Memoir, or Looking Back from Up Ahead

I edit a fair number of memoirs, and I’ve read some great stories in them. My own family’s story is crazy enough that people tell me I should write about it. But for a long time, I couldn’t imagine taking the layered, messy, contradictory matter of my life–the stuff I’ve blocked out and the stuff I wish I could, and even the sweet or triumphant but private moments of which I am proud–and squeezing it into the form of a story. The blessed thing about novels is that they give shape to the confusion of living. For example, characters change; they grow internally, in one direction. Do people change? (Remind me to ask this question again, when I have built up more readers, because this is a real question, and if you have answers and examples, especially affirmative examples, I would love to hear them.) One of the strangest things that happened when my father died was that I realized that the story of our relationship was over–or so I thought–and the finale never happened. There was an end, all right, long, drawn-out and dramatic, even. But the change, the perfect reconciliation, and–most important–his flash of insight that would somehow repair all the hurt: none of that ever came. Instead, there were quiet moments. Literary fiction moments: When I arrived at the hospital, my father was groaning. I could hear him through the gray curtain that sheathed his room from the busy hallway. He begged the attendants to leave him alone. Each jostle caused him pain, and he let them know it. I came in and tried to get...