... 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.