10. A biography: Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson
Between my enjoyment of this book and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, I may be developing a type: autobiographies by queer women with anxiety disorders. (The jokes are easy enough to make about why I in particular like them.)
Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame is a 2016 autobiography by Mara Wilson. Audiences today might know her as a blogger, playwright and voice actress of the Faceless Old Woman in Welcome to Night Vale, but her claim to fame that ended up overshadowing all that came after it were her child acting roles. She starred in the movie adaptation of Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, and for a handful of years in the nineties she was everywhere. Everywhere. But puberty wasn’t as conventionally kind to her as some of her child acting peers like Kristen Stewart and Scarlett Johansson, so rather than be constantly criticized for outgrowing her cuteness or pushed into “best friend roles”, she left Hollywood acting in her early teens. The book covers from her earliest ambitions of acting and storytelling as a child, through her Hollywood career, and past her college years and into her professional life in the playwriting world. But despite covering a long period of time, the chapters are arranged far more by subject, with a general chronological march forward but avoiding the pitfalls of “then this happened, then this happened”.
Wilson’s writing style is approachable and warm; it feels like being in a conversation with someone and works quite well for the more dense sections such as discussing her mother’s death when she was eight. It tends to wander a bit in stories about high school, and the back third on the whole isn’t as tightly written as the first two, but some of the early ones are just lovely in their crafting. The two chapters that pack the most punch are “Elementary Existentialism”, tracing the progression of her faith and her relationship with death in snippets over the course of her childhood and teen years, and “A Letter”.
Her writing about her childhood roles in the early chapters have one conspicuous absence, which is filled in “A Letter”. This chapter is a letter that Mara Wilson writes to the fictional character Matilda Wormwood, discussing their relationship and what they have meant to one another. Mara is the face by which most people know the character Matilda, and Matilda is the role that people know if they have any knowledge of Mara Wilson at all, a name that surpasses her own. This chapter traces her progression from loving the book as a child, through the joy and anticipation of being cast, the production that held the death of her mother in the middle of it, and the shadow that Matilda cast over the rest of her life. It ends on a note of reckoning and appreciation, and feels like a complete unit on its own. It connects and weaves into the book surrounding it, but it is the real standout; I really liked Where Am I Now?, but I loved “A Letter”.
Maybe this book hit me harder than it would some readers: the Matilda movie was part of my childhood and Wilson and I are close enough in age that I got a lot of pangs of nostalgia from her references to her high school pop-culture references, her time living in New York (where I lived for two years), and her sister’s life in San Francisco, where I live now. I don’t know how much the book will resonate with readers who are not of the generation to have grown up with Wilson’s movie roles. But I do think that the writing and introspection is strong enough to make it a worthwhile read no matter what angle you are coming at it from. And it would be pretty poetic and in line with the book if someday Mara Wilson were better known as an author than as Matilda.
Would I Recommend It: Yes