Looking for a Fight (OR: William gets needlessly angry about About a Mountain)

At the very end of John D’Agata’s About a Mountain, he reveals a small fact about the story: that some of the things within the story that he passed off as being completely accurate were purposefully altered, whether for dramatic effect, or to protect the identities of those he speaks about. In other words, the non-fiction story is not entirely non-fictional.

Who cares?

That last line was mostly just an attempt to ‘hook you in,’ as all the cool kids say nowadays. But to be serious: really, who cares? Why does it matter if D’Agata fudged some of the details? Does that mean that everything else he said was bull? Of course not. To imply something like that is using the same logic that moral absolutists use to argue that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist and that Martin Luther King was nothing more than a savage who beat his wife. One error does not erase hundreds of truths, nor the theme of the book.

And in terms of whether or not this can still be “considered creative non-fiction”–hell, didn’t we already talk about this? Isn’t this what Lying was trying to tell us, in between anecdotes of rape and epilepsy-assisted masturbation? That the concept of genre is completely arbitrary, and that the teaching that it is an objective guideline of a story’s contents is foolish, if not outright ignorant? It’s the kind of thing that gets taught from ages 4-18, but then you realize that ‘genre’ is just a way to make literature easier to understand for a general audience. At this point, to try and argue that something as simple as creating composite characters somehow “disqualifies” About a Mountain from the creative non-fiction genre is like arguing that dinosaurs and humans lived together; sure, you’ve probably scraped up some rudimentary defense for your view based on things you were taught in school, and sure, it’s easier for children to understand–but at the end of the day, what you’ve been taught is simplified gibberish, masking the real truth of the matter.


To answer the questions directly:

No, this “deviation” does not affect my view of his story–it can barely even be called a deviation. It’s more like ‘a technique to make the story actually readable, so that the audience doesn’t have to navigate pages of useless, irrelevant information.’

Yes, revealing this info still makes it okay for the text to be considered CNF. Genre is meaningless (stronger words would fit as well).

And finally, how would I react if I discovered the deviation after reading the book? I can give you my exact words upon learning of it: “Oh. Okay, cool.” The revelation means so little to me, affects my reading of the book in such a small way, that I couldn’t be bothered to give it a second thought. Hell, I probably would have assumed the same thing, even without reading the Notes section.

It’s like what Slater stated:

 Everyone knows that a lot of memoirs have made-up scenes; it’s obvious. And everyone knows that half the time at least fictions contain autobiographical truths. So … does it even matter? (Slater 160)

No, Lauren, dear, it does not. I sincerely believe that John D’Agata couldn’t care less what we think about his genre. What he cares about–and I would think most authors care primarily about–is the themes of his story, and what we think about them. In this book, I believe D’Agata is attempting to make a statement about humanity’s capacity to plan ahead, to overcome present desires for future prosperity. How does a composite of two real estate agents (D’Agata 204) change that? How does About a Mountain‘s placement in Barnes & Noble change that?

It doesn’t. Anyone trying to claim that D’Agata’s notes section invalidates this story’s non-fictional aspects is looking for something to argue about.


EDIT: Something that I just remembered. On Page 134, D’Agata tells us that it took eight months to successfully schedule an appointment with Dr. Fildes. That is most certainly longer than “a single summer.” D’Agata didn’t even “lie” to us within the story, making this even more of a non-issue than before.

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