... approaches the mysteries, gaps and obstacles in Tallent’s own story with the same psychological precision and elliptical motivation she applies to her fictional characters ... This central blurriness in the midst of hypercharged description, furthered by a non-chronological structure, is both fascinating and confounding. It is also, I think, exactly the tantalizingly elusive effect Tallent intends ... stunningly demonstrates that she no longer believes her own rationalizations ... a subtle and idiosyncratic account that tries to elucidate her decades-long writer’s block even as she recognizes that — as with so much in anyone’s life — she cannot fully grasp it. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a memoir quite like this, one that spills its many dark secrets with so little self-pity, so much acuity and such a deliberate lack of authorial certitude.
...a fascinating, busy document. The sentences are worked and reworked, twisted into wires and drawn through multiple clauses. Straightforward memories alternate with meditations on family dynamics and quotes from psychologists and social scientists. Tallent, who takes pass after pass at her elusive subject, evokes a fisherman in a fairy tale, repeatedly casting his rod. There is something compulsive at work here, and a pathos that rises from the simultaneous breadth and modesty of the author’s yearning. Tallent wants nothing less than perfection, because nothing less will make her safe ... The passages in Scratched that deal with writer’s block will have the effect of quicksand on anyone who’s struggled to express herself on paper. You sink under, horrified and enthralled ... Tallent’s writing can have a pleasingly labored quality, as if she were a metaphysical poet comparing sex to a flea ... The memoir relies on words that, inscribed with their author’s desire to express the inexpressible, become almost tragic. Each adjective—'radiant,' 'numinous'—gestures toward a splendor it can’t reach.
... chaotic, tumbling, and beautiful prose ... The resulting memoir is, like Tallent's fiction, highly internal. It runs on emotional mapping and mining. Unlike her fiction, though, it's messy. Tallent's sentences in Scratched are rife with commas, and often run half a page. She dips into her perfectionistic mother's head with an omniscient narrator's abandon. She jumps around in time without concern for reader expectation — which is not to say her timeline is hard to follow. Nothing about reading Scratched is hard. To the contrary: It is a pure and consuming pleasure. Its messiness feels both defiant and intentional, a middle finger raised to perfectionism ... Tallent's juxtaposition of style and structure with subject matter is her memoir's big victory. It's also refreshing to read. Mainstream literary writing, I think, has tended toward perfectionism of late ... reminded me how exhilarating disorderly writing can be ... Its prose ranges from very plain to very elaborate, with the beauty of the former cast into relief by the latter ... a performance of, and appeal for, urgency. It's a call I hope other writers will be able to heed.
Many writers suffer from the paralyzing spell of perfectionism, the terror of publishing and its revelation of the author’s shortcomings, which is why this book’s premise was so alluring. However, Tallent only scratches the surface of this predicament; it seems that she does not so much overcome her perfectionism as she is distracted from it ... Tallent’s book would have benefited from more of an outward glance. The book’s prose also suffers under the weight of her striving; page-long sentences tend toward beauty, but often buckle under her inability to simply let them be.
[Tallent's] writing is beautiful and precise, full of flashing insights and bracing honesty ... Mantras about being willing to fail or the need to 'fail fast, fail often' are vapid and trite—the stuff of unreflective Silicon Valley narcissism. But there is a latent theory here of art as failure, or even as Faulknerian splendid failure. Ms. Tallent managed to break her silence because she decided to 'live without the radiant book this one has failed, over and over, to be, the ravishing book now absolutely beyond reach, because it’s become this one instead.'
...profound ... Scratched is a memoir about the allure of perfectionism and the damage done. To the extent that it's also a book about writing, Scratched is sort of the anti- Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott's classic rumination on writing and life. Lamott extols the freeing possibilities of accepting the inevitability of what she famously calls 'the s***** first draft.' Tallent, in contrast, takes readers deep into her own internal high-pressure chambers of self-loathing and not-enough-ness — feelings that can goad creativity, but also ultimately shut it down ... Because Tallent is still 'immersed' in her struggle with perfectionism, Scratched has a driven feel to it as a memoir ... If Scratched were fiction, Tallent would probably reject that ending as too pat. But this tentative embrace of creating something contradictory and new is finally what this oddly enthralling memoir embodies.
Scratched is a brave and complex memoir — though a sometimes heavy-going read — about a subject that deserves closer scrutiny. Perfectionism is an odd affliction, part spur, part handicap ... But make no mistake: Perfectionism can be crippling. Tallent makes clear that its exacting standards, however lofty, can be devilishly effective at stifling the sort of risk-taking required of literary fiction ... Tallent, a celebrated teacher of creative writing at Stanford University, brings an intellectual rigor to her memoir that recalls Kathryn Harrison and Dani Shapiro. She is capable of beautiful precision ... By design, a portrait of anguish permeates many of these pages. Tallent’s relentless drive to nail a thought or a feeling in transcendent language leads not just to memorable, enviable images...but also to long, dense, numbingly winding sentences and paragraphs that capture all too well her dismay at having repeatedly fallen short of her impossibly high standards ... It’s not all misery, but it’s all intensely felt.
Searching her past for the acceptance-seeking memories of her childhood and young adulthood, Tallent fashions a tender shadow of the often-terrified person she was then ... Tallent’s personal literary endeavor contains many wildly evocative passages and breathtaking sentences, making it a must-read for lovers of writers’ memoirs.
At times [Tallent's] writing becomes a convoluted stream-of-consciousness ... For some readers, the style might be frustrating, but it's an indelible reflection of her inner turmoil ... By positioning her perfectionism along a continuum, she fortifies her unique experiences ... Tallent's memoir is honest, the lack of self-pity elucidates perfectionism's viciousness ... Tallent refuses to condemn the imperfect, she identifies value in the damage while Scratched locates beauty in the flawed.
... perfectionism is characterized by self-absorption...a trait that unfortunately focuses the narrative too narrowly on its wounded protagonist ... The author’s prose is dense, precise, and often lyrical, but the relentless energy of her long sentences and pageslong paragraphs sometimes feels overwhelming. A candid, sharply etched self-portrait.