Autobiofictional

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 “an account of one’s personal life and experiences; autobiography,” according to dictionary.com. This being said, you would expect an accurate recounting of the author’s life, or a significant part of their life. Slater takes this definition and completely cans it. Just by reading the subtitle, A Metaphorical Memoir, the reader can tell that there will be something different about this book. However, this does not mean that it isn’t about her life, but as Slater puts it in the first chapter, “I exaggerate.”

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.

 

One thought on “Autobiofictional

  1. Joe Blasioli

    I agree with your stance on Lying. I believe it’s appropriately categorized as memoir. I, however, disagree with “dictionary.com” and their unthoughtful definition of the word memoir. It is not hard to find the word ‘memory’ within the word ‘memoir’. Because Lauren Slater insisted on marketing her book as memoir (“memoir” is right there on the cover), I as the reader, must assume that the text in question is an accurate account of her memory.

    As we learned the hard way with Serial by Sarah Koenig, memory is very fallible. In fact, basically all humans suffer from a psychological ailment called Retrospective Falsification. This means that people naturally embellish their personal stories because its easy, fun, and makes them sound more interesting.

    Due to Retrospective Falsification, I don’t think Slaters credibility should come into question. The book is meant to be an obstacle course; something that raises unfamiliar questions about truth and honesty. I think a memoir written by someone who openly “exaggerates” does just that.

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