Memoir remains a popular genre, but fictionalizing one’s life story offers an author the freedom to tell a story without it feeling quite so personal or bound to facts. Author Myrna Lou Jastra takes this approach with When Writing Morphs into a Lifetime, an unusual love story.
Lor and Ermin meet when she’s given a chance to write for a student magazine that he edits. Their attraction is mutual and powerful, but the cultural mores of Manila in the late 1940s force them to take it slowly. They seem destined to be together, but then a twist keeps them apart for a few years before they marry and begin a family, while both maintaining professional lives.
The book offers no chapter breaks, and the story presses onward with no real theme or focal point. Ermin demands that Lor give up dreams of furthering her education to follow him in his military career, and she happily does so, while continuing to get jobs writing. It’s gratifying to read about the family’s efforts to adapt when they immigrate to the U.S. and Lor is finally able to attend graduate school in Los Angeles.
One reason for turning what is basically a memoir into a novel is that the addition of fictional elements can smooth over a memoir’s necessary roster of life events, leaving out some lesser events and inventing others to keep the story lively and captivating. Unfortunately, Jastra doesn’t do that here. Readers will find many mundane occurrences as well as uplifting ones; thus, the story tends to drag rather than power to a climax. In addition, fictionalizing the story seems to have removed some of the direct, emotional impact one might receive from a nonfiction approach. As a result, one wonders if When Writing Morphs into a Lifetime might work better as a memoir.
Nonetheless, it remains a touching, if meandering, story of finding one’s way in love and the world at large.
Also available in hardcover.