The Real Jessica Darling Stands Up

By Neal Comment

mccafferty.jpgMegan McCafferty (left) broke her public silence briefly yesterday afternoon, speaking to a group of young fans (and curious media) at Teen Central, the YA wing of the NYPL’s Donnell Library Center, but there was one topic that was not to be discussed: Kaavya Viswanathan’s pervasive swiping of McCafferty’s first two novels. After reading from her latest, Charmed Thirds, McCafferty did take questions, but they’d been submitted on index cards beforehand and carefully screened. We met a Harvard Crimson reporter before the show started, and his on-the-scene report has the best of McCafferty’s significance-loaded statements: “I think the only way you can become a writer is through honing your voice, creating your own voice.”

The part that struck this observer, though, was McCafferty’s discussion of her intense identification with Jessica Darling, the star of her three books. “Jessica is definitely an extension of my personality,” she said, “although she’s ten years younger than me… She’s become a hugely important part of my life.” Writing Jessica’s story, which McCafferty says she does in “real time,” becomes practically an exercise in Method acting for the author. And though she didn’t extend the thought further, eventually McCafferty will come around to discussing what it’s like to find your alter ego‘s voice coming out of someone else’s mouth.

Meanwhile, following her lackluster appearance on Today, Viswanathan submitted to a Dinitia Smith interview where she confessed to reading Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings “three or four times” each, and floated the suggestion that her writing mirrors McCafferty’s so exactly because she has a photographic memory, but then added, “I really thought the words were my own. I guess it’s just been in my head.” Now, my expertise on eidetic memory, as it’s more clinically known, is limited to seeing the episode of Columbo with Laurence Harvey about 49 times, but isn’t the point of perfect recall that you remember the source of your memories as well as their basic content? Well, it’s not like Viswanathan’s a neuropsychological expert, either: “I feel as confused as anyone about it, because it happened so many times,” she says. (And that’s only the copyings they know about at Harvard; there may be many others that just haven’t been discovered.)

ljkolb.jpgOverworld author Larry J. Kolb (right) told me that while he personally doesn’t consider himself eidetic, other people have suggested he is, based on his own ability to memorize lengthy passages of poetry and prose. “Usually, I can remember what book I read something in, and about what section of the book it was in (opening, or an early chapter, or a middle chapter, or a later chapter, or the denouement, etc.),” he says, “and usually I can very clearly remember which side of the spine it appeared on (verso or recto), and almost exactly where on the page it appeared (top, a few lines down from the top, middle, almost at the bottom, at the bottom, etc.). But…I have also found that sometimes that’s not the case at all: I can remember something I read somewhere, and when I look for it in the place I expect it to be, it isn’t there—and eventually I find it is actually elsewhere in the same book, or in another book by the same author or on the same subject, etc. Or sometimes I can’t find it at all, and I am stumped by why I have such a clear memory of it but can’t find it.”