Truth or Fiction: Does it Matter When the Lines Get Blurred?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It may be entirely fuddy duddyish of me, but I continue to ponder the matter of truth on the page—the need, as I see it, to get as close as possible to the what-actually-was when endeavoring in the minefields of memoir or literary nonfiction.  Yes, it is true:  What we remember shifts and slides during the very act of remembering.  Yes, it is also true, as Ander Monson writes in "Voir Dire," that, "The unreliability, the misrememberings, the act of telling in starts and stops, the ****ups, the pockmarked surface of the I:  that's where all the good stuff is, the fair and foul, that which is rent, that which is whole, that which engages the whole reader.  Let us linger there, not rush past it."  The only interesting life, on the page, is the shaped life, the contemplated one, the one sifted for meaning and insight.  But don't we have an obligation, nonetheless, to get it all as right as we can get it—to not deliberately work beyond the ken of what we believe happened?

Having been deeply moved by "The Wave," Francisco Goldman's Personal History story in this week's issue of The New Yorker, I went on to find this audio recording of an interview conducted with Goldman in The New Yorker offices.  Goldman is talking about both the essay and the novel, Say Her Name, that Grove is releasing this April.  Both pieces—the essay and the fiction—were inspired by the tragic death of Goldman's young wife.  Just why Goldman chose to call the long work a novel and the short piece an essay is hugely instructive, and, I think, honors both his wife and the respective forms.  You can find his commentary specific to that matter starting nearly 7:45 minutes into the conversation.


Lilian Nattel said...

"But don't we have an obligation, nonetheless, to get it all as right as we can get it—to not deliberately work beyond the ken of what we believe happened?"


Richard Gilbert said...

Thanks for this perspective, and the links. I too read the essay and was moved. The idea of that wave coming at them, at her, for days, or longer was so creepy.

By the way, your picture here is so great, as all yours on the blog are.

Rosella Eleanor LaFevre said...

As a writer inspired largely by my experiences and those of the people around me, I find my best stories are like compost piles: a collection of real-life experiences, emotional journeys I've taken or others have taken, and fictionalized elements. My characters are usually inspired by cross-sections of people I know. As I once read, it's hard to completely replicate someone's entire life and personality in a character; I've read that in instances where writers have written about real people -- as least as they see those persons -- the real-live people don't recognize themselves in the work. And, I believe that there are elements of the human experience which are so universal that all fiction is in some part true. Really, I think the distinction between the two matters less than the strength and power of the storytelling.

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