On long road trips with my six-year-old, as parents have from time immemorial (or, okay, since cars and freeways were invented), we often while away the minutes between bathroom stops with games like “Fiction or Non-fiction?” and its first cousin “True or False?” What’s interesting to me about this exercise is how hard it sometimes is to explain to a child how certain things can be true/non-fiction, even if we haven’t experienced them ourselves. Case in point? Dinosaurs. Literal minded kids (or kids under a certain age) think that because they don’t exist now they must be fiction or part of a great left-wing conspiracy.
Anyway, my point, rambling though it might be, is that gray areas exist when trying to categorize fiction and non-fiction. Certainly, this is something that is daily evident in my line of work. You have only to read an artfully crafted memoir to wonder how much is true/non-fiction and how much is the author’s imagination/ambition/skill/lousy memory at work and, therefore, false/fiction. As far as I’m concerned, as long as things are clearly labeled—i.e., “I remember it this way but I confess the years may have dimmed my powers of recollection”—I’m okay with narratives that are more well wrought than truthful.
For me, in fact, the thornier issue is fiction, where anything goes. Right? Or does it? This piece in Jezebel about Alexander Maksik’s much lauded novel skeeves me out precisely because it raises uncomfortable issues about what and how much is allowed when an author puts on his/her novelist hat. Using fiction to tackle difficult subjects is de rigueur in literature, accomplishing creative expression while avoiding legal liability. But what about the collateral damage? Is it okay for Mr. Maksik to exploit his alleged experience with a student for literary fame and success? Must we defend his right to do so as elemental to the whole concept of creative freedom? Or do we just call a sleaze a sleaze?
Help me out on this one folks. I don’t want to condemn Mr. Maksik out of hand but given all the recent headline grabbing scandals about authority figures abusing their power over kids, I wonder if instead of praise for his artistry, we should be censuring his alleged behavior. What do you all think?