Nonfiction Nation

The real reason James Frey and J.T. Leroy are depressing is that they show us once again that we’re unimaginative people who won’t buy a made-up story. It has to be real, just as it happened, and authentic because it was written by the person who was there! And even if the writing itself is fiction, it has to be written by someone who is real! Not one of those writers who sits in a room writing, but a soldier or a movie star or someone who was brutally abused as a child, and will talk about it on TV.

If Frey had written a novel about an alcoholic criminal fuckup and his journey through life, or if that couple in SF had presented J.T. Leroy as a fictional protagonist, they might have got a $20,000 advance and no royalties if they were very, very lucky.

Imagination is left to the kids, who get to enjoy Harry Potter having made-up adventures in a much more interesting world. Long live J.K. Rowling!

13 thoughts on “Nonfiction Nation

  1. I never understood movies that touted “Based on a True Story!” until I started meeting the people to whom that was an important factor in choosing what to see. I still don’t understand it.

  2. i kinda don’t get why everyone’s so pissed off about these authors selling fake stories as autobiographical. since when did all books have to be true stories? are these the same people that believe everything the Bush administration says, or what?

  3. I’m reading the Harry Potter books with my son at night. They are great. It’s strange, the elements are entirely derivative, the characters are broad, the writing is sometimes bad… but alltogether they are great. We’ve read the first two. They were beautifully plotted.

  4. Have you read Susie Bright’s take on it? That’s why people are pissed. Because the hard luck story was used to play on people’s emotions off the page and out from between the bindings.

    1. I haven’t read her particular take on it, but certainly the appropriation of victimhood was a technique in both cases. That’s another very old shtick, as unpleasant as it is. I concentrated on “real!” because it felt like the current mistake.

  5. That’s not what’s depressing to me. It’s that for one thing, I thing James Frey’s alleged accountability to himself, and claims that he was able to achieve a big chunk of sobriety “on his own” gave a lot of people hope. The fact that it turns out to be baloney yanks the rug out from under people who needed something ot believe in.
    PLus, honestly, people just really really like to believe that they can trust other people to be honest. It sucks to put your faith in anything, even an Oprah Book club selection, and then realize you got duped.

    1. There you have it, the original “True Crime” writer and the classic larger-than-life character as author. Good thing he could actually write.

  6. In defense of the memoir
    I’ve twice (with Raymond Chandler and Jonathan Lethem) had the experience of trying to read an author’s fiction, and finding it somehow unsatisfying, because careful, and held back, and somehow…I don’t know how to say…self-preserving to the point of dishonesty. But Chandler’s letters and Lethem’s essays I found hugely worthwhile, because in the I-stuff these two finally consent to grapple, for real.
    Reading Christopher Isherwood’s memoirs changed my life. He’s so relentless with himself in them. It’s awesomely brave and to me encouraging. Not surprisingly, I haven’t tried to read Isherwood’s novels, because I don’t think I could stand to hear that voice again, talking mendaciously to itself.

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