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Blog 2: Shattered truth

Don Rogers

The tiff over how true Jame Frey’s autobiography “A Million Little Pieces” really is has Our Hero concerned. How much embellishment for the sake of that larger truth can a non-fiction work bear before it’s, well, a novel?

Conversely, how much actual truth can a novel hold before it degrades to memoir?

Our Hero is concerned even though his character has yet to be painted, wound up, and set in motion in his story yet to be determined. Still, this is important.

When he goes to fight wildfire, how high should the flames be? How close shall the near misses come?

Shall God actually speak with an actual voice or will idle, ambiguous thought do? How wild? How low. How great?

Of course, any story has a mix of utter truth and complete bull in it. Else it wouldn’t be a story. Real life doesn’t play out close enough to chapters, cliff-hangers and dramatic endings. It has to be shaved, shimmed, hammered and glued to fit. And that’s when the author means to tell the story straight. We’re prisoners of our own experience of our experiences, our own interpretation, our own versions. That’s how the same event can spawn different true recountings.

But Our Hero is shaped by the same author, whether the intent is wholly fact or wholly made up. The true character is at root a creation of the author, just as much as the made up protaganist can’t help but be very true in important ways.

The tempest in the book industry is somewhat silly, even for all the earnest arguing about strict interpretation of truth vs. reaching for that larger truth. Sounds like a soft echo of the nomination process for Supreme Court justices.

With books, it’s a simple as switching shelves. Author caught making some of it up. Well, simple, just stack it over in the fiction section from now on. It’s still a good story, probably much better than if had tracked the truth too closely.

In newspaper land, last bastion of journalism, it’s got to be more true than court. Folks put their hand on the Bible and swear to tell only the truth, but no one really expects that. A good defense attorney doesn’t want to know whether the client is in fact innocent.

But the newspaper has got to be just so. Mangle a quote and the earth shatters. There is no imaginative interpretation of events in seek of larger truth. You got it or you didn’t.

Our Hero comes from this backdrop. The truth is the truth is the truth. At least as close as he can remember. But then, that rather limits the field, doesn’t it? Imagination circumsized. So much for a thriller.

And you know, some wags even doubt whether Socrates was a real person or a character made up by Plato. Speaking of higher truths.

Maybe we can be coy. Say that maybe Our Hero’s adventures are precisely true and maybe they are a little stretched, here and there, like any good yarn.

Wasn’t it the Western mountain man who made art of the tall tale? Or is that just another piece of lore?

What’s true is that Our Hero of necessity is a mountain man, and he’s got a ton of Irish blood. That is to say, pure blarney.

This has possibilties. The one thing the flap over Frey’s work demonstrates best is that some of us are just a little too caught up in this measure of truth.


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