Have you ever wondered who it is that decides what genre to call a certain piece of writing? Is it the author? Is it a group of snobby intellectuals sitting around a table that “know best”? Or is it the audience that it caters to? And further, what sort of criteria could even be used to define each and every work into a specific genre? Lauren Slater’s “memoir,” Lying, is a perfect example of this.
For starters, memoir should be defined. One definition of memoir is “
Throughout the entire book, Lauren Slater has the audience questioning whether or not she truly has epilepsy. A lot of the occurrences in her life that Slater reflects on also seem hyperbolic, or even completely made up. Contrary to her claims of being an epileptic, she also claims that epilepsy is merely “a metaphor for her life and her relationship with her mother.” This takes away from her credibility, but she does admit that the information may or may not all be completely factual, which one could argue adds to her reliability. So what does this mean? Is her book not actually a memoir because she uses gross exaggeration and metaphor to represent her life?
Personally, I find the categorization of genres to be relatively insignificant, unless the author has specific intentions for how the piece should be perceived by the audience. Calling Slater’s Lying a memoir is not exactly wrong, she wants it to be viewed as a memoir. This changes the initial perception of a work, giving the reader certain expectations. If calling this book a memoir happens to irk you, then call it creative nonfiction. Although Slater should not exactly be trusted for truths, her book is entirely about her and concretely grasps the essence of her personal identity. Not many writers can do this, even when they are being completely factual and accurate.