Author Archives: Rachel Molino

Fact v. Nonfiction: Redeployment

I think that people who have never been to war have certain preconceptions and attitudes about it. For example, I think that if we read stories about a veteran having PTSD, we are automatically inclined to believe it as nonfiction because in our heads, all veterans have PTSD and it’s not really something to accuse as being false. When we read that poem about a PTSD episode at Home Depot or Lowes, I don’t think many people argued that it was fiction. I did because it seemed a little cliche and contrived, but that just might be because of my experience reading books that go more in depth on these issues, one of which was Redeployment by Phil Klay

Redeployment by Phil Klay was a collection of short stories that felt so much like non-fiction. The main reason this felt so real to me is because of the various conflicts that we don’t realize happen, but we don’t see because Hollywood doesn’t think these entertaining enough for the screen. For example, there was a story where one of the soldiers got shot in the head with a sniper round. His helmet prevented it from piercing, but the force of the projectile was enough to cause serious cranial damage, knocking him out cold. He awakens safe after an ensuing firefight, and is told by other members of the platoon that the Sergeant had spent his own life saving the main character’s. What his platoon members leave out, however, is that when he got knocked out, he fell behind cover that kept him safe from the shooting. The Sergeant had lost his life saving a life that didn’t need saving. This made me believe that the stories were real because this is something that would so feasibly happen, but we don’t hear about it because we idolize the soldiers overseas, so downplaying their deaths to make it seem like an awkward situation would seem disrespectful to their service. Still, the story may have been fiction, but based on real-life events that weren’t released.

What also made it seem nonfiction is that the collection of stories didn’t seem to have a consistent theme. It seems that war movies now have the same themes of love or family or camaraderie or how hellish war is. These stories, however, seemed to only want to tell a story, as I feel most nonfiction pieces do. Nonfiction pieces I feel exist to get someone’s story out in the open, while fiction has some sort of agenda. This agenda for war movies is usually to inspire young adults to enlist. These stories, however, followed men in the war, men at home after the war, and one boring one where the main character never saw any action, but finds a girlfriend who assumed he did while he’s in law school. The stories like this one are more about people than about soldiers. Nonfiction tends to humanize people (see: Mein Kampf), while fiction tends to create cliche humanoids, and the people in these stories were humanized from the rushes of adrenaline to the monotony of rating girls at a bar.

Fact v. Nonfiction: The Martian

This semester I read The Martian by Andy Weir which was also a movie but the movie sucked and the book was amazing. Obviously, the plot was fiction, but both my friend and I ended up having to google if it actually happened when we got halfway through the book because it all just seemed so real. What made it seem so real was not the plot itself, but the realistic ways in which Mark Watney handled the isolation. When I read the back cover, and heard the plot of the movie, I was expecting some sort of life-changing journey through discovery and isolation like other famous works like the Revenant. What I got, however, was something so purely funny that it could only be true. The kind of humor in the book was so situational – such as being a space-pirate – that I could not imagine these kinds of jokes just being thought up at a desk.

I’m not sure how real the science is in the book, but it was explained in such depth and so often that I thought that there was no way this could be made up. The reason I actually got my hands on the book is because my mom read the first chapter and complained about it being a chemistry lesson. But it all made so much sense and there was even humor in the science, that again, I didn’t suspect anybody could have sat down and created a situation that required so much knowledge of science and a great sense of humor. In my experience, the two traits don’t coincide much.

What also made it seem so real was the pop-culture references, such as old disco music I didn’t recognize and old shows like Happy Days. I think especially these days with copyright lawsuits and the like, it’s rarer and rarer that we’re seeing brand names on tv, so I at least have associated real-life references to non-fiction. Putting the real world into the novel made it seem more realistic.

One element that made it more fictional was the change in point of view. The non-fiction-seeming parts were from Watney’s point o f view, as he did all the science. What drew me out of that realm, but was still well-written, were the portions of the story that switched to what was happening at NASA to bring him back home. Generally, non-fiction is told from one point of view. This is because everyone sees fact differently, and what might be fact to one person is made up to someone else who experienced the same thing. While that couldn’t really happen with such a fact-based, scientific novel, it still took me out of the main character’s head and reminding me that it wasn’t real.