I kept thinking of what the book was about: What it would say? What was its point? Why did it exist? People would ask me and I would say that it was about choices. Choices and their consequence. They would look at me like they didn’t understand.

The book would have been about power—power in institutions, of social structures. Of wars and who wielded them. Of personal agency and people with none. I thought that I could impose a structure of order upon chaotic personal histories and reckon things right. The book would have been about memory. How memory is porous, fallible, tensile, illusory. It would have been a book of fiction even if it were, in the reportorial sense, true.

I thought that the book might be about becoming, perhaps mine. I thought that if I looked hard enough into the past that something would be revealed. I thought it might have been a cleansing fire. But it wasn’t; it was a yoke. I had been seduced by the idea of being a writer, a writer of books. I imagined the book might advance my career, legitimize my tinkering. That isn’t a reason to write a book.

At the Awl, Elmo Keep talks about the book about her father she considered putting together, but decided not to write.

Read the story

Photo: Nathan O’Nions