Monday, March 24, 2008

Non Fiction Monday: Truth and Fiction

In the dust up over the Margaret Jones/Seltzer memoir Love and Consequences, I have to say I am one of those people who doesn't grieve for the genre we call memoir. (For a great post on the Jones/Seltzer affair, check out this one at Liz B's place.) Granted, I find Jones/Seltzer's appropriation of a life that wasn't hers repugnant and fraught with all sorts of troubling cultural and ethnic implications. But I find mourning a genre a little odd. Especially the memoir: It's always been a fluid genre and one that's embraced varying standards of truth in different eras and in different cultures.

But, after thinking beyond my first reaction to the abuse of authorial power committed by Jones/Seltzer, my next thought was...if Jones/Seltzer were a better writer...she'd write a compelling story. Like Lauren Groff's entertaining, multi-layered The Monsters of Templeton.

Groff opens her wonderful first novel with a quote from James Fenimore Cooper:

"An interesting fiction...however paradoxical the assertion may appear...addresses our love of truth--not the mere love of facts expressed by true names and dates, but the love of that higher truth, the truth of nature and of principles, which is a primitive law of the human mind. " (From Early Critical Essays, 1820-1822)

And, in her Introduction, Groff explains that there is indeed a lot of truth in The Monsters of Templeton--borrowed characters from James Fenimore Cooper, borrowed stories, a borrowed town. There's also quite a bit of fiction masquerading as truth in The Monsters of Templeton--letters, memoirs, journals, newspapers, oral accounts. (My favorite part of the novel is an absolutely brilliant exchange of "letters from the 1850s" between two young women--Cinnamon Averell and Charlotte Franklin Temple. These letters begin as expressions of love, move to passive-aggressive missives, and end as downright aggressive and hilarious threats.)

The Monsters of Templeton is truth served up right in a compelling, witty, beautifully constructed fictional package. While there are a few too many show-don't-tell moments (as I watched, as I listened...) scattered throughout the novel, The Monsters of Templeton is a stunning debut. I highly recommend it to all readers (teens included) and especially to those readers dismayed by the state of the memoir. Lauren Groff, with her fictional interpretation of truth, has me hooked. I'll be pre-ordering her next novel.
I'm back in Smalltown. I have a lot of catching up to do: My inboxes overfloweth and it's time to post the March Edge of the Forest. And, I've been nominated for an award! Thanks, Aerin, for reading. I'm honored.
Admittedly, this is probably the strangest Non-Fiction Monday post ever. But, I'm working on 3 hours of sleep after the trek back to Smalltown. Anastasia has the round up!
Speaking of truth (now I'm really rambling...), I've been outed in Smalltown. Check out Grinnell Bloggers.