Seems people have strong feelings about celebrity memoirs (usually along the lines of ‘Haven’t you had enough of the spotlight already?!’). I don’t seek them out but nor do I avoid them. I picked up Mara Wilson’s Where Am I Now? because she was appearing at the 2018 Melbourne Writers Festival.
Wilson’s name might not be instantly recognisable but her six-year-old face is. She was the ‘cute’ little star of Mrs Doubtfire and Matilda, as well as many other films and television shows (including Melrose Place!). As the title of the book suggests, Wilson tackles what happens after the ‘cute’ is over (seemed no one wanted Matilda with boobs…).
…as I grew up, you didn’t. I wanted to grow up. I wanted to be Mara, but everyone knew me as Matilda. You wouldn’t let me go. What if you were all there was to me?
The book is made up of a collection of chronological personal essays, beginning with Wilson’s experiences on movie sets. Her ‘career’ merely sets the scene. The majority of the book is devoted to Wilson’s feeling of being out of place –
It’s how I’ve felt most of my life: I was born the first girl after three boys, the only Jewish kid in my class, the only girl I knew whose mother had died, the only neurotic in southern California (or so it seemed), and the only child on film sets full of adults. I was always in someone else’s world, and I always knew it.
The tone at the beginning of the book is slightly out-of-step with what comes later – light-hearted and funny stories about onset antics, sex-ed courtesy of Melrose Place and sharing jokes with Danny DeVito, sit alongside the heavier stuff – her mother’s death, puberty in the spotlight, her battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Wilson states from the outset that her way of understanding things is to “…find a narrative in everything.” Born a storyteller, she was constantly creating and entertaining. Her memoir is essentially a hard-copy of her narrative therapy. While she drops in some slick lines – I lived eighteen years in laid-back Southern California, feeling like the Pet Sounds to everyone else’s Surfin’ Safari – her humour belies her pain. Ultimately, this is the story of a little girl whose life ground to halt when she was just eight. When I saw Wilson at the Melbourne Writers Festival, she said “It’s too much of an oversimplification to say that my childhood ended when my mother died. In fact, when your mother dies, your childhood never ends.”
My interest in this book was focused on the narrative that we create in order to make sense of events in our lives (specifically trauma). Part of that process is in the retelling and re-crafting. Wilson is still doing that (through her blog, Twitter, writers festivals and so on) and each attempt at the narrative is brave.
Grief. The last time I had felt it this strongly, I was a little girl. The only way I knew how to deal with it then was creating. It was why, after my mother’s funeral, I picked lemons from the backyard and offered people fresh lemonade I had made at the reception.