April Twenty Four
I hope it’s not unbecoming if I express, in some small but public way, my basic intention with Songs Only You Know:
Writing the book was an ongoing attempt to push deeper into the past, to see it anew, in all of its complexity, with as much clarity as I could manage. The process took five years, and I worked on it constantly. I needed to understand how and why my family’s story unraveled as it did, and to feel—through an aesthetic process—what it was like to stare into some difficult memories, things I couldn’t otherwise face. I also wanted to communicate, to try to convey to someone else the purest senses I could of some of how certain experiences felt, what they looked like, and the intensity of their effects. My hope was that, if I wrote well enough—with all of my love for books and language and for the people I was characterizing—there would be readers out there, somewhere, who’d be glad this book existed. I had not, though, until very recently, had a true idea of how overwhelming it is to offer a story like this to friends and relatives and old neighbors, to whomever in the world might choose to pick it up.
My book contains, from a literary standpoint, a plentiful amount of characters and spans a considerable amount of narrative time, about ten years. It was artistically impossible to account for all of the people in my life, let alone my family’s life, their friends and extended families. There were people present during those years who were exceptionally gracious to us, and there were, also, placid times. There were also problems beyond those of my immediate family, things of a magnitude it would have been coarse to mention as passing details. My book is told from the perspective of a very young man who was processing his trauma in real-time, sometimes in a colorful way. Those experiences were the ones I felt most compelled to write about and I attempted to do that with honesty.
My truest explanation is: it was something I had to do. And as Philip Roth, quoting Joe Louis, recently said, “I did the best I could with what I had.”