The Fake Memoir
April 21, 2011 § 8 Comments
Steve Almond usually manages to be wise, amusing, and sensible all at once in his occasional Rumpus pieces, and he’s kicked the proverbial triple pickle again this week with his post The Heroic Lie: A Brief Inquiry into the Fake Memoir
Here’s an excerpt, but when you have a moment to spare, hop on over and read the entire thing. Make your students read it. Tattoo it on your dog:
You will have heard, by now, of the curious case of Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea. As documented by the author Jon Krakauer, among others, Mortenson appears to have falsified vast swaths of his best-selling memoir, including a dramatic abduction by the Taliban.
Over the past decade, the fake memoir has become a genre unto itself. A few years ago, an Oregon writer named Margaret Seltzer wrote a fake memoir called Love and Consequences, about her years running drugs in South Central Los Angeles. Around the same time, Misha Defonseca wrote Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, in which she claimed to have lived with a pack of wolves, while wandering Europe in search of her parents. Defonseca was not even Jewish. The list goes on.
Every time one of these memoirs gets debunked, writers and critics debate what constitutes non-fiction. Often, there’s an argument put forward about something called “emotional truth,” which is supposed to provide moral cover for lying. My definition of creative non-fiction is simple. It is a radically subjective account of events that objectively took place.
The moment you start making up events that you know did not take place, you’re doing another sort of work. It’s called fiction.
Thank you, Mr. Almond.