Norwegian author Dahl makes her debut with a psychological suspense novel, The Boy at the Door (Berkley, July), about a suburban mom, Cecelia Wilborg, whose decision to help an abandoned boy leads to trouble.
What is fiction, if not carefully crafted deceit? Art is the world edited, distorted, amended, and represented. In art, in love, and in life itself, humans tell stories. We have to. “We have art, in order not to die from the truth,” Nietzsche said. There is a fine line between truth and lies; a line that sometimes blurs in the minds and hearts of humans, real and fictional alike. A good novel tells us the truth about something, wrapped up in fabrication; truth derived from lies.
And so it is in life and love, too. Many of the lies we tell ourselves are because the truth is too painful; all mothers love every child equally, the man who was violent toward you only did it because he loves you too much, the loved one who passed away felt no pain.
We try to change the unpalatable realities of the human experience by shaping the world to fit our perception of events. We have no choice but to shelter our tender hearts from rejection and injustice.
When my novel, The Boy at the Door, sold in several countries last year, an acquaintance said to me, “You must feel like you’ve won the lottery, you know, being a single mom and all.” And in my mind, I thought “Come again?” In my perception of myself I was never a struggling single mother; even touching on that experience would have been too depressing and demotivating. I was always a mother ready to fall in love again and a writer who was going to make it or die trying. Self-lies? Perhaps, but necessary ones, and ones that both became truth.
Some lies people tell themselves may be of a darker, more sinister nature, and these particularly lend themselves to deeper exploration in fiction. In The Boy at the Door, Anni Lucasson, a drug addict who has lost everything, believes that her violent, drug-addicted boyfriend can change and “become the man he really is, deep down.” Anni must believe this, because in her heart, she knows she will never be free of him. Equally, Cecilia Wilborg convinces herself of a reality completely removed from actual events; she has to, as the truth would bring her carefully curated life crashing down. Stories are essential to human existence. Telling stories in an attempt to shape our perception of the world is what separates us from animals. We need deception to reveal truth as much as we rely on truth to reveal deception.
As both Cecilia and Anni come to understand, we write our own reality and, to a large extent, our own truth. The real danger arises when the truth becomes so threatening that you will do absolutely anything to keep it hidden.