Most Of The Truth

In the last three days I’ve happened to speak to two different journalists, both of whom were compelled to write their first novel because of assignments they had been assigned or chosen to cover. In both cases, these women felt the stories were too large to be contained within the perimeters of traditional journalism, and so turned to fiction to reveal a more complete “truth.” This is not to say that journalism cannot tell the truth, nor that the memoir – fiction’s closest non-fiction cousin – cannot either. But even journalism, with its aspiration to the neutrality of raw facts, must prune the past, if by no other means than the unavoidable limitation of a source’s memory. That is, all stories – whether in The Washington Post or on the street corner – are reductions, and no matter how hard James Joyce might have tried, reality’s full scope is too vast to be contained in any one narrative.

The truth, then, becomes a perspective, and there is nothing at all wrong with this, in my opinion. The problem with reality is that it does not always arrange itself as neatly as fiction. Life can take some fantastically convoluted and boring routes to wind up where fiction will take us in a quarter of the time. Which is part of why these two journalists turned to fiction: the message they wanted to share was too important to be obscured by what actually happened.

I mean this sincerely. Sometimes it is simply too difficult to convey the enormity of what we take away from a given event or series of events in our lives. Sometimes to understand just why watching a baseball game with your father meant so much would require you to begin your story all the way back in childhood. Easier, perhaps, to rearrange things, or change the characters completely. The point, after all, isn’t what happened. The point is what’s been learned. After all, what has happened is over and can never happen again, but what is learned will be carried with us into the future.

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