Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism

Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism Review

“Reading Scratched gave me the feeling of standing very close to a blazing fire. It is that brilliant, that intense, and one of the finest explorations I know of what it means to be a woman and an artist.”—Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend and Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction

In this bold and brilliant memoir, the acclaimed author of the novel Museum Pieces and the collection Mendocino Fire explores the ferocious desire for perfection which has shaped her writing life as well as her rich, dramatic, and constantly surprising personal life.


In the decade between age twenty-seven and thirty-seven, Elizabeth Tallent published five literary books with Knopf, her short stories appeared in The New Yorker, and she secured a coveted teaching job at Stanford University. But this extraordinary start to her career was followed by twenty-two years of silence. She wrote —or rather published— nothing at all. Why? Scratched is the remarkable response to that question.

Elizabeth’s story begins in a hospital in mid-1950s suburban Washington, D.C., when her mother refuses to hold her newborn daughter, shocking behavior that baffles the nurses. Imagining her mother’s perfectionist ideal at this critical moment, Elizabeth moves back and forth in time, juxtaposing moments in the past with the present in this innovative and spellbinding narrative.

She traces her journey from her early years in which she perceived herself as “the child whose flaws let disaster into an otherwise perfect family,” to her adulthood, when perfectionism came to affect everything. As she toggles between teaching at Stanford in Palo Alto and the Mendocino coast where she lives, raises her son Gabriel, and pursues an important psychoanalysis, Elizabeth grapples with the ferocious desire for perfection which has shaped her personal life and writing life. Eventually, she finds love and acceptance in the most unlikely place, and finally accepts an “as is” relationship with herself and others.

Her final triumph is the writing of this extraordinary memoir, filled with wit, humor, and heart—a brave book that repeatedly searches for the emotional truth beneath the conventional surface of existence.

Title:Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism

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    Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism Reviews

  • Marc

    This was a difficult read but I'm very glad I read it. Perfectionism is toxic and Elizabeth Tallent does an exceptional job in sharing the difficulties it has caused in her life in addition to her wri...

  • Shannon Pufahl

    If you read only one book in 2020, make it this one. Scratched is a book so unique, so profound and moving, so precise in both its descriptions of the physical world and the emotions we attached to an...

  • Huyen Chip

    Professor Tallent was one of my favorite writing professors. It was great reading her memoir and understanding where she came from....

  • Vincent Scarpa

    In a word: perfect. ...

  • Ammara

    This is a deep dive into the author’s life and struggles with perfectionism, which is more destructive than many realize. The book is a little difficult to read but there are some excellent insights...

  • Cor T

    It feels mean to criticize an author who writes to explain why she couldn’t write a book for 22 years due to perfectionism. Part I had such a meandering beginning that I couldn’t get my bearings u...

  • Megan Bell

    After an incredibly promising start, publishing 5 critically acclaimed books and nabbing a prestigious professorship at Stanford, Elizabeth Tallent published nothing for 22 years. This memoir is her r...

  • Claudia Greening

    First book in a long time that I had to go back and reread sentence after sentence—making sure I understood the structure, where the verb was hiding. It is beautiful, a triumph. A meditation on ment...

  • Chris Roberts

    Memoir as make it stop, audacious in conceit, the dizzying, dragging minutia, of a life lived grasping for metaphors. ...

  • Kathleen Gray

    I find it hard to review memoirs because it feels as though I'm judging someone's life and life choices. That's doubly the case here because this is really the story of how Tallent struggled and conti...