One day in the early 1990s when the news was filled with the story of the Menendez brothers, my wife, Jane, was driving with our three-year-old daughter, Callie. A reporter said something about the Menendez brothers killing their parents and Callie asked, “Did they say ‘kill their parents’?” to which Jane quickly replied, “Yes, they were bad boys, weren’t they? We don’t kill our parents.”
Writing family history is a notoriously fraught enterprise. The reputations of the dead, the memories of the living and the artifacts that threaten both combine to make it a problematic literary task that most writers avoid—or else disguise in fiction.
When Tim King organized a sleep-out in Chicago last year, 300 students from across the Midwest came to raise awareness of homelessness by gathering signatures for a petition, holding up signs and even “sleeping out” on the Magnificent Mile.
Elvis Presley shook hands with Richard Nixon in 1970, but it wasn’t much more than a fleeting photo op. When Bono got together with President Bush for lunch at the White House in October, however, they spoke for nearly two hours about debt relief, AIDS and other issues.
One of Salman Ahmad’s earliest gigs was a talent show at King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he was studying to be a doctor. Moments after he strummed his first chords, Islamic fundamentalists barged in, smashed Ahmad’s guitar and drum set, and broke up the show.