More Than a Review Welcomes Ronald C. Wendling, author of Unsuitable Treasure: An Ex-Jesuit Makes Peace with the Past. 

Ronald Wendling Unsuitable Treasure

Memoir and the Effects on Family:

     One of the most honest reactions to my memoir came from a relative who said that he didn’t like books that disclose details of a writer’s life that are none of the reader’s business. I understand that point of view, but my advice to readers like him is to stay away from books like mine.

I also understand the perspective of my sister, who found growing up in a family like ours even more painful than I did and who was naturally wary of re-living that pain as I presented it in my memoir. But there was also the cousin who backed up my portrayal of one character in our extended family with evidence of behavior on his part far worse than I had suspected.

What to make of all this? On the one hand our culture values sharing, but at the same time recognizes a need for parts of ourselves to remain secret, even perhaps from a counselor or confessor or best friend. I can’t say how best to balance these opposites, but I can say that listening to readers’ reactions to my memoir raised that issue of what to reveal and what to conceal in an especially vivid way. Memoir is a kind of literary selfie, and it can be as telling to hear people respond to that written photograph as to the kind you take with your smart phone camera. You find  your relationships clarified.

      One example of this, I hope, is my bond first with my daughters and then with my nephew and niece. Their main reaction to the father and uncle who left the prestigious Jesuit order as a young man in his twenties and chose to write about that experience later, has been silent support. That distant figure no doubt had his reasons, but the father and uncle they most care about is the one who has been present in their lives since those lives began. Their generation has had its difficulties with organized religion, but I hope they understand from the tenor of my writing that my difficulties were all in the details: a vow of celibacy I did not want to break, the threat of impeded psychological development, broken relations with Jesuit friends who were trying with me to do their best, dated regulations in freedom seeking times. But the Roman Catholic faith that struggled for survival in those details—that did not seriously waiver then and has not seriously waivered since.