Genre classification and Lying

When an author admits to exaggerating and lying in her own memoir, can his or her memoir still be considered nonfiction? In the book Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Slater talks about her own emotions and thoughts throughout the whole book, so for me there is no doubt that Lying is classified as creative nonfiction/memoir. Blaming Slater for not giving the reader factual truth would be like blaming your worst enemy for writing bad things about you in his/her diary. Yes, it would be morally wrong (in my opinion) to curse someone even in one’s personal diary, but few people would actually blame the writer for saying negative things about the person he or she hates (unless you knew the people involved perhaps, but that is irrelevant to my point). Readers should simply not expect Slater to give them factual truth, especially when Slater constantly reminds us to be cautious in what we take in as fact throughout the book through parts like this:

I have epilepsy. Or I feel I have epilepsy. Or I wish I had epilepsy, so I could find a way of explaining the dirty, spastic glittering place I had in my mother’s heart. Epilepsy is a fascinating disease because some epileptics are liars, exaggerators, makers of myth and high-flying stories… I am just confusing fact with fiction, and there is no epilepsy, just a clenched metaphor, a way of telling you what I have to tell you: my tale. (p5-6)

Some may ask, “Does classification of genre even matter?” To me, classification matters because it affects how a reader interprets a piece of text. Fiction is always a metaphor for reality, so when a reader picks up a work of fiction, he or she would interpret the story as (a) metaphor(s) of certain truths in reality. Typically, if a reader picked up a piece of nonfiction, he or she would not interpret the piece of text metaphorically––unless the author tells the reader to do so. Which in Slater’s case…well, duh. You might argue, “Well then, if we are supposed to interpret Slater’s memoir metaphorically, doesn’t that prove that it is fiction?” However, while we are supposed to take Slater’s memoir metaphorically, she also makes it clear to us that she is writing honestly about herself, that the metaphorical memoir is her way of opening her true self up to the reader. From what I see, “nonfiction” can be defined as emotional truth as well as factual truth. For example, if my best friend published a book which she claimed to be fiction, but I could see traces of her personal experiences and emotions scattered here and there throughout the book, I would still consider the work to be at least partly nonfiction. A metaphorical memoir should contain at least this piece of factual truth: the author has actually experienced the emotions portrayed in the memoir. (If Slater actually had not gone through the emotional struggles she describes in Lying and just made everything up based on nonexistent experiences, then we would have every right to blame her.)

Therefore, I do not believe that readers have the right to blame Slater for not describing factual truths. Rather, readers should accept the way Slater opens herself up to us, and whether we choose to attempt to understand her or not is completely up to us.

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