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CherylR

True-Life Novel

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Jeannette Walls', author of The Glass Castle, newest book is Half-Broke Horses and the tag line on the cover says it's "A True Life Novel", something I found a bit puzzling since novels are, by definition, fiction. :huh:

But according to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, the reason for the true life novel tag is: "Because Lily died when Walls was 8, many of the recollections are secondhand. Calling this book a “true life novel” enables the writer to embellish without fear of fact-checkers and to rely on her imagination for storytelling. It also means the story can be told in Lily Smith’s remarkable, matter-of-fact voice." <_<

One of my profs and I have been bouncing this true life novel concept back and forth and I thought I'd post here to see if anyone else had any thoughts.

I have my reservations about this classification. I really don't buy the "story can be told in Lily Smith's remarkable, matter-of-fact voice." Good fiction writing accomplishes that--The Poisonwood Bible has five unique points of view. I can tell whose "talking" just by reading the words. 8O

I have other reservations about this genre too, but I've rambled enough. :)

Anyone else care to share thoughts?

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Jeannette Walls', author of The Glass Castle, newest book is Half-Broke Horses and the tag line on the cover says it's "A True Life Novel", something I found a bit puzzling since novels are, by definition, fiction. :huh:

But according to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, the reason for the true life novel tag is: "Because Lily died when Walls was 8, many of the recollections are secondhand. Calling this book a “true life novel” enables the writer to embellish without fear of fact-checkers and to rely on her imagination for storytelling. It also means the story can be told in Lily Smith’s remarkable, matter-of-fact voice." <_<

One of my profs and I have been bouncing this true life novel concept back and forth and I thought I'd post here to see if anyone else had any thoughts.

I have my reservations about this classification. I really don't buy the "story can be told in Lily Smith's remarkable, matter-of-fact voice." Good fiction writing accomplishes that--The Poisonwood Bible has five unique points of view. I can tell whose "talking" just by reading the words. 8O

I have other reservations about this genre too, but I've rambled enough. :)

Anyone else care to share thoughts?

I'm reminded of Michael Shaara's Civil War "true life" novel The Killer Angels, which lies somewhere between garden-variety historical fiction and historical narration. The "novel," which recounts the three-day battle of Gettysburg, is historically and militarily accurate, and features battlefield speeches that fairly closely approximate those given by the commanding generals, at least as recalled in historical records from the soldiers who were there. At the same time, clearly fictional characters are introduced, and much of the dialogue is made up out of whole cloth, because we simply don't know what was actually said.

I'm sure it can be an unwieldy hybrid, and it introduces some ethical issues that are not easily resolved, but at least in Shaara's hands it was an unqualified success. I can't comment on Jeannette Wslls' work.

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I haven't read it, but wasn't Truman Capote's In Cold Blood both a novel and a work of journalism? FWIW, Wikipedia says it is considered "the originator of the non-fiction novel and the forerunner of the New Journalism movement, although other writers, like Rodolfo Walsh, had already explored the genre in books like Operación Masacre."

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I think what's bothering me most, and I'm not sure what to do with it, is this isn't told in a journalist style, but written in first person POV, like Walls' is channeling her grandmother, for a bad comparison.

It's almost impossible to tell what is real and what is storytelling--which goes back to the statement the author doesn't need to fact check but is pretty free to fill in the gaps, enhance the story via storytelling skills. So the line is further blurred between fact and fiction.

I'm liking the book, but I'm reading it with a "well maybe it did/maybe it didn't" happen lens. Since her grandmother died when she was 8, I'm not sure how much in the way of family tales Walls was actually privy to.

I'm going to try to get to Malone's library before classes end this week for Christmas break and look at In Cold Blood to see if the formats are similar.

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I haven't read it, but wasn't Truman Capote's In Cold Blood both a novel and a work of journalism? FWIW, Wikipedia says it is considered "the originator of the non-fiction novel and the forerunner of the New Journalism movement, although other writers, like Rodolfo Walsh, had already explored the genre in books like Operación Masacre."

 

On that note, here's The Guardian: "Truman Capote and the old failings of New Journalism"

 

Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were convicted in 1959 of murdering Herbert Clutter, his wife and their two children. The pair were hanged in 1965 after a manhunt and trial that gripped the United States. Five months later the New Yorker began publishing an account of this senseless slaughter of a family, and the search for the killers, which had an equally powerful impact. Truman Capote’s essays were published the following year as a “non-fiction novel”, In Cold Blood, and hailed by Wolfe as “a very meticulous and impressive job”.
 
Now Ronald Nye, the son of a Kansas lawman involved in the murders, is to publish his father’s field notes which he says contradict important elements of Capote’s groundbreaking account.
 
I doubt this is news to anyone, but I'll put it here anyway.
Edited by NBooth

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NYT on the fascination with so-called "memoir novels"

 

Leslie Jamison:

 

These days the memoir-novels we hear about most are recent works by men — Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle,” Ben Lerner’s “Leaving the Atocha Station” and “10:04.” But my favorite example of the genre is from nearly 20 years ago, and it’s by a woman. Chris Kraus’s “I Love Dick” offers the story of a woman named Chris Kraus — also an experimental filmmaker, just like the author — reckoning with her unrequited love for “Dick ____,” a cultural critic with whom she becomes obsessed. The narrative is an exploration of desire as something other than passivity or inadequacy (“I think desire isn’t lack, it’s surplus energy — a claustrophobia inside your skin”) and relentless romantic pursuit not as self-degradation but a kind of generative, creative act.

 

Daniel Mendelsohn:

 

At the height of the memoir boom, the highest praise you could lavish on a work of autobiographical nonfiction was that it “read like a novel.” Life, after all, is mostly uneventful; even the crises that we experience now and then are often random, inexplicable. That inexplicability is precisely what makes us want our lives to have “meaning” in the same way works of art and literature have “meaning” — meaning derived from structure, pattern, order. It’s no accident that the greatest memoirists, from St. Augustine to Vladimir Nabokov, were also serious students of literature. 

 

Meanwhile, the latest thing in nonfiction fiction seems to be Karl Ove Knausgaard's six-volume bildungsroman My Struggle. Katie Roiphe ponders whether it would be so successful if written by a woman. Here's Christian Lorentzen:

 

The publication of My Struggle in English has coincided with an autobiographical turn among younger novelists in North America, among them Tao Lin (Taipei), Sheila Heti (How Should a Person Be?), and Ben Lerner (Leaving the Atocha Station). These writers also make extensive use of essayistic digression. The roman à clef has been around as long as the novel, of course, and it has always been subject to a standard set of criticisms: narcissism, laziness, failures of discretion to the point of betrayal. Knausgaard has triumphed by committing the maximum of all three sins.

 

 

Knausgaard has won prizes. He's not done well in Italy. Biblioklept has excerpts.

 

In short, he's been all over the blogs I frequent, and I've not read a darned word of him. Perhaps because I'm more in sympathy with Tom McCarthy and his dismissal of this fascination with the "true":

 

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about reality in fiction, or reality versus fiction. Take the many articles about the ‘true’ writings of Karl Ove Knausgaard, or the huge amount of attention paid to David Shields’s polemic Reality Hunger. Time and again we hear about a new desire for the real, about a realism which is realistic set against an avant-garde which isn’t, and so on. It’s disheartening that such simplistic oppositions are still being put forward half a century after Foucault examined the constructedness of all social contexts and knowledge categories; or, indeed, a century and a half after Nietzsche unmasked truth itself as no more than ‘a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms … a sum of human relations … poetically and rhetorically intensified … illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions’ (and that’s not to mention Marx, Lyotard, Deleuze-Guattari, Derrida etc). It seems to me meaningless, or at least unproductive, to discuss such things unless, to borrow a formulation from the ‘realist’ writer Raymond Carver, we first ask what we talk about when we talk about the real. Perhaps we should have another look at the terms ‘the real’, ‘reality’ and ‘realism’.

 

 

FWIW, I read Reality Hunger--or, at least, the article it was based on--and I found it self-satisfied and indulgent in the extreme. There seems to be a deep-seated distrust of the ability of a writer to extract himself/herself from the -self and create or evoke alternate viewpoints. The idea that all we have, then, the only real thing, is self-narration. That viewpoint strikes me as terribly blinkered (and then there's the fact that all self-narration is fictionalizing anyway, so it's not like a memoir-novel is any less artificial than a wholly-fictional novel).

.....

 

On the other hand, there's Norman Mailer. I can't believe he wasn't mentioned earlier: The Armies of the Night is subtitled "History as a Novel, the Novel as History." Then there's The Executioner's SongMiami and the Siege of Chicago, Oswald's Tale.... All of which seem to be in the "Nonfiction Novel" arena. But what Mailer did--and what Capote did--is a bit different from the memoir/novel hybrids discussed above.

Edited by NBooth

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The Atlantic: Enough About Me--In an era of chronic self-exposure, authors are pushing back against naked revelation.

 

Both Ongoingness and I Think You’re Totally Wrong represent efforts to reconcile the competing selves in every writer, however autobiographical her work is: the self that lives in the world—getting sick or getting pregnant or serving brunch—with the self that creates the world, or re-creates it with a purpose, reconstructing its vicissitudes in order to compose an emotional narrative or ask hard questions. Both books start out by proposing a conflict—between life and work, between immersion and reflection—only to subvert it. Manguso has written a book about how motherhood took her away from writing. Shields and Powell have generated a “lived” creative inquiry with its roots in the conflict between living and creating.

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The New Yorker's Out Loud podcast discusses the state of the memoir.

 

Leslie Jamison, who recently wrote about Chris Kraus’s memoiristic novels, and Joshua Rothman, who has written about the autobiographical fiction of Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante, join David Haglund and Amelia Lester to discuss the state of the memoir in an age of ubiquitous self-documentation via social media. They discuss the evolution of so-called “confessional literature,” why discussions of autobiographical writing are so often influenced by the gender of the writer, and how authors use memoir to explore ideas about both themselves and the world. 

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LARB: Queer Blood by Ned Stuckey-French

 

In Cold Blood is a queer book. It is other things, of course: an account of the hollowness of the American Dream, a classic of true crime, and, a true genre-buster, arguably, the first “nonfiction novel.” But, finally, it’s a book by a gay man about a gay man. Returning to it recently for the first time in years, this being the 50th anniversary of its publication (to all kinds of controversy and acclaim), I was struck most of all by its gayness. In Cold Blood is about Perry Smith and Dick Hickock and what went wrong between them, or at least that’s the reading I’m giving it here. Rereading In Cold Blood from this perspective can, I think, teach us a lot about who we are now and how we continue to think about marriage equality, gender roles, homosexual panic, homophobia, the association of homosexuality with pedophilia, sexual behavior in prisons and the military, and the ways in which homosexuality intersects with race and class.

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Meanwhile, the latest thing in nonfiction fiction seems to be Karl Ove Knausgaard's six-volume bildungsroman My Struggle

 

Scott Esposito reviews book four. He also interviews the translator. From the review:

 

Book Four is a charming act of improvisation in the face of impending doom. Much like what unceasingly happens to his protagonist, Knausgaard has gotten himself in over his head: He is churning out pages by the day, manacled by his own vain super-ambition to a project that nobody in their right mind would attempt. He has written a thousand pages already, and he still has more than a thousand to go. Deadlines are looming everywhere, and the backlash to his success is already under way.

 

I'll be honest, the more I hear about Knausgaard, the more I want to roll my eyes until the fall out of their sockets and go bouncing down the hall.

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.I'll be honest, the more I hear about Knausgaard, the more I want to roll my eyes until the fall out of their sockets and go bouncing down the hall.

 

 

And here's James Wood (kind of a local favorite, no?) talking to Knausgaard at The Paris Review.

 

 

WOOD

And of course that’s the great theme of your work—meaning and the loss of meaning. It’s obvious enough that in your work the insane attention 
to objects is an attempt to rescue them from loss, from the loss of meaning. It’s a tragedy of getting older. We can’t ever recover that extraordinary novelty, that newness, that we experienced as children, and so you try to bring those meanings and memories back. There’s a lovely thing in 
Adorno’s Negative Dialectics that reminds me of your work. Adorno writes, “If the thought really yielded to the object, if its attention were on the ­object, not on its ­category, the very objects would start talking under the lingering eye.” Does that sound like a reasonable description of what you are trying to do?

KNAUSGAARD

Very much so. Before I wrote My Struggle, I had a feeling that novels tend 
to obscure the world instead of showing it, because their form is so much alike from novel to novel. It’s the same with films, with their attention to narrative structure. Most films, anyway. One thing I did while I was at work on the project was to watch the film Shoah, about the Holocaust. In the 
end, after you’ve seen these nine and a half hours, there is no form. Or it’s a kind of extreme form, which brings it closer to a real experience. I’d 
been thinking about that and about the world as it ordinarily comes to us filtered through news, through media. The same form, the same language, makes everything the same. That was a problem I had before I started 
My Struggle. The traditional form of the novel wasn’t eloquent. I didn’t 
believe in it, for the reasons I’ve said. Now, I don’t really pay much attention to the world. I’m not very present. I’m detached from almost everything. 
I’m very occupied with myself and my own mind. I’m not in connection with the world—but in writing, I can be. That’s a way for me to open a world up.

 

But this is a personal problem, not a general problem. 

I repeat my above comment.

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Electric Literature on "The Knausgaarding of Literature":

 

Hating Knausgaard, or more circumspectly, hating his novels for their alleged boring nature where nothing ever happens is to completely miss what Knausgaard sets out to accomplish. His themes—the mundanity of life, the exploration of shame, the circular nature of family and time—are written in contrast to the modern desire for literature that provides a mindless reading experience, aka books like television.

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