Imagine you are a writer, and at the very beginning of starting a creative nonfiction story. You’re sitting at a desk. Only a desk-lamp illuminates the desktop, and you are surrounded by darkness. All that matters is your clear mind, the pad of lined notebook paper on the desk and the #2 pencil sitting beside it. Before any graphite touches the paper, you think to yourself, “Why am I going to write this? “What is the main theme of the story?” Once writers find those answers, it is in their best interest to tell the story with the best accuracy they can, while most importantly making the story as intriguing as possible. Many times in creative nonfiction, writers will alter the truth, in order to make the story flow better and keep the reader engaged, which will help better project the main theme. When writers do this, are they straying from the truthful nature of nonfiction? Or are the white lies and alterations of the truth only included to help the author establish and clearly project their main theme?
In many CNF stories, such as About a Mountain by John D’Agata, writers alter the true plot and certain aspects of the setting. Not every writer will do this for the same reason. In Lauren Slater’s case, her deviation from the truth is a tool she uses to help her more clearly describe her theme. In Lying, Slater challenges her readers to question what is truth and what is fact. And based on her decision to omit whether or not she had epilepsy, followed by a personality disorder, followed by a split-brain procedure, it leaves the reader with thoughts such as, “Is Lauren Slater’s memoir a collection of fabrications of her memory, or were they real?” At the end of reading a story like Lying, knowing the exact truth does not affect the way I view the story, since the narration is so beautifully done. The same goes for D’Agata’s experience in Las Vegas.
After reading About a Mountain, I was impressed with the abundance of factual information and research that all went into D’Agata’s project of Mount Yucca. These included facts add to the realness of the story and give credibility to the author, as well as clarity for the reader. Since D’Agata included a heavy amount of facts and interview dialogues in his narrative, he made the decision to conflate time and combine characters in the story, deviating from the truth. Does this differ from other creative nonfiction pieces we’ve read and disallow it to be classified in the genre?
Think about the last time you told a story to a family member or friend. Before telling the story, did you generally think of how you want to tell the story and what specific details you want to include or exclude? Whether you tell the story in great detail, spending an extra few minutes carefully describing the story, or withhold certain details of the time, place, and people in the story; the story is still the same, as well as the main theme that your story is providing. D’Agata chooses to conflate aspects of the setting only in the hopes of making his message and main theme more clear. Doing so allows him to make a more exciting narrative that doesn’t drown the reader with information that only serves as a distraction from the main theme. When D’Agata chooses to reveal his notes at the end of the story, it only adds to the excitement and truthfulness to the story. The thirty pages of detailed notes in bullet formation proves the devotion that went into the Yucca Mountain, while also completely justifying the narrative as nonfiction. Although he experiments with the true nature of his time in Las Vegas, the story is not affected in a negative way because he of it.His notes are saved until the end as a surprise tactic, as well as a way of saving D’Agata’s ass. If after reading About a Mountain, a person were so appalled by his opening paragraph at the beginning of the notes chapter where it is stated that he made up some of the story and modified it by combining characters, that person could take the time to read the entirety of the notes to gain the true, but not as thrilling version of the story.
D’Agata uses his beautifully developed skills of research, metaphors, and storytelling in order to produce the outstandingly brilliant, suggestive narrative that is, About a Mountain. It is a great example of creative nonfiction, and how a genre has such a little effect on what an author decides to do with their work.