Coming off Lauren Slater’s “Lying” I feel like an overly permissive parent when it comes to “About A Mountain”, I feel stable in John D’Agata’s hands, while in Slater’s I was never really sure where I stood. He admits “Although the narrative of this essay, suggests that it takes place over a single summer, the span between my arrival in Las Vegas and my final departure was, in fact, much longer. I have conflated time in this way for dramatic effect only, but I have tried to indicate each instance of this below. At times, I have also changed subjects’ names or combined a number of subjects into a single composite character.” I feel secure in his intent to manipulate solely for the sake of “dramatic effect”, because that effect increased my enjoyment of a topic that many people often have no interest in. It must be noted that Lauren Slater and D’Agata are two different people, I feel as if nature and his section of notes makes him a reliable narrator. I do not feel as if someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes with a sort of game of two truths and a lie. I have no reason to doubt his authorial intent. It’s different, his ability to tell the truth in a psychological way is not put into question.
I think “About A Mountain’s” facts are not completely undermined by the admission of untruths or manipulations, and that it has earned its genre of creative non-fiction. Much of the book relies on metaphors to send its messages that have footing in the truth. Discussion about the warning system that is to be used to warn future generations about the dangers of Yucca Mountain stands out firmly. The debate about what the future will hold for linguistics and interpretation morphs into a sort of admission of futility in the act. Will humanity even go so far as to exist for so long? We are humored with the art gallery in which ideas for the warning have been offered, ludicrous things, including covering the entire mountain with human feces as a natural deterrent. This gallery is vital to the metaphor, everything about what is proposed by everyday people is simply speculative and just as good as the ideas that the panel comes up with. “Meaning” degrades into as D’Agata writes: finding “purpose of what’s apparently purposeless”. The location of Yucca Mountain in Vegas also complicates things. Vegas is notorious for its illusions, ranging from a call girl sub-in for a girlfriend to showgirls and flash in the pan happy unions. The tagline “What Happens In Vegas Stays in Vegas” is only so because it relies on illusion, while everything outside it is reality for a visitor.
I believe it to be only fitting that some details have been skewed or ignored, composite characters are done mostly for the sake of the reader, it aids in clarity and eases the burden on the reader. Most of what “About A Mountain” seems to be about is choice and interpretation. The question of how and if Yucca Mountain itself should be used as a nuclear container is itself up to interpretation and manipulation. It is noted that some scientists are relying on computer simulations rather than reality when it comes to the assessment of the safety of the container. To be completely honest, I would feel pretty ok if his admission of conflation of fact and fiction was not included. Although I think it actually helps “About A Mountain” as a “piece of art” (as it is called in its blurb), but it does ultimately not undermine key ideas and overall understanding of the text or its status as creative non-fiction.