Premise Before Product

The problem with Lauren Slater is that she is conveying truth as she sees fit. This truth is complicated, considering that she has factors that allow her to come to a differing conclusion about her truths and ours. Her full acknowledgement and hints gives me a bit of leeway in wanting off the bat to have her memoir classified as CNF/Memoir. Isn’t the lens of Munchausen/Epilepsy a way of conveying truths creatively? Or am I just falling into the trap of appreciating Slater’s “auras that give [her] things? When truth goes through the machine that is Slater’s mind, is the end product so completely warped that it must be considered fiction to everyone outside of her bubble?

Here’s the thing that stops me from writing Slater’s whole work off as fiction: I think she cannot help her perception of events. She understands that things are wrong, she deals with frustration from her parents that will deny entire events happening. We know as readers that she is writing from a very shaky position, acknowledging “I’ve had several crack-ups, which I’ve omitted for the sake of the story’s structure. I have been driven crazy, I think by the existential truth made manifest in my flesh” (147). All memoirs are written in a way that must manipulate the truth, we make up dialogue, describe days that might not be exactly to the date we assign them, and we must make critical decisions about what gets to stay. She is honest in warning the reader that events should be taken with a grain of salt. Memoir classification should be based on authorial intent, is this author intentionally misrepresenting themselves and other people for personal gain? If yes, then I believe it should be classified as fiction. Other people may classify it by the bare percentage of facts that can be nailed down and proven. I don’t think you can do that with “Lying”.

Classification as creative nonfiction for “Lying” is sort of what makes Slater’s piece so perfectly compelling. We as readers want to catch someone in a lie, we want to gather evidence and sort through beautiful prose like someone looking for little lying lice in what appears to be shiny, healthy hair. Her prose flows so cleanly that it is so easy to get swept up with everything, even the constant romanticizing of illness. We must ground ourselves every few pages, and be active in our reading. With proper precautions, a cover that screams its formatting and uniqueness “There is only one kind of memoir I can see to write and that’s a slippery, playful, impish, exasperating text, shaped, if it could be, like a question mark,” it lets its state of being be known.

I get this impression that lying in this piece is sort of a darkness that hurts both Slater and the reader. She is trapped by it when she has her brain slit. Her lies have grown too strong to admit she was faking, yet she cannot forfeit even when it ends in a mind altering operation. We understand that her mental state is warped to a degree so far, that even though it is ingrained in us to preserve and protect our bodies, she lets it happen. With that in mind, and the pretty clear disclaimer that this is a questionable work factually, it is perfectly fine to classify “Lying” as CNF.

One thought on “Premise Before Product

  1. Zach Muhlbauer

    I think, as you hinted at in your third paragraph, there is an interesting end product that emerges when fluent, lyrical prose is combined with an unreliable narrator: the former almost covers up the true nature of the latter. At least in my case—and I admit, I’m a sucker for beautiful language—I was so caught up in admiring her words that I more naively fell into her lies. The legitimate and persistently thoughtful quality of her writing tends to serve as a red herring at times, diverting our attention and inhibiting our skepticism as to Slater’s more fundamental truths. So, you’re right, we must indeed ground “ourselves every few pages, and be active in our reading,” lest we trap ourselves in the quicksand of our author’s charm and manipulation.

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