Review: The Pat Boone Fan Club

Garrulous chronicler of her discontent


By Sue William Silverman
University of Nebraska Press, £11.99

Ms Silverman is a fan of 1950s pop star Pat Boone, and a lover of words (we learn how she French-kisses an early amour "ventriloquist", "twisting the letters around my tongue"). What she doesn't like could fill a book: more than one, in fact. Previous memoirs include: Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction, and Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You.

She is also the author of Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir. If only she could get past the first two letters of the territory to be explored, she might be a better guide.

Subjects already covered - nymphomania and paternal abuse (Ms Silverman prefers "misloving") - raise their ugly heads again in this new memoir. But we also learn that Ms Silverman is none too keen on her religion either. Turning an adjective into a noun she calls herself a Gefilte. To which I say, "Pish". Given my present role as Word Doctor, I'd also risk (and it is a risk) adding logorrhoea to the diagnosis. Like its relative, diarrohea, logorrhoea is occasioned by a notable absentee: fibre.

If you think this link too easy, allow me to draw your attention to the chapter entitled "See the Difference", in which she details the dire consequence of an antibiotic (clindamycin) wrongly prescribed: clostridium difficile. This presents itself as a revolution in the bowels and leads to severe weight loss and resultant anxiety. In order to stem the flow, as it were, Ms Silverman adopts the "BRAT" diet: bananas, rice, apple-sauce and toast. If only logorrhoea were so easily fixed.

Let me use one of the author's own images to define the problem: "We drag-race, headlights like movie projectors tunneling night". The image is enviable, but it is also lazy to the point of uselessness. Light from a movie projector transmits pictures that entertain, but the light that tunnels darkness reveals nothing, not even a porcupine. Like the lilies of the field, Ms Silverman's images neither toil nor spin, but there are too many of them, and their beauty becomes a bore.

Because of Ms Silverman's supernatural sensitivity to language, she finds school a chore, and picks out poor Miss C as being particularly blind to her talents. The hapless teacher sets the class an assignment: write three paragraphs, each containing six sentences. Ms Silverman finds the task too constricting and in the third para breaks ranks, producing but one sentence that "completes the essay with clarity, with perfection". Needless to say, Miss C - that philistine - deems it unacceptable. I wanted to give three cheers for the despised Miss C.

I am being harsh because when Ms Silverman is less self-indulgent to her darlings, when she pays more heed to the narrative and its component parts, her writing is genuinely compelling.

It is surely no coincidence that the outstanding chapter - "Galveston Island Breakdown" - in which she describes an ill-advised affair, the end of a marriage, and the attendant humiliations, switches from the first to second person.

Although I have used the word "chapter", the memoir is really a collection of discrete essays, book-ended by encounters with Pat Boone, who is everything her father was not, including gentile. Her younger self wants him to adopt her, her older self just wants to be part of the imaginary America he personifies.

In the final meeting, Ms Silverman curses the fact that she is still not fully recovered from clostridium difficile; meanwhile Pat Boone plays the celebrity. Because Ms Silverman is so fixated upon her own ego, he remains as impenetrable as a distant star. Talk about strangers in the night.

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