Monday, June 18, 2007

The truth in fiction.

I also finished The Things They Carried this weekend. Very good, of course. I liked the way the book was put together. Not quite short stories, not quite a novel, interlinked obviously, but with these little vignettes in the middle. I kept finding myself wondering about fact vs. fiction, and in fact, he kept addressing this. Saying how something didn't have to have really happened to actually be true. That a story could be true. And the power of story. How it saved him, kept people alive, things like that. I loved this because as much as this was a collection of war stories, it was also a celebration of storytelling, and the power of it.

Good storytelling stems from honesty. Even if its fiction, if the heart of it is something honest, then it will resonate with people. The purpose of fiction then, isn't to tell things as they actually happened, but to capture the truth found beneath the chain of events. To somehow illuminate them and bring them to the surface. If that means making up the events, that's fine. The purpose is, ultimately, to tell a false story about a very true thing. I think Tim O'Brien does a very good job of discussing and showing this. In the end, it doesn't matter how many of these stories were true or how much of it was true. He's done this amazing job of capturing the sort of things that happened in the war, the kind of fears and emotions and experiences they lived through and the aftermath.

I think that's what I appreciated most about this collection. The way he explores all of this, not just the events themselves, but what he, as a writer, is doing at that very moment. How all of this comes together. What all of it means. As a writer, I write to make sense of things. I try to tell it as it is through my lens. We try not to pass too much judgment, but just to show it as it is. And to sort out our own world, save ourselves in away. Pull out the truth that is sometimes buried under our own burden of facts that don't contribute to understanding.

This isn't so much of a review of the collection as it could be, but this is what I got out of it. That's what's especially staying with me now that I've finished.

4 drops:

C. Dappen said...

There is so much I need to read. It's overwhelming. At least I know where to come to find suggestions. Based on everything I've read and seen, you have excellent taste.

moonrat said...

"fiction." ha.

i love this book, btw. my favorite part was the disclaimer.

supereditor said...

The Things They Carried is something close to a masterpiece. As you say, Angelle, it's as much about writing as it is about war. In fact, the story, "How to Tell a True War Story," could be the title of the whole book. This is the answer--or an answer--or many answers--to the ongoing discussion re fiction vs. non, or what is cnf anyway?

I saw a tv documentary in which Raymond Carver's first wife said, "He had a hell of a nerve calling that fiction." I think I understand what she means (and what moonrat means in her/his comment), but as a writer, I would rather have the freedom that comes from calling it fiction than worry about whether I've crossed the line.

A truly awesome book.

angelle said...

I always wonder about creative non-fiction and what exactly that's supposed to be. I never quite understand.

Post a Comment