truth n. , pl. truths. Conformity to fact or actuality. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
In the current controversy over whether memoir should be "true," Mary Karr (Liar's Club, Cherry) makes her position clear. "If you're gonna call it memoir, don't make sh*t up!" Ironically, I heard her say this at the 412 Creative Nonfiction Conference in November, 2005, several months before thesmokinggun.com revealed the "truth" about James Frey's Million Little Pieces.
Frey is not alone in his exposure, only in the amount of mediaplay he's getting. This month's Poets & Writers Magazine includes, "The Literature of Lies," a discussion of several untruths. Author "Nasdijj" who in his essay and memoirs claimed to be Native American, is in fact a Caucasian former gay-erotica novelist named Timothy Patrick Barrus. Since Oprah didn't choose his memoirs for her book club, he's not getting the press. In the same article, P&W discusses JT LeRoy, an alleged man who wrote a novel supposedly based on his childhood experiences. In fact, LeRoy turned out to be Laura Albert, a female forty-something from San Francisco. Many authors use psuedonyms, but because LeRoy's novel hinted that "he" based the work on real life, the public felt betrayed.
What's the lesson here? I'll side with Ms. Karr. Isn't the fact that the author needs to tell a beautiful story within the confines of events that actually occurred what makes memoir so compelling? If not, why bother categorizing literature at all?