Autobiography of a sex theif
My sister Sarah and I have been travelling too long in the land of grief, and we would like to come home, to prop our pictures on the mantelpiece and to get on with our lives. Most memoirs are by former gangsters and robbers with only the occasional drugs smuggler Howard Marks and his best seller Mr Nice or informer Maurice O'Mahoney and King Squealer making an appearance. Ann is an artist, how else could she express her grief? That was my mistake. For whom was this suffocating grief I felt? I still believe that, even now. He attributes the success of his book to the fact that it was truthful. Lucy had loved that painting, however, and I was disturbed that someone would feel more entitled to such a connection with her past.
I envied the precision of their grief. Because it is mine alone, one that I don't have to share with the hundreds of thousands of total strangers who think they understand Lucy through Ann Patchett's personal vantage point? She rushed past each day not looking, forcing herself to believe that having her dead twin's face staring out at her was a good thing, because people had loved her. She is quoted in the book as she bids a final farewell to Sparks, explaining her unwillingness to take part in a robbery with two young criminals which would involve throwing ammonia in someone's face: It was put down to the work of an inexperienced intern. The magazine had used a photograph of Lucy on the cover, and for a week Sarah, working in Manhattan, had to walk past a huge wall of these covers by the newsagent in the lobby of her building. Sarah and I hugged her, trying, as we have both done all our lives, to protect her from her overwhelming despair. Lady Docker and Hill posed for photographs together, while champagne and saddles of mutton were served. A devout elderly Muslim woman had died, and her body, when removed from the morgue for burial, was found covered with slabs of bacon. When it comes to writing crime though, [criminal memoirs] are not that helpful because they're nearly always co-written with professional journalists who know what publishers and readers want to hear — that the hero is a cross between Jesse James and Robin Hood — so the material is edited accordingly. I noticed that the reading Ann gave at Lucy's funeral and the piece in New York magazine shared similar phrases. When she wrote about my mother, I felt I was standing outside the door, listening to conversations I had already heard. That money then goes into something called the Consolidated Fund. One picture is of Lucy's back and my mother's face. Each one sent me deeper into despair. Among the most original memoirs is Gentleman Thief by Peter Scott, who made and lost a fortune burgling the homes of the wealthy and notoriously stole Sophia Loren's diamonds. I felt, without being able to express it, that it was somehow indecent to risk laying my family bare for the sake of Ann's personal expression of grief. A phrase about looking out the window above the kitchen sink of our childhood home in Spring Valley, New York, was like chancing upon a yellowing photograph of a place I had once loved. I had no idea that heroin had become so huge in my sister's life. But I was grieving, and innocent of the implications. It is a warm and humid early evening, and I am taking photographs of them in a graveyard, trying to be arty. Ann and I have not been in touch for some time. She is walking with my mother and me in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, near where my mother lived for many years. She often had great - and comforting - insight into my mother's lifelong depression, but the understanding between us was that my mother brought the worst of it upon herself. Few criminals today would manage to slip a melted custard tart and their uncle's sweaty armpits into their opening paragraph but Sparks was writing for a public that was still uncertain about its attitude to criminals chuckling over their misdeeds. Crime fiction writer Dreda Say Mitchell, author of Geezer Girls and Running Hot, and chair of this year's Harrogate festival, studied the criminal memoir long before she started her career. A family painting had disappeared from her room, along with many other belongings, and Sarah and I were sad about this.
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