A ghostwriter pens her own revealing story.
Cagan (Peace Is Possible, 2007, etc.) has worked as a professional writer for more than 20 years. On the surface, she’s lived an enviable, adventurous life, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and traveling the world. Yet her memoir is an honest, balanced reflection that follows the circuitous path she took to achieving peace and, perhaps, contentment. Cagan was a dancer for years before taking a foray into acting and eventually ending up as a writer. The self-confidence and discipline that Cagan learned in ballet helped her in many of her subsequent challenges and prepared her for the unconventional life she would ultimately lead. Later, as a ghostwriter, she learned the art of ordering the chaos of another person’s life and truly dissolving her own self to become “the other.” The memoir then reflects on her work as a writer, in addition to other aspects of her past, such as failed marriages, her relationship with her mother, and the death of a loved one. She explores broad topics, such as religion and aging, offering numerous anecdotes and relating hard lessons she’s learned. It’s an intriguing and potentially frightening undertaking to move from composing others’ stories to exposing one’s own inner workings. As Cagan does so, she’s often candid, humorous, reflective, and remorseful; she doesn’t shy away from divulging the darker aspects of her life, including frequent drug use and abusive relationships. Her memoir takes a nonlinear, thematically organized approach. This strategy pays off as the chapters pull from different eras of her life, connected by thematic threads. In “Intrepid,” for example, the topics range from her father’s fearlessness to her own courage years later volunteering at an AIDS hospice. In the closing pages, Cagan wonders whether she’s “done enough” to pen an interesting memoir. Simply put: she has.
A memoir from the shadows that’s just as fascinating as those that inhabit the spotlight.