Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Truth Within the Lie

by Libby Sternberg

Earlier this week, I mentioned Stephen King's acceptance speech when the National Book Foundation presented him with the Distinguished Contribution to American Letters award in 2003. He talked a lot about genre fiction vs. literary fiction in that speech, passionately arguing for taking popular, or "commercial," fiction seriously.

Here are some more ruminations about his talk. In particular, about his desire to be an "honest writer."

King said:

"Frank Norris, the author of McTeague, said something like this: 'What should I care if they, i.e., the critics, single me out for sneers and laughter? I never truckled, I never lied. I told the truth.' And that's always been the bottom line for me. The story and the people in it may be make believe but I need to ask myself over and over if I've told the truth about the way real people would behave in a similar situation....

"To ignore the truth inside the lie is to sin against the craft, in general, and one's own work in particular. "
The truth within the lie--that sums up what good fiction should be. Fiction is a writer's exploration of what truth is--how real people react, what those reactions say about them and about humanity, how they deal with boredom, fun, giddy happiness or Job-like grief.

And transcendent writing--the kind of writing that transports the reader to a deeper understanding of the world and themselves--is at the heart of that "truth within the lie."

Last week, Hannah talked about the importance of including fiction along with nonfiction in one's reading diet. Nonfiction purports to lay out the truth through reporting facts. Fiction lays out the truth through canny observation and character analysis.

I myself love nonfiction. Oddly enough, I often reach for nonfiction, rather than fiction, when I'm tired. Maybe because fiction actually challenges me more--to think and to feel. When I remember all the books I've read, novels stand out as those that have influenced me the most. Novels prod me to see myself and others in different ways.

What novels have influenced you and how?


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