The Truth of Fiction

You can’t get at the truth by writing history; only the novelist can do that–Gerald Brenan, British travel writer and novelist

My formal education–elementary school, high school, college and law school–spanned nearly twenty years beginning in 1955.  History, and the teaching of history–as I understood it then–was about the truth of our past.  That is no longer the case, if it ever was.  There are only “facts,” and even they are disputed, usually in the service of differing political or cultural perspectives.  And even the “history” I learned as a child wasn’t the truth because it necessarily reflected the perceptions of the people, over generations, who wrote it.On the other hand, as a younger man I never considered fiction as truth.  The novels I read were stories imagined by authors, dreamed up to entertain me.  Sometimes my teachers and professors suggested otherwise, usually in the back-and-forth over a novel I didn’t like–Crime and Punishment, for example, and Huckleberry Finn.  To the extent I read them at all, I cared only for the story.

At some point, I realized there was more to fiction than plot.  I began to consider the ideas in books, and when I began writing fiction eight years ago it was because I had ideas I wanted to share.  And, as I’ve said in this space before, the mesh of story and ideas isn’t easy–most readers still want to be entertained, so the balance is delicate.  Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort because fiction allows a writer to at least speculate about the truth that Gerald Brenan is talking about.

And, what is that?  It’s the truth about “us.”  Settings and plots and, most especially, characters, reflect the writer’s view of who we really are.  Inner dialogue, the novel’s greatest innovation, strips away the pretense that disguises the self we present to the world.  The characteristics that make us human, good and bad, are presented by the author and examined by the reader, and perhaps a few minds change.  It’s the best part about writing fiction.

Juvenal’s Lament: A Political Fable is here!  You can find it at all the usual places.  Here’s the back cover text:

Tommy Sawyer, the man one critic hailed as “Holden Caulfield with a political science degree,” is back.  Elected to serve out the term of a dead Congressman, Tommy is chosen to oversee the impeachment of the Chief Justice of the United States.  Along the way, he encounters the entrenched greed and corruption in Washington that’s now undermining life in the rest of the country.  Murder, terrorism and unrestrained “politics” are the order of the day, and the United States teeters on civil war.  Only a single, charismatic man stands between the country and chaos.  Juvenal’s Lament, set in the very near future, is a cautionary tale about the misuse of power and the widening chasm between Washington and the public.Juvenal front cover (2)

 

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