George Estreich will be giving away onecopy of his book, The Shape of the Eye. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment answering his question for you. That’s all you have to do to enter. Winner will be chosen by random.org – make sure your email address is included in your comment so that we can let you know you won.
You have both written memoirs related to your daughters, both of whom were born with Down syndrome. Why did you feel the need to write about your experiences?
In the beginning, writing the book didn’t feel like a choice; it was something I had to do. I was trying to make sense of my experience through writing about it, and to build continuities between the new life and the old—though I wouldn’t have put it that way then. As the book evolved, though, my motivations became less immediately personal. I wanted, in a small way, to join the conversation, to influence the way Down syndrome is seen.
What do you hope readers will gain from your memoir and your perspective? I wanted, and want, to change readers’ minds. Many, whatever their intentions, have settled beliefs about what Down syndrome is and what the people who have it are like. Especially when those beliefs were mistaken, I wanted to challenge them, to replace false answers with truer questions.
That’s why I told the story of a single girl: to question the idea that one child with Down syndrome can stand for all children. And it’s why I told my story, spending a fair amount of time on my own misconceptions; I wanted to show the way in which my mind was changed.
One of the best parts of having the book out in the world is that I get to meet readers. The book is the beginning of a conversation, or many conversations, and it’s a true pleasure to continue that conversation with those who are interested.
You have read each other’s books; in what ways do you think your books are both similar and different?
For both of us, the arrival of a child with Down syndrome made us question our assumptions. Both of us felt the need to grapple with our questions publicly, in writing. Both of our books are deeply personal, and reveal a great deal about our own reactions to our children, and yet are circumscribed too: if I had to guess (I haven’t asked), I’d say that Amy Julia probably shares some of my wariness of memoirs that tell too much, of self-exposure without revelation.
One obvious difference is that Amy Julia’s writing is framed in Christian terms, and mine is not. At the same time, both of us are clearly fond of irreducible mysteries, and may even prefer questions to answers, so this difference—while significant—is not as huge as it might seem.
What was the most challenging aspect of telling your story? Integrating research with storytelling, managing large structures, and telling the truth without doing harm—or without doing too much harm.
If you had to write it all over again, would you change what you said in your book? If so, what would that be? Surprisingly, I don’t have anything I really want to change. But this is less smugness than self-protection: revision is endless, and I want to write something new.
How did you come up with the title of your book and how do you think it reflects on the story’s overall message?
The Shape of the Eye came to me fairly early, maybe a year or two into the project. I mainly like the way it sounds, and am hoping readers will discover their own connections between it and the story.
What was your favorite part in your story?
I’m partial to the descriptions of life before Laura, particularly the scenes with Ellie in North Carolina; to the short section about driving across the country with Theresa; and to the description of “Your Child’s Heart Book.”
What was your favorite part in Amy Julia/George’s story? There are many things I like—Amy Julia’s honesty, her thoughtful and complex meditations on the religious significance of her experience, and her presentation of faith. She is devout and self-searching at once; to this outsider, at least, it seems that her faith is renewed by intellect, by questions.
I also very much like Amy Julia’s account of Down syndrome in the world: the way people struggle to make sense of it, to reassure, or to reassure themselves. Particularly powerful: the scene at her mother’s book club, and the scene in which a husband’s colleague urges her to get testing, and questions her testing decision.
What projects are you currently engaged in? Any new books from you on the horizon?
For now, I’ve returned to short forms—short essays, mostly, though I may go back to poems as well. I’m turning over a few ideas for a new book, but don’t have anything specific or firm enough to report.
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
“Now that you’ve won a MacArthur Grant, sold the foreign rights to your book in thirty-seven countries, and attained book sales more typically associated with hastily written novels about vampires, to which part of New Zealand will your family be moving?”
Do you have any questions for the reader?
How has the advent of the e-reader changed your reading habits? For the better, for the worse, or somewhere in between?
George, thank you so much. I am deeply honored to host this conversation on this blog.
Readers, by responding George’s question, you will be automatically entered in the giveaway for his book, The Shape of the Eye.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.
I'd love to be entered to win the book if the contest is still open! The e-reader has been good for my reading habits; I can quickly and easily read samples from books that sound interesting and only seek out (at library, bookstore, etc) the ones I like best. Also, since I have three young children, including one with Down syndrome, I don't read as much as I'd like and the e-reader makes me feel like I have a whole library at my fingertips. A cool feeling, like living in New York City even though you hardly hit the town!