Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir / Lauren Slater,

Book Cover Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir
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/ Lauren Slater,
Publisher: Penguin
Sales Rank: 228331
ISBN-10: 014200006X
ISBN-13: 9780142000069

One has good reason to be suspicious of a book that calls itself a "metaphorical memoir." If a metaphor substitutes one thing for another to which it's not ordinarily related, and a memoir relates the personal experiences of the author, then a metaphorical memoir would be... well, lying, if we're going to get technical about it. Or it could be Lying, in which case, hold that judgment and lay all categories aside: here is a book so stunningly contrary it deserves a whole genre to itself.

Lauren Slater may have grown up with epilepsy. Or she may have Munchausen syndrome, "also called factitious illness," also called lying. Or, quite possibly, she has never had any of the above, and all her exquisite evocations of auras and grand mal seizures are merely well-researched symbolic descriptions of her psychic state. In a chapter that's disguised as an extended letter to her editor (and impishly titled "How to Market This Book") she defends her decision to call the work nonfiction:

Why is what we feel less true than what is? Supposing I simply feel like an epileptic, a spastic person, one with a shivering brain; supposing I have chosen epilepsy because it is the most accurate conduit to convey my psyche to you? Would this not still be a memoir, my memoir?
Slater is peering down a slippery slope here, and for all its manifest brilliance, the pyrotechnics of its prose, reading Lying can be an unnerving experience--sort of like hanging out with a compulsive liar, actually. (It's no help to find out that "after all, a lot, or at least some, or at least a few, of the literal facts are accurate.")

But if Slater is playing with our heads, she's not doing so for fashionable postmodern reasons. Lying's bag of tricks emerges from some complex and deeply felt ideas about form, reality, and consciousness itself--and what's more, it's an extraordinary memoir, "true" or not. A field full of nuns, their windblown habits tipping them over into the snow; an electric brain stimulator that makes a patient see colors and taste her own words; Slater rolling in mounds of Barbadian sugar and then running back to her mother, coated like candy--who cares whether any of these actually happened? In the end, Lying is fundamentally true, just as a great novel or indeed any great work of art is true: in a way that has nothing to do with fact. --Mary Park
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