A Perfectly Postmodern White House Book

By Adam Kirsch

The reviews of Fire and Fury are in, and they are pretty furious themselves. Michael Wolff, author of the best-selling expose of the Trump White House, has been accused of every kind of journalistic malfeasance: reconstructing scenes he couldn’t have witnessed, retelling gossip as if it were gospel, letting his sources’ agendas drive his portrayals. President Trump himself has attacked the book as “a work of fiction,” and many of the journalists who have weighed in on it basically agree. At least, they complain, there’s no way to tell if the stories Wolff retails are true.

To anyone who pays attention to actual American fiction, such attacks have a familiar ring. For the last 15 years—ever since the publication of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, a book sold as a memoir that turned out to be heavily fictionalized—American literature has  been obsessed with the blurriness of the line separating fact and fiction. When it comes to genre, most book-buyers are literalists: If it says memoir or nonfiction on the dust jacket, everything inside is supposed to be 100 percent accurate. If it turns out not to be, they feel defrauded. Frey’s publisher had to offer refunds to disgruntled readers who thought they were getting a transcript, but had to make do with a story.

Partly in response to this genre puritanism, literary writers have developed a much more playful and ambiguous relationship with truthfulness. One of the most influential recent books of literary criticism was David Shields’s 2010 Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, which encouraged writers, and readers, to skip over the line between fiction and nonfiction with  good conscience. “Reality,” for Shields, was not a holy grail but a stage effect, which writers ought to deploy playfully, in full awareness of its artificiality. Shields’s book itself took the form of a …read more

Via:: The Atlantic

      

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