A hybrid of memoir and biography, Jenn Shapland’s debut is a sensitive recounting of her discovery of novelist Carson McCullers and, in a very real sense, of her own identity as a lesbian and a writer.
... a hard-won inquiry into how we seek out the truth of ourselves and others in ways that often, by necessity, aren’t straightforward, that arrive in our lives in glimmering bits and shards ... The difficulty in overcoming this instinct to code and conceal is what gives Shapland’s book its considerable stakes ... Shapland’s book is the kind of state-of-the-form reckoning that makes one wish there were more like it. The truth is, doing the work of retrospective, corrective rearranging (pretty much the job description of any critic or academic working today) is never without risk. Surely, the more transparently we acknowledge the stakes, the more likely we are to arrive at a payoff. After all, it’s often by looking back that we move the conversation forward, and by inhabiting the lives of others that we might glimpse pieces of our own.
Shapland’s research uncovers one censorship after another: euphemisms, silence, and outright denial by parties competing to control McCullers’ story—a willful closeting. But if one could animate this book, it’d be with the cartoon trope of the exploding closet ... What makes My Autobiography Of Carson McCullers so different in spirit from other takes on McCullers’ story is Shapland’s open partiality. It takes a queer to know one, and as Shapland immerses herself in McCullers’ life...she traces her own 'protracted becoming' ... By drawing on the work of Audre Lorde, Eileen Myles, Susan Sontag, and Maggie Nelson, Shapland brings a sharp modern lens to her reading of McCullers’ (and her own) life.
...brilliantly interweaves Carson’s personal history with Shapland’s own ... The question that propels Shapland’s book is not whether or not Carson was a lesbian; she’s not trying to prove, exactly. What she’s trying to do is see herself in history, show herself (and us) that Carson and other queer people have always lived, always loved, always made community for themselves ... At its core, Shapland’s book is about gaps—in stories, in language, in history, in ourselves—and how we attempt to fill them ... She is a diligent, perceptive, and heartful researcher. Following along with Shapland-as-detective is a delight, and the mystery she sets out to solve is one of those wicked unsolvables: how do we account for the apertures in language, history, and identity?