Friday, September 22, 2006

The Near Truth

The past year has been hard on truth. So many literary fakes have been exposed. The tales of JT Leroy, James Frey, and Kaavya Viswanathan made for interesting reading, but they also pointed out how publishers sell the writer's persona, not the book, nowadays, something I hate. The work is the only thing that matters. Of course, when the deception is exposed, the publishers throw up their hands and say, "We were duped! We're victims here." Uh-huh. Sob into those book sales figures, hon.

Recently, a new poster appeared on a forum I read regularly. She claimed to have breast cancer. The sad saga went on for about two months, with lapses explained away as emergency trips to the hospital. I'm a suspicious person, so I didn't get involved in her story, but many of the forum jumped right in with advice and offers to help. Over time, though, she got a little sloppy about her details. (Note to self: when carrying out some sick minded prank, keep damn good notes. Second note to self: Figure out how people make a buck off these hoaxes. There's no other reason to put that much energy into a lie.) One month she was married and had kids, the next, she was all alone in the world. When some of the less credulous forum members linked up all the inconsistencies and confronted her, she came on under a different name, proclaimed herself a close friend, and posted an obituary culled from the local newspaper. It didn't match up with any of the other info posted, but what the heck, right? Besides, a good corpse is hard to find on short notice. The forum was not amused.

Which brings me to The Night Listener. I read Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City last year. It was probably revolutionary when it was first published, but I shrugged. Every time people swore what a great writer Maupin was, I smiled, nodded, and changed the subject. Even writers I normally trust couldn't convince me to give him another try. Then someone on the forum brought up the book in a conversation about the breast cancer hoax and I thought, well, it's only two days out of my life to read it, give it a shot. Now I'm glad I did.

Everything Maupin said about being a writer made me nod in recognition. I loved the way the main character Gabriel needs to believe in Pete. Most of all, I loved the anger he felt when people around him brought doubt and doses of reality into the fantasy, and the way Gabriel kept searching for new ways to keep the faith. That was so real. That's the way people are. Bringing that kind of truth to the reader is the mark of a truly great book. So I'm highly recommending The Night Listener. Oh, I see you rolling your eyes. Maybe Tales of the City wasn't for you, but trust me on this one. It's the truth. (send me a buck?)

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