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.
I think that Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home most definitely qualifies as literature. From a basic perspective I don’t believe its Tragicomic standing removes its literary aspect, but actually enhances it. On one basic level, children’s lit is full of comics and pictures, but it remains literature. I think the only reason that anyone would be hesitant to award literary qualification is if they believe comics cannot aid in telling a story, and a true one at that. Fun Home tracks one woman’s exploration of her identity within the confines of her father’s death/suicide, in an insightful thought provoking manner. The visual aspect of the piece functions as a form of symbolic words, it sometimes conveys something that would be too difficult to explain. On the first page we see a young Bechdel interacting with her father, in what would take more than a page to explain we see and understand when our eyes meet page. Their relationship is one of reluctance, her father lays on the floor reading, and is hesitant to lift his daughter up above him and play. Bechdel’s face is obscured the whole time, which hints at come sort of coming complexity, while their physical parallel position hints at their later similarities in life.
Coming off Lauren Slater’s “Lying” I feel like an overly permissive parent when it comes to “About A Mountain”, I feel stable in John D’Agata’s hands, while in Slater’s I was never really sure where I stood. He admits “Although the narrative of this essay, suggests that it takes place over a single summer, the span between my arrival in Las Vegas and my final departure was, in fact, much longer. I have conflated time in this way for dramatic effect only, but I have tried to indicate each instance of this below. At times, I have also changed subjects’ names or combined a number of subjects into a single composite character.” I feel secure in his intent to manipulate solely for the sake of “dramatic effect”, because that effect increased my enjoyment of a topic that many people often have no interest in. It must be noted that Lauren Slater and D’Agata are two different people, I feel as if nature and his section of notes makes him a reliable narrator. I do not feel as if someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes with a sort of game of two truths and a lie. I have no reason to doubt his authorial intent. It’s different, his ability to tell the truth in a psychological way is not put into question.
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?
In my experience with creative non-fiction I’ve come across many techniques for delivery of information. What I think Ross McElwee has used is a sort of braided essay, albeit with some stray threads (ahem, Burt Reynolds). In Sherman’s March we originally start with Civil War Sherman and his rampage to the sea, but then we get slightly distracted when Ross is broken up with by his girlfriend for another man. It is then that McElwee begins his own sort of march through past relationships, new relationships, and possibly what’s wrong with his own inability to couple happily. We also gain such interiority from McElwee that is not usually seen in a normal documentary, he is unafraid to turn the camera on himself and be intimate with his audience, which I think is just another characteristic of creative non-fiction. Just on a side note, it seems so funny that McElwee builds himself on a man that is solely known for the destruction of his home region. Although, McElwee acknowledges that Sherman liked the South regardless, even had friends in Charlotte–so he does provide a certain complexity.
Koenig is very much in the same position that we all are as listeners, she’s in control of how the story is presented, but ultimately, the ending is completely independent of both author and listener. While we were discussing authorial intent we were critical of reality televisions and that they were not accurate in the way that they were being presented. Most agreed that their entertainment value outweighed the truths of both character and narrative. Well isn’t this true for creative non-fiction writers? To an extent the same applies to Didion and Thompson who are part of the stories that they are telling, they may, in some instances lead certain writers to change/manipulate their own lives for the benefit of their story or maybe something else…
My kneejerk reaction to the statement “writers are always selling someone out” was based within the confines of John Wayne: A Love Song. In such an essay Didion sells herself out first by revealing how she has lived so long in awe of this man, but in the second part of the essay she breaks the cult of personality surrounding him, which would be considered by most to be not doing John Wayne a solid in the presentation of a now ill and cancer stricken Duke. Didion betrays the popular idea of Wayne in simply her humanization of him/added complexity—she doesn’t destroy, buy offers a grounded lens. Didion’s feelings that she is “selling out” by providing her own representation is complex; the selling out does not entail what most of us would consider—like a cheating husband, or not filing taxes—Didion’s selling out is mostly concerned with attention and involving herself in a subject’s life. A need to feel invisible is vital to Didion’s level of ability: ““My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does”—her “advantage” allows her to see how people really are and in turn break preconceived notions of self or public perception.