Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Truth of Memoir vs.The Truth of Fiction

When I say that my ex-husband told me, all in one conversation, that our marriage was over, that he was getting re-married to another woman, and that he wanted the two of them to live in our house because it was a good place to raise a family, I don’t mean that the emotional punch of that news was such a wallop that it felt like one conversation, and that, in reality, those facts were wrenched from him over a matter of days. I don't mean that in order to convey my “personal emotional truth” I needed to conflate those events to translate the magnitude of my devastation to the reader. No.


What I mean is that it was one conversation.

Certainly there is truth in fiction. Or why the fuck would we read it. There’s truth in poetry, too, and in music, and visual art.  But when I read a memoir like Alice Sebold’s Lucky or Abigail Thomas’s Three Dog Life, I don’t think Alice means that the guy who attacked her in the tunnel frightened her so badly that it was like rape. I don’t think Abby means that it would be nice to imagine sleeping with her dogs after the death of her husband, but really, she can’t stand the dog hair.

I started a new short story this morning. It’s a story about an ex-wife who breaks into her Mr. Ex’s house and takes 5K in cash that she thinks she has a right to pocket as her own. She drives a mini-van, turns right on red when the sign says, “No right turn on red….” Any of this sound familiar?

This woman in my story, let’s call her Brenda, also has a target in her car from a shooting range and a To Do list that says, among other things, “Kill Michael and The Tart.”
She gets in a whole lot of trouble.
And yes, while some of this story is made up, much of it is true. In bits and pieces. Some of it happened to me. Some of it happened to people I know personally. That doesn’t make it memoir.

As for you, Greg Mortensen, I won’t pronounce you guilty without a trial. But if I see you in the next five minutes, before my hot little head cools off, I’m gonna punch you right in the nose.


Elizabeth said...

You need to send this in to some paper or other as an Op-Ed. It's brilliant.

stephanie said...

I have two things to say. One. I went to an Alice Sebold reading once. SHe read for forty-five minutes.

Two. I totally get you on the fiction v. memoir. It's a fine line, but there is a line.

Anonymous said...

My husband wants a divorce. He says " I crossed a line." the line involved checking facts against the endless lies I have been fed for 6 months. His object of desire is the age of my youngest child. They blame me because her relentless pursuit of my husband at work may cut her medocal training. Narcissists never seem to think they cross the line...

Marsha Pincus said...

beautifully said. it would be nice if we could write our best ( or most interesting ) selves into being .... well maybe we can, but we just can't call it non-fiction. great post!

Anonymous said...

Your ex husband is a piece of work.