Bureau of Missing Persons: Writing the Secret Lives of Fathers (Hardback)Roger J. Porter (author)
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A devoted reader of autobiographies and memoirs, Roger J. Porter has observed in recent years a surprising number of memoirs by adult children whose fathers have led secret lives. Some of the fathers had second families; some had secret religious lives; others have been criminals, liars, or con men. Struck by the intensely human drama of secrecy and deception played out for all to see, Porter explores the phenomenon in great depth. In Bureau of Missing Persons he examines a large number of these works-eighteen in all-placing them in a wide literary and cultural context and considering the ethical quandaries writers face when they reveal secrets so long and closely held.
Among the books Porter treats are Paul Auster's The Invention of Solitude, Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home, Essie Mae Washington-Williams's Dear Senator (on her father, Strom Thurmond), Bliss Broyard's One Drop, Mary Gordon's The Shadow Man, and Geoffrey Wolff's The Duke of Deception. He also discusses Nathaniel Kahn's documentary film, My Architect. These narratives inevitably look inward to the writer as well as outward to the parent. The autobiographical children are compelled, if not consumed, by a desire to know. They become detectives, piecing together clues to fill memory voids, assembling material and archival evidence, public and private documents, letters, photographs, and iconic physical objects to track down the parent.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 224
Weight: 482 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 23 mm
"A compelling close reading of eighteen memoirs, all of which, Porter finds, struggle with the problem of narrative voice and agency in the context of auto/biography. Structurally, Porter's book is methodical, with each text given the same treatment: a thesis that connects the text to the chapter's theme; an introduction to the text; the methods or levels of detective work involved in the writer's search; the attitude with which the text seems to be written-vengeful, understanding, judgmental, self-reflective; a comparator text; and an interrogation into whether the text's success in "finding" parent or self."-Teresa Coronado, Rocky Mountain Review (Spring 2012)
"Detective stories are everywhere: as many critics have claimed, most novels, at least since Bleak House, bear traces of detective fiction. If this is true of novels, Porter's fascinating book argues that it is also the case for literary memoirs-where the mysteries and people investigated are particularly close to home."-Jonathan Taylor, Times Literary Supplement (13 April 2012)
"Bureau of Missing Persons is a a page-turner, and this is not just a reflection of the intrinsic fascination of the primary material. Roger J. Porter's analysis of the psychology and ethics at play in these relational lives-the stories of children unearthing their parents' stories-bears on the limits and possibilities of all lives. There is no one writing today who presents so sophisticated a portrait of life writing in action."-Paul John Eakin, Ruth N. Halls Professor Emeritus of English, Indiana University, author of Living Autobiographically
"Bureau of Missing Persons is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding works of life-writing scholarship I've read in some time. Readers will relish each chapter's strange revelations and nuanced discussion and look forward to the next. Porter's topic is fascinating, not only because of the weird intricacies of human secretiveness and the complex narrative challenges involved in bringing secrets to light but also because at some level we are all puzzled by our parents. This is profound, indeed archetypal territory, worked through in terms of fascinating individual examples."-Richard Freadman, Director, Unit for Studies in Biography and Autobiography, La Trobe University
"Roger J. Porter reminds us that in memoirs, the writing of the story is the story. And perhaps no memoirs today tell more compelling stories than those by adult children probing the explosive secrets of parents, including the missing father. From retribution to mourning, irresistible guilty curiosity to empathy, memoirists and readers discover hidden passages in family behavior that seem as unsettlingly true as mythology or the Old Testament, often hitting bedrock themes of religion, genocide, incest or adultery, and racial or sexual identity. Porter's compassionate and vivid reflections on these memoirs, interwoven with many threads of family throughout literature, show that in many ways they are our story."-Alison Booth, author of How to Make It as a Woman and the database Collective Biographies of Women
"Roger J. Porter's Bureau of Missing Persons is a compelling examination of a set of fascinating narratives-among them, some of our richest recent memoirs. He explores the motives and methods of these investigative memoirs with great sensitivity and sophistication. In doing so, he illuminates the complex relational dynamics of contemporary life writing. The book is a work of mature and humane criticism, exemplary in its grace and clarity."-G. Thomas Couser, Hofstra University, author of Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing
"Bureau of Missing Persons makes a compelling contribution to the study of family secrets. Roger J. Porter offers deft readings of autobiographical narratives that grapple with the legacies of deceitful, absent, and otherwise out-of-reach fathers. Porter connects the unmasking of fraudulent fathers to larger issues of ethics, privacy, and patrimony. His own gripping critical narrative tracks the revelations, revenge, and surprising affinities that autobiographers encounter in the archive of buried secrets."-Leigh Gilmore, author of Autobiographics and The Limits of Autobiography