Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rough Ice

No one likes a tease. You can't tell me that you have been married twice, have gone bankrupt and have had a daughter and just walk away! I haven't heard from you in 24 years. This is all you have to tell me?

It isn't often that you really long to read a book and reach its end. I was hoping that Dorothy Hamill's new autobiography, A Skating Life: My Story, would be that sort of book. She's the famous friend we all long to have. Sadly, everything you've been longing to know won't be found here. A Skating Life will only be palatable to Dorothy's most avid fans and admirers.

During the 1970s, Dorothy was a charismatic figure skater who brought inspiration and delight to all. Her gifted athleticism, combined with delightful style and grace, created a persona that was larger than life. Sighs of amazement would always be heard as she danced on the ice around the world. Dorothy was a living storybook character that we longed to watch.

When her life and career began to cool, Dorothy wrote her first biography, On and Off the Ice (Knopf - 1983.) She captured all the excitement and thrill of being an Olympic champion and the adventure of her worldwide travels. I remember this book fondly. When I heard she had written a new book, I couldn't wait to receive it. Sadly, my anticipation would not bear fruit. This is a chilly and lifeless book. It's not a reflection of someone known for their exuberance and charm. You haven't really become this person, have you Dorothy?

Just presenting the facts creates a lousy read. Dorothy's book certainly brings you up to date with what has occurred in her adult life, but we are left shallow and empty. Her first husband committed adultery and then smashed his fighter jet into a mountain. Dorothy still loves him. Tell me why! Her second husband conned her out of her fortune and also cheated on her. How did you handle it? Her daughter has become her savior and her raison d'etre. What is she like? Tell us about the moments you cherish! Tell us all about your joy!

Reading is an essential skill. You read for basic utility. You read to learn. You read for enjoyment. As a writer, you must always remember this: You may not be standing in a spotlight, with a live audience in front of you, but you are an entertainer. When you decide to write, it is your job to discover 'the good stuff' and bring it forth in the proper context and form to entice your readers to read more! You have to capture the emotions, the aspirations, the pain and the joy. A Skating Life doesn't. Is the title a dark and self-depreciating double entendre?

One thing is particularly puzzling. Dorothy points out her mother's terse disposition, depression, and alcoholism over and over again. Countless times she refers to her mother's habits of "self-medication." Her mother's struggles in life were portrayed so coldly it became like a bitter pill whenever they were mentioned. Without elaboration, these comments became burdensome with an immature tone. The end of the book reveals an illogical twist. Dorothy turns 180 degrees and writes a long passage about how she admires her Mom and thanks her for her dedication. Was this a remarkable revelation in later life or just poor editing?

I hope Dorothy doesn't wait another quarter of a century before writing another book. Although her current biography doesn't capture it, I think she has a lot to say and a lot to share. I'd like to suggest concentrating on the joys of her current life: skating, her daughter and cooking. I'm sure there is a lot of 'good stuff' we would like to hear all about. C'mon! Tell us a good story, Dorothy! I know you can do much better than this. Capture your smiles and enthusiasm on paper. Again, you will be a winner!


Anonymous said...

Hi Karl, I suggest you listen to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac for Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007. He talks about a true American hero, George Mason.


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