Humor and Haunting in Myriam Gurba’s Memoir

This week’s California Book Club newsletter: Myriam Gurba, Allen Ginsberg, and C Pam Zhang.

myriam gurba
MYRIAM GURBA

The genre of the memoir is particularly unique in how it grapples with the complexities of memory. Most memoirists’ central concern rests not with telling the truth as it happened but in detailing emotional depth and earnestness. Myriam Gurba’s 2017 memoir, Mean—which Alta’s California Book Club will discuss at its April 15 gathering—uses humor to relate moments of immense trauma and convey what it means to be a survivor of sexual violence.

Mean follows Gurba as she manages and lives with the wounds of her past. Gurba recounts the period between early childhood and young adulthood, when she came to terms with the centrality of race, sexuality, class, and misogyny in how girls and women structure their everyday lives. Just as the form of her story is not fixed—it is true crime, cultural criticism, poetry, queer coming-of-age—the tone of her narrative is also fluid. It’s hilarious, mournful, spirited, witty, irreverent.

“A stranger chose me to rape. There was no nepotism involved,” Gurba wrote derisively of her assault. “Stranger rape is like the Mona Lisa. It’s exquisite, timeless, and archetypal. It’s classic. I can’t help but think of it as the Coca-Cola of sex crimes.”

The delightful, surprising, and oftentimes unsettling hodgepodge of literary registers offers a multifaceted lens through which we, as readers, come to understand the complexities of Gurba’s life. There is no one way Gurba writes of her life because her life has not unfolded in a unilateral way. There are moments of joy, disconnection, meanness, niceness, love, hate, and pain, all of which make her who she is and allow us to understand how she relates to the world. Gurba’s memory, like her life’s story, is not static. Indeed, there is no singular way to remember something, and perhaps the appeal of Mean is that we might remember the same thing differently over time.

To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Gurba on April 15 about memory, meanness, and more, click here.


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CALIFORNIA MEMOIRS

Have you been enjoying Mean? Here are five titles that pair well with Myriam Gurba’s book. Alta


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In preparation for our upcoming CBC gathering, consider this close reading of the opening scene, where we lay out the central themes and questions of Mean. Alta


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GETTY IMAGES

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Alta

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