How good is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel? It’s so good that I could fill my word count just with quotations ... Edinburgh was a masterpiece; so too is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. One of its beauties is how simultaneously shaped and flexible it is, both thematically coherent and varied in subject matter ... Chee’s particular style of mind and habits of moral engagement hold the collection together; every essay, no matter the subject, exhibits warmth, rigor, tact ... The mask conceals and it reveals; writing transfigures and it uncovers. That’s the gift that writing has given Chee, and it’s the gift that his wonderful new collection gives its readers.
As Chee’s gaze turns inwards, he beckons readers to experience his private moments with such clarity and honesty that we’re immediately brought into his consciousness. At the same time, he asks us to contemplate the largest questions about identity, sexuality, family, art and war ... Though some of these beautiful pieces have been published before, collected together, they build to reveal the journey of a writer ... By the end of this moving collection, we learn through Chee’s experiences that to be a writer is to continuously reconsider the self, to find what drives you even in moments of despair.
In place of the imperative structure characteristic of so many craft books that cheerfully promise a way forward, that evince a comfortable universe of coherent rules and achievable outcomes, Chee offers instead the roundabout and the recursive, the indirect and stubbornly nonlinear. His essays are an invitation not to review the rules of writing, but to trace a unique pathway into knowledge and being in and through writing ... Pages and pages into the project [Edinburgh], Chee begins to find his way, and ultimately, begins to understand the relationship between plot, action, and his own life. 'I had written my way there,' Chee marvels, realizing that letting the story unfold was the writing. And this is the beauty modeled by Chee’s book: the act of writing takes the writer to the self.