I quÃ¨ Ã©s la veritat?
Originally uploaded by florriebassingbourn.
One of the most disturbing thing about the whole James Frey brouhaha this week is that the book that sold 3.5 million copies was turned down by nearly every major publisher when it was offered as fiction.
Why? Because readers like you and me wouldn't buy it if it didn't have the imprimatur of TRUTH on it. At least, that's how the editors at 17 publishing houses saw it. I'd like to say they were wrong, that A Million Little Pieces would have sold just as well as a novel, but somehow I doubt it.
For the same reason that no one would watch a show about a bunch of college kids sitting around in their underwear whining or twenty-five women competing for a limp rose on THE BACHELOR if they thought (knew?) it was scripted, no one would have been willing to hold Frey's hand through 438 pages of vomit and bathos and teary redemption if they didn't believe it really happened.
As a fiction writer, I'm rather proud that a book with no claims to factual accuracy is held to a higher standard. If it's not "true," then it damn well better be well written--and believable. Kind of ironic, isn't it?
But in another way, I think that this new hunger for an ever more elusive "truth" insults fiction. Surely, many people who are flocking to memoirs and reality TV are missing the essential secret about fiction. It's truer than the truth.
Shakespeare may never have been a king, but he taught us more about power and betrayal than any memoirist ever could have. Why? Because he knew more than the narrow facts of his life allowed. More than most kings or scheming underlings or thwarted lovers who ever lived.
And Shakespeare wasn't the only one. All of us know more than we have experienced. In part, it seems we're born that way. Not blank slates, but small souls from who-knows-where, babies too young for language find a myriad of other ways of expressing what they know and what they want. Just look in their eyes. These people know things.
Other truth we learn just because we're human; and as such, we've tapped into the rich myths and archetypes of our species, that great history of the human heart in stories.
I may not have killed anyone or abandoned my children or spent a bitterly cold night in the street, but I know something about those things anyway, simply because I'm alive and feeling and empathetic. When I write fiction, I push myself further than I've ever gone--or in many cases, hope to go--in real life. I enter strange minds and hearts and learn the lay of the land. I get lost and desperately search for an exit. Then I tell you not just where I've been and what I've seen, but what I know.
Are my stories and novels factually true? Absolutely not. But in proudly calling them fiction, I connect my own humble creations to the stories that have told us who we are for as long as we've had the power of communication.