In the autobiography Gone With the Mind, author Mark Leyner uses a unique literary device to reflect on his past and tell his life story. More importantly, it helps him better understand who he is and how and why his life unfolded the way it did. After weighing Leyner’s technique, I can understand the impact of using self-dialogue in writing an autobiography.
Leyner’s literary device comes in the form of his alter ego, which he calls the Imaginary Intern. The Imaginary Intern is essentially Leyner himself, reliving his life in the context of a first-personshooter video game. In the game, Leyner follows himself – or the Imaginary Intern – as he ventures from one level to the next, or one life event to the next — from birth, to youth, to young adulthood and so on. This storytelling mechanism gives Leyner an exclusive kind of intimacy in deciding what events are important to tell.
Gone with the Mind begins with Leyner speeding down the highway—his drunken mother at the wheel. Under the circumstances, death is imminent. At that moment, Leyner understands the vulnerability of life, so he begins looking back. While watching life scenarios fl ash by, Leyner writes, “… the boy saw everything that would ensue in his life. Everything.”
This setting puts readers into Leyner’s mindset and his relationship with his mother. By placing the Imaginary Intern side-by-side with him in this scene, readers can glimpse into Leyner’s past while projecting into his future. “How the brutal indifference of time was like a vast, inexorable army of locusts…”
Gone with the Mind (the Paris Review, Spring 2015 edition) made me think about the “insight” all life-term prisoners seek in defining who they are. Many lifers struggle to truly understand themselves, making it difficult to talk about their past, present and future. Perhaps some lifers could benefit by doing as Leyner does — that is, recounting their lives through stages and considering how each stage influenced and led to the next.
“How the brutal indifference of time
was like a vast, inexorable army of locusts…”
Leyner models his autobiography after an adventure-based video game, but he is in fact not a video game enthusiast. In Gone With The Mind Leyner purchases a real video game and attempts to play but fails. His ineptness leads to the realization that he is better at saying how he wants his life to be than living it in ways he imagined.
Aside from his creative literary techniques, Leyner’s insightful passages in Gone with the Mind also grabbed my attention, for example, “…how the brutal indifference of time was like a vast, inexorable army of locusts…” As a life-term prisoner, I have always considered time as a driving force in storytelling. I am fixated on doing my time in a way that makes me better at understanding who I am. I, too, seek insight into how I got where I am. I know there will come a time when I must closely look at my life and talk to everyday-people about some painful moments. That is my test.
What is interesting about Leyner’s narrative is that he has recruited himself, the Imaginary Intern, to dissect the most significant events of his life. “… it’s nice to have a friend, a comrade, a ‘paracosm,’ whatever, to share things with,” writes Leyner about life and his alter ego. The advantage for lifers is that they too can do this in order to learn about themselves. Take a step back, and be unbiased about who you are.
-Juan’s Book Review