Over the past months I’ve been deep into the writing of a comprehensive memoir of my childhood, early adulthood, and my relationship—such as it was—with my father. An enormously difficult task, which would have been a breeze had he been less an unredeemable tyrant.
As I've been monotonously repeating at every opportunity, an honest and accurate account of the facts in chronological order is not sufficient. Memoir conventions demand that autobiography be shaped into a story, a drama, a breathless succession of conflicts resolved, great needs finally met, and overall a joyous transcendence of a toxic legacy.
Employing the techniques of fiction in autobiography has always seemed to me to me akin to lying. Life—especially for those who’ve had difficult upbringings—isn’t at all like an invented adventure. But then if I wish to publish, I have little choice. So I have been diligently scouring my journals for victories, successes, happy endings, and I’m emphasizing them, building them up, giving them a gleaming coat of varnish.
This morning in Salon I encountered a piece entitled “RIP: The novel” , by Laura Miller, which is a critique of “a book that defends plagiarism, champions faked memoirs and declares fiction dead.”
Oh, and this tome “has the literary world up in arms.”
Here’s a relevant excerpt. Emphasis mine.
It seems true to me, for example, that reality TV, memoirs and other documentary-based forms feed a popular craving for the authentic, the unscripted and the unpredictable, even though the demand for certain formulaic storylines pressures creators to tweak "reality" into a more conventionally satisfying narrative. On the other hand, I can't endorse Shields' opinion that too much emphasis on plot is what makes contemporary novels boring and is causing a lot of people to stop reading them. Then again, the people I know who have stopped reading fiction do seem to concur with Shields that "more invention, more fabrication" is not what they want from a book. Which is why none of them, in turn, would agree with his insistence that the distinction between fact and fiction is often immaterial.