Lying: Not Just for Lauren Slater

At the closing section of About a Mountain we are informed by D’Agata himself that some of the details of the narrative were compressed “for dramatic effect only.” This can seem jarring to readers who have placed their utmost trust in the narrative. We knew from the start that Slater’s metaphorical memoir was blurring the lines between fact and fiction, but D’Agata’s confession comes as a surprise after we have already made the journey through his recounted experience. So the question is, Is it still nonfiction or has it become something else entirely?

D’Agata is no stranger to the literary world; to think that he changed some details and thought it would be inconsequential would be foolish. He does show us that he has some investment in the true state of affairs, as they exist outside of his narrative, in the Notes section at the end. Well, why not include all of that information in the first place and save himself some time and paper by no longer needing a Notes section? Looking at D’Agata’s position in the literary world reveals a few key facts about his process. He identifies himself as an “essayist” as opposed to a “nonfiction writer.” The introduction to Notes refers to the book in its entirety as a single essay. As we’ve discussed in class, the essay is the inner workings of the mind put to paper and time has proven that we are more lenient of the clash between fact and truth in this medium. The essays that he specializes in, as an avid contributor to the Seneca Review, is Lyric Essays. This medium in particular is notorious for placing art above fact, and for enforcing the notion that truth is a subjective experience. His compression of time and characters has no affect on the truth of the essay, which is a truth revolving around the dangers of both nuclear waste and the politics surrounding its disposal.

D’Agata, like Slater, is concerned with the message of his work. Where she makes a conscious effort to blur the lines between genres he is simply aiming towards maintaining an interesting narrative. My interpretation is that D’Agata’s commitment to truth keeps About a Mountain in the realm of nonfiction. A prime example of this is mindset is the final note, which regards Levi, the teenager who committed suicide that D’Agata briefly mentions. He admits that the setting he described no longer exists as it has since fallen victim to Las Vegas’ ever changing landscape. As he puts it, he “has chosen to remain loyal to the facts and images that surrounded Levi as he made his way to the tower on that summer evening.” The change that D’Agata made here was a deliberate alteration of his own experience in order to better fit his artistic goal; as a lyric essayist is often afforded, he placed art above fact but still held onto the slippery subjectivity of truth to do so.

Any mention of Levi must be accompanied by a mention of D’Agata’s book The Lifepan of a Fact. D’Agata was commissioned to write an essay regarding Levi’s suicide, an essay which was put under the keen eye of Jim Fingal, his one-time fact checker. The Lifespan of a Fact is an account of the two men’s disagreement on the importance of fact vs truth; D’Agata’s artistic truth did not meet the standards of Fingal’s set in stone definition. We can see that D’Agata has a tendency towards straying away from objectivity; whether or not this has a profound effect on the meaning of his texts is up to the reader’s own interpretation.

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