It is conventional, in this Oprah-heightened reading environment, for memoirs to be powered by redemptive themes. James Frey's A Million Little Pieces may be the best known example. A criminal and drug addict, Frey turned his life around and wrote about it, but like Farley Mowat he didn't like the facts interfere with a good story. Or a good commercial theme, more to the point.
Eva's Three Penny Theatre doesn't explore redemption. It is a better book because it avoids this Christian, post-Freudian cliche. Television talk shows may "make good TV" by providing simple solutions ("conflicts wrapped up with a bow in 24 minutes or less!"), but literature serves itself best when it avoids this commercial imperative.
What I do know, is that Steinmetz's exploration of his family's history, and the way he has chosen to frame those stories, reveals a depth of humanity that would have failed to come through if he'd sought the simple theme: all's well that ends well.
Bryson's full blog post can be found here.
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