The Truth in Lies/”You Have to Ride the Wave”

People often confuse New Journalists with actual journalists. Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem is never meant to be a series of hard-hitting journalism, otherwise Didion would not reveal that she is “bad at interviewing people” (xiv) and that she dreads the whole process. No, it is a series of very personal accounts that aim to reveal California and in turn the state of the world as Didion herself sees it. Granted, the insistence to use quotes and source them in “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” may make it seem as though Didion is presenting the facts as they are and allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions, but to focus only on the incident about which she is writing is to do a horrible injustice to Didion as an author. Didion wrote “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” to show not what Lucille Miller did to Gordon Miller, but what the world does to people and what people to each other in reaction. In “Marrying Absurd” the focus isn’t on each couple, or their families — most are not even mentioned by name. Didion is creating a synecdoche with her essays, honing in on minute incidents that she feels represent her view of the larger picture. Therefore it is not necessary that she use only truth and fact in her depictions of each story, as long as she remains true to the total purpose. It would actually be a waste of time to relay the experiences exactly as they happened, and presumably the community of readers would fail to pick up on the subtleties that Didion so expertly excavates in her essays, leaving the pieces reduced to stale memoirs with no pulse or purpose.

 

By admitting to her presence at the end of the preface, Joan Didion proactively curbs any criticisms pertaining to veracity. She shifts the weight heavily towards the creative side of creative-nonfiction. This is a very important move to make as Didion, like any author with a purpose, must uphold all accountability as a writer so as to effectively deliver their message. Leaving readers with an expectation that all accounts within their piece are totally factual sets a writer up for failure. Case in point: Truman Capote’s novel, In Cold Blood, was met with heavy criticism not because his writing was poor or because his message was shallow, but because readers felt that they were not being given the cold hard truth like Capote had implicated. Phillip K. Tompkins wrote in Esquire:

BLOCK QUOTE —  Capote has, in short, achieved a work of art. He has told exceedingly well a tale of high terror in his own way. But, despite the brilliance of his self-publicizing efforts, he has made both a tactical and a moral error that will hurt him in the short run. By insisting that “every word” of his book is true he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim. — END

Tompkins states here that despite being a brilliant work of art, the novel will be overlooked by many as a result of Capote’s insistence that he was an objective reporter. Didion, however, hands readers the advantage of knowing right away that she holds bias and may or may not be presenting information in a way that manipulates opinion and allows them to ride the wave of her thoughts instead of being held down by doubt and distrust.


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