Even before the smells and sights and, later, the terrible slamming seizures, even before all this, my mother thought I was doomed, which, in her scheme of things, was much better than being mediocre. (Slater 10)
Lauren Slaters question mark shaped memoir, Lying, is anything but untruthful. Instead of traditional/physical truths, however, we the readers are given emotional truths. These truths come in many forms and play off of the themes of the book (Mental illness, coming of age, the parent-child relationship, and sexuality to name a few).
It seems as though Slater could fill a library with literature on the subject of mental illness. First off, Lauren was definitely a victim of Münchausen syndrome by proxy and writes about it heavily in her memoir. Its not a traditional MSbP, her mother doesn’t seem to be causing her epilepsy directly (how could she), but Slater knows her mother wants her to be an epileptic. She references these frail memories with moments like, “I woke up from a long seizure on the floor. Every muscle ached. There was blood in my mouth. I opened my eyes and saw her standing above me, staring at me, probably, for a long long time…When a seizure rolled through me, it didn’t feel like mine; it felt like hers…This, the gift I gave you.” and on the previous page, “She seemed to almost like the illness”. These moments tell us that Slater may not have ever feigned epilepsy but for her mothers thirst for attention and novelty.
All in all, it is important to remember that a memoir doesn’t have to be 100% historically accurate. The word memoir comes from the French “mémoire” meaning memory. And as we learned from Sarah Koenigs podcast Serial, memories are not always as reliable as we want them to be. The point is, Lying is an account of Slaters young life as she sees it while looking back which allows it to be classified as nonfiction. Slater uses her Münchausen spawned epilepsy as a literary device to draw attention to the matrix of truth in memoir. Memoir shaped, if it could be, like a question mark.