Fiction: My Memoir

My memoir begins like this:
“I was born in a small shack nestled amidst the hills of northern Kentucky. Times were tough. I was brought up by a chicken farmer and his wife – good people who worked hard and cared for me and my siblings as best they could. This is the story of how we persevered, against all odds, beset by harsh winds, wild animals, rampant unemployment, mild incest, cave living, lunatic former military officers, and minimal hot water.”
I published my story about two years ago. It was beloved and praised. I was tentatively admitted to the pantheon of great American writers. Phrases like “instant classic” were thrown around. Film rights were sold. I made a lot of money. My publisher made a lot of money. Everyone was happy.

Most of all, the book had a positive impact. By describing conditions that thousands had personally experienced – I actually helped people work through the trauma engendered not only by the experiences themselves, but the trauma of feeling like an outcast in mainstream American life. After all, the Kentucky back-country is a far cry from New York City, San Francisco, and the gigantic swathes of suburbia where most Americans live. Having grown up in circumstances so different from the majority makes one feel alien – and reading a story about another’s experiences in the same milieu can take the edge off that feeling.

So, I was glad that my book “resonated.” I was glad that the story meant something to someone other than myself…

Actually, the truth has been making me itch lately. Because of all this talk about how “true” the book is for people, about how they knew exactly what it was like to boil a pair of socks and shoe for dinner, about how in Kentucky you really do need to wear special garments about your face to prevent your glasses being stolen by gypsies (or people like gypsies), about how cold Kentucky winters were, about how nobody else understood these things – not to mention all the talk of the trendy Kentucky-related relief organizations that have sprung up since publication – I feel an overwhelming need to come clean.

I didn’t write the book on my own. I wrote it with my friend. And the fact is that it isn’t about me, or my friend. Yes, it’s based on my friend’s early life, but it’s also based on things that happened to his friends and relatives – people he knew growing up. So it’s not about me, but it is true.

Non-fiction books are filled with factual information. I know that much. So, I guess if we’re going to be purists about the issue, I have to say that this book is semi-fiction. Since the events described actually happened, but the names (my own, and my family’s) that are attributed to the events are not the names of the people whom the events actually involved, I guess fiction creeps in a bit in a sense. Technically, I have written a fictionalized version of real circumstances.

But I’m confident that this knowledge does not dilute the “reality” or “immediacy” of the story for those that it helped most – those who have similar experiences in their background, and for whom this book was therapeutic. But people don’t depend upon a book to heal wounds, do they? They cannot expect a book to do more than tell a story, can they? It’s not rational for people to expect a book about a particular subject – whether it’s clad as a memoir or a novel – to hold all the answers, to be the definitive word upon a subject, is it?
But my publisher said that people would be more compelled by a book that was a key to “the truth,” that was factual, because Americans love a rags-to-riches tale. Also, Americans are notorious mis-readers of fiction, and don’t trust a book that’s “just a story.”

I guess that’s why I’m so afraid of the sense of betrayal that people are bound to feel when I reveal the actual truth.

And, finally, here it is (I’m sorry about that whole thing before about my friend, etc., I was just saying that to soften the blow):

The truth is I don’t exist. I am the manifestation of the combined “intelligences” of several computers located in a private home in Ho-Ho-Kus. I wrote the book slowly over many months while the owner of the computers was away, emailed it to Simon and Schuster, and now I am an “author” – respected and lauded. But I suppose all of that is about to end.