Friday, February 03, 2006

Fiction or nonfiction? Who cares!

I keep going back to that Eleanor Roosevelt quote I like so well--one of my favorite quotes, really.

She said, "The reason fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature to those of us who really like to study people is that, in fiction, the author can tell the whole truth without hurting anyone--or humiliating himself--too much."

I don't get that memoir or nonfiction sells better than fiction. I read fiction for the essential truth. We all know that a lot of fiction writers embellish what happened with made up stuff. That's the fun of it. And certainly we know that memoirs--and not just Big Jim's--are replete with made up stuff. That's not so fun.

What about Hemingway's best book (in my opinion), A Moveable Feast, or Kerouac's On the Road? Are they fiction? Are they nonfiction? Who cares!

Mostly I care about the quality of writing and whether it moves me in some way--mostly whether it moves me to keep reading.

Right now I'm listening to Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed, which, by the way, is not what it seems. I really wish she had given this first book of hers a different title. So I'm lying down at my acupuncturist's this morning listening to it on CD and he comes in to check the needles and he asks what I'm listening to. I couldn't say, "Oh, it's Good in Bed. It sounds like some sort of porno dealybob. So I say, "Oh, it's a book by Jennifer Weiner. Her movie, In Her Shoes, just came out on DVD," as if this has anything to do with what I'm listening to.

Anyway, getting back to my point--I think I had a point.... Oh! Yes! It is that so much of Weiner's book seems autobiographical--the main character is an overweight woman, she's a writer in college and afterward--and I think, This must be from Weiner's life. But so much else obviously is made up, and I like that about the book, and about fiction--that you can embellish what did happen with what didn't.

This is what I love about writing fiction, too: I can tell the truth in fiction in ways I could never do in nonfiction.

I think I'm feeling a little sorry for Frey about now. He obviously had a story that entranced so very many. Would they have been less involved if he'd sold it as fiction? Wouldn't it be nice to drop categories and focus more on good stories, good writing?


erin mcreynolds said...

I TOTALLY agree, and catch a lot of flack for it in my MFA program, so thank you for letting me sit at your lunch table.
(Hi! Sorry I haven't popped in to say "Hello")

liz said...

I'm beginning to agree, wholeheartedly, as I struggle with writing a "true" story as told to me by a pathological liar and criminal! Her fabrications are SO MUCH MORE interesting than the truth, and if we can weave them together effectively, quite telling about the human character.

One of my very favorite authors is Pam Houston, and I read all of her works believing they are based on her life. If her life is really not that exciting, I don't want to know it.