With the growing popularity of writers like David Sedaris and Augusten Borroughs, the relatively new genre of creative nonfiction (CNF), or the personal essay, is on the rise. While Sedaris, Burroughs and other popular CNF writers tell great stories, they lack vulnerability and verisimilitude of detail. David Sedaris may tell true stories about his dysfunctional family, he rarely writes about anything below the superficial level. And James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, wrote a beautiful, cathartic account of his recovery from addiction, which was completely untrue, much to the chagrin of Oprah’s book-club. It’s widely accepted that a personal essay should tell a story that gives insight into the author’s personality in the most honest way he or she can.
While truth is an integral part of a piece of CNF, the definition of truth is interpreted differently by different people. Tim O’Brien, in his memoir, The Things They Carried, addresses the question of how to tell a “true war story.” He believes that truth lies in the way it feels, rather than the way it might have actually happened.
No matter which side of the argument you’re on, Lauren Slater’s “metaphorical memoir,” entitled, Lying, will cause you to re-evaulate your previous notions of truth. Slater writes about her experiences growing up with a narcissistic mother, epilepsy and Munchausen’s. Though she alerts us in the first sentence that she is an unreliable narrator, when I finished reading it, I felt closer to her than I had to any other CNF writer. It’s the best book I’ve read this year, and it should be required reading for anyone interested in the writing process.
All writers face the issue of including their true selves in their work, no matter the genre. But CNF is different in that it is shaped by the speaker/narrator/writer, and different people approach it in different ways. However you feel about the requirements of CNF, you should read Lauren Slater’s Lying. It’s experimental but still holds true to the tenants of “good” CNF in that she tells an interesting story in a very interesting way.
Vanessa Parks is a Sophomore Writing Major at UTC.