Is Fiction Really More True?
I recently finished reading James Frey's A Million Little Pieces - an amazing book permanently tarnished by the overblown controversy over its veracity. The book, published as a memoir of the author's recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, is set almost entirely in a rehab clinic, where the author makes friends, falls in love, and kicks his habits. It is a fascinating read, cover to cover, written with style in a voice that adds texture to the author's description of his experiences.
I first heard about the book when it was still considered a memoir. A friend who was studying addiction and recovery lent it to me as a case study just before the controversy broke. When I heard the book contained a good dose of fiction mixed in with the facts, I lost all interest and placed it on my shelf. It stayed there for two years. Finally, I was in the mood for a memoir and started reading it. But the controversy prevented me from suspending my disbelief. So I decided I would approach it as a novel, not as a memoir.
As soon as I did, something bewildering happened. The book began to pulse with Truth. It became the the most honest, forthright account of addiction and recovery I'd ever read. Instead of constantly questioning events that didn't ring true - such as the Novocaine-free dental surgeries - I couldn't get over how authentic the experience sounded. As I read, I kept thinking, "This guy MUST have gone through this to make it so vivid..."
As fiction, the book became truer than a memior. It no longer carried the burden of factual integrity. Instead of questioning various details, I marvelled at the book's authenticity.
I noticed a similar phenomon in a review of the Nanny Diaries published in the LA Times today.
In other words, the characters weren't real. But they - and their world - were so authentic that people believed they were actually based on them. People recognized the essential truth in the characters and the setting without getting bogged down on the details that may have failed the
The book was based on the experiences of its authors, child-psychology majors who put themselves through college working as nannies for the super rich of the Upper East Side, logging 30 such jobs between them. The characters of Nanny, Mr. and Mrs. X and 4-year-old Grayer may have been composites, but they were so dead-on they launched a thousand paranoid trips along Park
journalism fact test.
So maybe fiction is more real than fact. When it comes to reality, a little lie may actually be the biggest truth