Truth in Nonfiction: Essays

David Lazar, Editor . Univ. of Iowa $19.95 (195p) ISBN 978-1-58729-654-3

The spirit of Montaigne is invoked more than once in these 20 essays on the thorny question of the nature of truth in nonfiction. Lazar writes, “Nonfiction blends fact and artifice in an attempt to arrive at truth, or truths. This frequently includes great leaps of the imagination.” In personal essays, diary excerpts, prose poems and parts of film scripts, distinguished writers grapple with the ethical dilemmas posed by memoirs, autobiographical essays and “creative” nonfiction. Phyllis Rose and Nancy K. Miller raise issues of privacy: the impossibility of telling one’s life story without involving others. Kathryn Harrison references Magritte’s account of his mother’s suicide, ”true” only in the way he imagined it, and her own conviction that she was responsible for her mother’s disappearance. Confessing her anguish, Vivian Gornick revisits the minor literary scandal raised when she admitted conflating some incidents in her memoir, Fierce Attachments. She persuasively maintains that memoirs “belong to the category of literature, not of journalism.” While not all the essays are equally trenchant, overall they provide some valuable insights—but no conclusive ethical definitions—about what has become a controversial genre. 18 photos (May)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2008
Release date: 05/01/2008
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