Filling Gaps in the Self

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel:  Essays
by Alexander Chee
Mariner Books. 288 pages, $15.99

 

ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS of the way through “The Curse,” the first piece in Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Chee writes: “I longed to be rid of [my classmates], but also to be rid of me, or of the problem of me.” The problem of selfhood permeates the book, raising questions about how identities are constructed in, around, and through trauma, and how (creative) writing can be used to answer those questions.

         Chee introduces the problem gently, amid the relative safety of an exchange student program in Chiapas, Mexico, where his host family takes great pride in his increasing fluency in Spanish and where, under the protective cover of night, Chee indulges in adolescent fantasies about beautiful boys and about passing for Mexican. Reading this,

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