Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Inspired By A True Story
I admit it -- I'm watching bits and pieces of Oprah's farewell season. Do I have a heart of stone? No, I think not. If I see one more of those sad song commercials, though, I might stab myself. I hate endings. Of anything. Yes, I know Detroit 187 is cancelled. I'm miffed. Beyond miffed. Anyway, I digress. In her last weeks, Oprah brought out old James Frey again for the public treatment. I read his book and thought it was a bit of a yawn. I love books about addiction and yet. It didn't ring all that true even before the "public stoning" in the words of Mr. Frey. It felt labored. It didn't have the cringe-factor I love in memoirs. Frey contends that most memoirists stretch the truth. (Variation on old joke -- How do you know if a writer is lying? His/Her lips are moving.) So I get what he's saying, but I take him to task for another issue entirely -- A Million Little Pieces didn't have the essence of truth to me. My favorites in the addiction genre are Augusten Burrough's Dry and Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. Both books have moments that get under my skin and well, make me want to have a drink. Both writers seem real in ways that I get. Are they lying? Who knows? Caroline Knapp died a few years ago and Augusten Burroughs, well, his life is so strange I'd find it hard to imagine he invented anything.
But I don't much care about whether the memoir genre is populated with truth-stretchers. It's hard to know what happened in anyone's life. I sympathize with James Frey given his predicament -- let's face it, how many of us could resist publication, the only price being saying our novel is a memoir? Our urge for "true" stories as an audience helps create these fake memoirs of which there are many current examples on the market. Cup of tea, anyone? I take pains to stick to the facts with nonfiction, but they're still my version of the facts, a narrative designed by me to put me in the best/worst light and that by the nature of any writing, will omit certain incidents. Because I can't remember. Or don't want to remember. Or can't include everything. Even so, readers always know the truth. It because of the cringe. Like art and pornography, we know it when we see it. Mr. Frey claims not to think much of the memoir genre -- that it's lesser art. I can't say that I agree except when someone is a big old liarpants. We all are, in one light, but just like the old detective show says, Just the facts. If we writers can stick to this policy given all the limitations of memory and narrative, it would be what Oprah herself would call a good thing.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right." Maya Angelou
Reading suggestion: Only As Good As Your Word Susan Shapiro
Benedictions and Maledictions