Writers of memoirs used to be people who had explored the North Pole or starred in films or run for president; their writing was a final act of summary. These days memoirs are more often ordinary people’s chronicles of unfolding discoveries. They present life as a work in progress or a spiritual quest in which the author pays attention to the past to gain new insight.
One of the best practitioners of the genre is Patricia Hampl, as she shows in her lovely fifth memoir, The Florist’s Daughter, in which she pays tribute to the lives of her parents in St. Paul, Minnesota. “These apparently ordinary people in our ordinary town, living faultlessly ordinary lives, and believing themselves to be ordinary, why do I persist in thinking—knowing—they weren’t ordinary at all?”