Epilogue: A Memoir

Epilogue: A Memoir

by Will Boast


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Named one of the Best Books of the Year by Buzzfeed, San Francisco Chronicle, and Publishers Weekly

Winner of the Rome Prize (John Guare Writer’s Fund)

“This remarkable memoir is written with extraordinary care, intelligence, and honesty.... In short, it’s fully alive.” —Phillip Lopate

For Will Boast, what looked like the end turned out to be a new beginning. After losing his mother and only brother, twenty-four-year-old Boast finds himself absolutely alone when his father dies of alcoholism. Numbly settling the matters of his father’s estate, Boast stumbles upon documents revealing a closely guarded secret his father had meant to keep: he’d had another family entirely, a wife and two sons.

Setting out to find his half-brothers, Boast struggles to reconcile their family history with his own and to begin a chapter of his life he never imagined. “Riveting, soulful, and courageously told” (Maggie Shipstead), Epilogue is the stunning account of a young man’s journey through grief in search of a new, unexpected love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631490439
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 05/18/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Will Boast was born in England and grew up in Ireland and Wisconsin. He won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for his story collection, Power Ballads, and the Rome Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere. He divides his time between Chicago and Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Pain 13

1 Comedians 25

2 The Queen on the Frozen Tundra 34

3 Epilogue 45

4 Exes 51

5 Kismet 60

6 Discretion 72

7 Near Misses 79

8 England, Why England? 82

9 Stranger 92

10 Relics 104

11 Lectures 114

12 Strangers 127

13 Hostage 141

14 A Balancing Act 153

15 Overdue 167

16 Empty Threats 186

17 One of the Lads 197

18 Sad Stories 207

19 Brighton 216

20 Ambrosia 224

21 Archaeology 231

22 The Family Seat 245

23 Buried 253

24 Home 258

25 Revision 266

Prologue 277


A Conversation with Will Boast, author of Epilogue

Your first book, Power Ballads, was a collection of short stories. What made you decide to write a memoir next?

I actually worked on both manuscripts at the same time, bouncing back and forth between them whenever I got stuck on a particular story or chapter. This is productive for me, and I often move between various projects. Over the years when I was writing Power Ballads and Epilogue, I also worked on a couple of different novels and a number of short stories that didn't fit, thematically, into Power Ballads. I'm now going back to all of that material and looking forward to finishing the novel and a new collection of stories. I've also been working on several TV scripts, which has been fascinating and a lot of fun.
As to what made me decide to write a memoir about the material in Epilogue rather than, say, a novel, that was a question I grappled with for a long time. It was such a complex and important question, in fact, that I finally incorporated it into the text of Epilogue itself, which is in part about the necessity of facing the subject of the book head-on rather than through fiction.

When you decided on memoir, which writers did you turn to for inspiration? Who are some of your favorites in the genre?

I read widely, but not in any kind of systematic way. I learned a lot from reading Frank Conroy, Katherine Harrison, Geoffrey Wolff, Jo Ann Beard, Sven Birkerts, Nick Flynn, and Mary Karr. Especially useful were Alexandra Fuller's beautiful and hilarious memoirs of her childhood in southern Africa, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. Her story is a sprawling one, but she manages to build little, self-contained, cinematic set pieces that encapsulate so much of her family's strife and longing. I came to Fuller late in the game, but she showed me how to tighten and rein in key parts of my manuscript.
It was also important for me not just to draw from contemporary memoir. I'm a huge Orwell fan and have read just about every word of his nonfiction. James Baldwin's essays are daunting, towering masterpieces. I didn't dare emulate them, but they were reminders of what could be done in the form. I also came to love the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg's essays, which employ a cool, understated irony to enormous effect. And the Austrian writer Gregor von Rezzori provided a model for how you might write with both great intimacy and a certain observational distance about family and your younger self. William Maxwell's novels and stories about the Midwest often have such a strong autobiographical component that they almost read like memoir, and I found a great deal to like in his work.
I also need to mention a couple of fellow writers who've shown me a great deal about how to write a personal story with honesty, conviction, and artistry. I was lucky enough to read Justin St. Germain's Son of a Gun and Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped in manuscript. We were all students of Tobias Wolff's, whose two memoirs, This Boy's Life and In Pharaoh's Army, I return to again and again.

Each member of your family is described so vividly, with both clarity and love. Did you feel you learned anything new about your relationships in the course of writing this book?

Almost certainly. It turns out you don't really think about your parents' lives much as you grow up, and one of the consolations of writing Epilogue was that I came to understand my mother and father with a much greater dimension than I would have otherwise. And even though I thought I knew my younger brother as well as I could know anyone, I never really paused to think about how difficult his life was when I was first away at college and he was home helping look after my mom, who was dying a very painful and dignity-stripping death from brain cancer. There are moments in Epilogue where I try to write through the perspective of each member of my immediate family, and that was some of the most difficult and revelatory work I did on the book.

You've lived in England, the Midwest, the South, the West Coast, and New York City; where do you feel at home?

I'm honestly not sure, and it's a question I struggle with often. England is still my family home and spiritual home, if you will, and it's where certain aspects of who I am seem to click right into place. Yet, after all of these years in the US, I certainly don't feel English. The Midwest, in particular Wisconsin and Chicago, also feels like home. But, as an adult, I've spent the longest stretch of time living in San Francisco. At the same time, I dreamed about living in New York for a long time. I have to say I love Brooklyn and California just about equally.
One of the nice things about being a writer is that you often have more time for travel and roaming than most people do, and I try to see family in England and friends scattered across America as much as I can. So, in a way, home goes with me. But it's still a struggle, and it's been a rare moment, over the last fifteen years, when I haven't had stuff scattered across four or five storage spaces and friend's basements and sheds.

Do you think the range of places you've lived has influenced your sensitivity to cultural differences and sharpened your observational skills?

Yes, I hope so. I can remember, back in Wisconsin, seeing grown men from my small town and up from the Chicago suburbs throw beers in each other's faces at the annual Corn and Brat Festival over some dumb argument about Old Style versus Pabst Blue Ribbon or the Bears versus the Packers. And in my hometown of Southampton, in England, it's not uncommon to see brawls between supporters of Southampton's football club and supporters from Portsmouth, our longtime southern rivals. So, one thing about living in several different places is that you don't get so entrenched in where you're from forming a big part of your identity. You become more accepting of strangers and unfamiliar cultural practices, and you're constantly exposed to ideas that challenge the notions you were raised with, all of which is a very good thing. On the other hand, you do long for that sturdy, impregnable sense of identity. I love Wisconsin and I love Southampton, but last time I checked I had six different transit cards for six different cities in my wallet.
As for any sharpening of observational skills—yes, I think so. You are weirdly always walking around, taking mental snapshots of places, and thinking what turn of phrase you could use to describe a building or a sky or a group of people in a café.

Having discovered such an array of secrets within your own family's history, do you believe that every family harbors secrets?

Every family has its secrets. You just haven't asked yet.

Why is the book called Epilogue?

I was twenty-four when my father died, and I thought then that I was the only surviving member of my family. I was alone, living in America, away from my extended family in England, and I had few and uncertain hopes for my future. My life seemed at that time like a mere epilogue, the last cursory chapter to my family's story. But then I made a discovery, one I never could've anticipated, that suddenly opened up a new chapter in my life. Several new chapters, in fact.
The funny thing about memoir (as opposed to the novel) is that the story doesn't end on the last page. Your life keeps changing, making a book of autobiography not quite a static document. Epilogue, as a title, is also meant to reflect this strange instability. There are structural implications as well. The first chapter of the book is a prologue, the third chapter is the "Epilogue," and the last chapter is titled "Prologue." A new beginning, in other words. Or a brief resting point, at least, before life starts spinning out more surprises.

Who have you discovered lately?

Ted Thompson's The Land of Steady Habits. Teju Cole's Open City. Akhil Sharma's Family Life. Jennifer duBois' Cartwheel. Maggie Shipstead's Astonish Me. Jamie Quattro's I Want to Show You More. Carlene Bauer's Frances and Bernard. All of which I read, admired, and enjoyed deeply over the last year.
I've also been reading a lot of nonfiction, with Ryszard Kapuscinski's journalism, the Goncourt Brothers' journals, and Jim Holt's funny books on philosophy being favorites and, oddly, Roger Ebert's movie reviews, which I read kind of compulsively

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