Truth and Reality

John D’Agata has been described to me before as a literary bad-boy, creating a row amongst literary scholars and readers with his creative-fictional-non-fiction. He, like many authors I have read recently, bends reality to fit his artistic vision. In About a Mountain, D’Agata writes like a journalist, projecting facts so seemingly concrete that I didn’t second-guess him until I read his Notes section at the end, which lists the facts he altered and provides readers with the real facts. Once again I defend the use of alteration in pursuit of emotional truth. In fact, I would not call the Notes section true and instead call them realistic. The rest of the book is what is true. In the very beginning of the book we are introduced to a real estate agent who is selling D’Agata’s mother a home. We later discover that this was a composite character, made up of two real estate D’Agata spoke to while in Las Vegas. The reality is that there were two real estate agents, but the truth lies in their composite character. It is true that the real estate agents were seedy characters, and there is no fault in condensing the information in a way that is more pleasing to the reader and more efficient to deliver. I will say that I would be more disappointed to discover on my own that D’Agata altered details such as this, instead of him telling me within the book. It’s jarring to have reality break down before your own eyes, but it is my personal belief that this does not always affect truth.

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