Sunday, January 11, 2009

Truth in Novels, a Continuing Question

I was working at our Downer Avenue shop this week, and a customer came in looking for a book about General Trujillo and the legacy of the Dominican Republic. It had been recommended by a friend of his, only he didn’t remember its name. All we knew is that it had won a major award, maybe the Pulitzer. We did some searching on our database and really, the only book that fit the bill was Junot Diaz’s novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He was a bit surprised that it was a novel, but I was not.

We see this all the time. One of the big selling points for The Kite Runner was that it brought to life Afghanistan like no other news story. I read many articles, watched talk shows, and it was only after Hosseini’s novel that I thought, “Oh, I get it.”

And yet, and yet…it’s fiction. It’s not true. Or rather, it is in spirit. Better this way, we figure, than to have a memoir proven untrue, such as the latest story, Herman Rosenblat’s Angel at the Fence. It all hinged on his future wife throwing him apples. Was it actually a dream? Could it be incorporated as a dream? A novel?

Just one piece of advice and I'm sure this is not original--liars, stop appearing on Oprah. You will be caught.

In the age of the internet, many of us are choosing to get our news from lay sources, bloggers like myself (though I at least claim to have zero credentials), assorted web sites, and undocumented attributions. We still hold journalists up to a high standard, but at the same time reward other writers with our eyeballs, and eventually when they get the details right, advertising revenue.

Hey, this is turning into a segment of one of my favorite shows, On the Media! What would Brooke Gladstone think?

We’re certainly not planning to start fact-checking novels. So we hold to the facts of a novel at our own peril. But I still can’t figure out another way to understand the legacy of the Dominican Republic in a more powerful and entertaining way. So back to my customer, he took a copy of Diaz’s novel, and for good measure, Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accent as well.

No comments: