Monday, June 16, 2008

Secrets and Lies

What's a lie? 

James Frey, Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris all have new books out this summer – so Entertainment Weekly checked in with the latter author to find out why he's been able to escape the "you're lying" accusations, when the other two haven't. Recently, in an article entitled, "This American Lie", The New Republic writer Alex Heard wrote: "With some of his stories, especially the early ones, like in Naked...he’s taken every liberty a fiction writer [does]. It makes the story very funny, but also makes it something you shouldn’t call nonfiction.” 

Responds Sedaris: "I’ve said a thousand times I exaggerate. Why is it news when somebody else says it?”

Maybe that's the trick. Call it what it is before anyone else can. In any case, Sedaris is very funny. So what if he exaggerates? I think the stories are funny because of the way he tells them. If I suddenly found out that they were about some fictional kid named "Ben" and not him, I don't really think I'd care. It's the same way that people are constantly asking Stuart McLean if he is "Dave" in The Vinyl Cafe series. He insists he's not, but that doesn't make us love Dave any less.

I think people just don't like to be duped. They want to know what they're reading - and if it's a good story it's going to be a good story whether it's truth, fiction, based on or inspired by true events. Anyway, it made me wonder, is Frey really a good writer? His most recent book is outright fiction and not at all based on any events in his life, so if it succeeds (and it's already a bestseller), then it would have to be because he's a good writer, no? 

I didn't read A Million Little Pieces. At the time of the incident, I refused to support him. But when I heard about his latest novel, I decided to go back and read A Million Little Pieces, to see what I thought, now that it's been a few years. I wondered what I would think of the story as a novel. And you know what? It's not that bad. Sure, if I had read it thinking it was fiction and then at the end found a disclaimer saying the book was true, I'd probably have loved it even more. But I'm a sucker for a true story or any movie that's even remotely based on or inspired by real events.  And isn't that all A Million Little Pieces is? A story inspired by true events? And in that case, it's a pretty good one. 

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