment, Elizabeth moves back and forth in time, juxtaposing moments in the past with the present in this innovative and spellbinding narrative.
She traces her journey from her early years in which she perceived herself as “the child whose flaws let disaster into an otherwise perfect family,” to her adulthood, when perfectionism came to affect everything. As she toggles between teaching at Stanford in Palo Alto and the Mendocino coast where she lives, raises her son Gabriel, and pursues an important psychoanalysis, Elizabeth grapples with the ferocious desire for perfection which has shaped her personal life and writing life. Eventually, she finds love and acceptance in the most unlikely place, and finally accepts an “as is” relationship with herself and others.
Her final triumph is the writing of this extraordinary memoir, filled with wit, humor, and heart—a brave book that repeatedly searches for the emotional truth beneath the conventional surface of existence.