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When Did Fiction Become A Dirty Word?

March 3, 2008
Another author has been exposed as presenting a memoir that turns out to be fiction with loosely based elements of other people’s realities instead of the author’s.

The revelations of Ms. Seltzer’s mendacity came in the wake of the news last week that a Holocaust memoir, “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years” by Misha Defonseca, was a fake, and perhaps more notoriously, two years ago James Frey, the author of a best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” admitted that he had made up or exaggerated details in his account of his drug addiction and recovery. […]

“Love and Consequences” immediately hit a note with many reviewers. Writing in The Times, Michiko Kakutani praised the “humane and deeply affecting memoir,” but noted that some of the scenes “can feel self-consciously novelistic at times.” In Entertainment Weekly, Vanessa Juarez wrote that “readers may wonder if Jones embellishes the dialogue” but went on to extol the “powerful story of resilience and unconditional love.”

I want to know what is wrong with Fiction. Seltzer, Defonseca, and Frey would not be in the positions they are in now if publishing companies considered fiction more favorably and if critics would evaluate a story for the worth of the story instead of a political agenda. Perhaps the publishing world knows what sells, and for some reason, readers want to know that a book is real, that the story actually happened to someone, thus making memoirs more seductive than novels. What is this saying about our culture? Are we such literal-minded fascists that unless someone lived it we cannot empathise, imagine, allow the words on the page to resonate? Yet, people will flock to the theater to see bullshit like the Die Hard, Mission Impossible, and The Borne Identity series and other similar superhero human storylines that could never physically occur. Then demand that a good story in a book is told fact by fact.

It was Seltzer’s own older sister who ratted her out. That story in itself resonates with me because once upon a time when I desired a top-secret position in the military my sister would not allow the fact that I never did drugs in my life rest. She insisted I did drugs and went out of way to contradict my claim of being drug free before I even signed the background search consent. The same could have easily happened to a character and I could relate, I do not have to know that it actually happened to someone else in order to connect with it.

  1. A-mazing Amazon permalink
    March 4, 2008 5:34 pm

    when the author of “a million little pieces” was raked across the coals, i had a lot of sympathy for that author. the whole ordeal made me want to read the book after all. i could relate to the subject matter and including details of other’s *adventures* that i knew while i was in my addiction seems perfectly reasonable considering that the others that i knew back then are still doping and will probably never drag their ass out of addiction like i did to even write a story, let alone a book! plus, like you say, what is wrong with fiction? a book about drug addiction is always going to have some fiction-like moments because that’s the way of life for addicts. it’s hard to look back and separate what’s real and what was imagined. i will still have moments where i remember something that is hard to explain without feeling like i’m making some of it up. because my brain was fried then, ya know?

    i think that a book about living through any trauma (like the holocaust!) is going to have written moments that are needed to fill in the blanks where the brain has taken memories and condensed them like a dream. that’s how humans survive. that’s how humans are going to tell the stories of survival.

  2. momo permalink
    March 4, 2008 8:25 pm

    There are two issues, I think. One is whether or not a memoir can/is also artistic, like fiction, or if embellishment betrays the emotional truth of the story. The other issue is whether or not someone lied when they claimed that what they wrote about really happened to them. The stakes might be relatively low if the case of Frey (so he lied, the story of addiction was still a good story) or somewhat higher; is is OK to misrepresent something about the Holocaust? I haven’t read the book, but I do think that presenting a text as a memoir is making a kind of truth claim that is different from presenting the exact same text as fiction, however autobiographical that fiction may be.

    Your sister, on the other hand, was acting like a rat.

  3. Kitty Glendower permalink
    March 4, 2008 8:40 pm

    But I think there is something wrong with publishing. I understand that it is wrong to say something happened if it did not happen, but I thought I read once that the publishing companies bypass ficiton for memoirs, therefore, making an author ask “should I say it is a memoir or never get published.” Or I suspect the publisher knows it is fiction and convinces the author that it can pass as a memoir. There seems to be a preference, if not why are so many people lying about it. Or, are people just liars?

  4. momo permalink
    March 5, 2008 5:05 am

    I don’t know if it is publishing per se, or the appetite for sensational stories. Here’s an article I just read about another memoir fraud, but big time.

  5. Chris permalink
    March 5, 2008 4:47 pm

    It would be funny if someone published a true memior but did so marketing it as fiction. Then once it is out on bookshelves, leak a news story “Author lies…story is REAL”, just as a marketing ploy.

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