Truth and Memoir

Lauren’s Slater’s memoir, “Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir”(2000), is probably the most frustrating piece of creative non-fiction I have read to date. But has Slater effectively toed the line between fact and fiction carefully enough not to send her book to the other side of Barnes and Noble? The truth is slippery for all of us, maybe we can’t remember exactly what our parent’s said to us on our fifth birthday party, or what color our sheets were–how much embellishment ejects us from the very genre of memoir? Are we thrown away when we lie about our corpus callosum being severed by a doctor that we invented? Personally, I think that as long as the author relays to the reader, in some way that is recognizable, the parameters of their own unique conception of fact and fiction, then the factual integrity of the details becomes sort of irrelevant. I think the conception of hard and fast truth becomes even more slippery when dealing with mental and physical illness that touch the author in question. I think Slater herself is critiquing creative non-fiction itself when she forces her readers to actively sleuth her words for evidence that maybe she never had epilepsy at all, or maybe it’s been Munchausen’s the whole time? This memoir tests the very range of embellishment in order to capture the fluidity of truth in her mind and body. Ultimately, we come away with the idea that truth is a device and a character, rather than a prerequisite for Slater.

“Lying” is a self-proclaimed “metaphorical memoir” that repeatedly breaks the implicit contract of trust between reader and writer. Slater uses the subjective truth throughout to not just toy with her readers, but as a device to get to the very heart of how she feels on a daily basis. To be untrustworthy to your very core, and the implications and (often humorous) disasters that follow. I think if Slater had not been dropping breadcrumbs of suspicion, or details that directly contradict a previous statement, then it would throw this memoir’s characterization as CNF completely into question. I also do not believe any of the exaggerations made were done so to “make the story sound better” or be more “marketable” to publishers or readers.

When an author does not make known the parameters of their truth, I think you get a situation more akin to what happened with James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” (2003). “A Million Little Pieces” came with no red flags or breadcrumbs, and the book was delivered to Oprah book club readers as painfully honest and raw. When it came to light that much of his story had been embellished, and exaggerated without any notice to readers, many felt completely betrayed. Oprah herself said she felt, “Duped”, because the intimacy built between reader and writer had been violated, and with that violation came a backlash of inordinate proportions. Frey was publicly disparaged by Winfrey, and his complete body of work thrown into question. It was found out that his jail time spanned three days, not three months, and that his girlfriend at the time had not died. This particular incident also makes light of how publishers do not fact check events or vet the book for accuracy to the author’s life, but rather just screen for libel. A call for policing author’s truths soon came afterward. In a post-James Frey scandal writing environment, readers and publishers have never been wearier of what they’re reading.

Further reading:

http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1897924,00.html
http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/168334/lying-by-lauren-slater/9780307830166/

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