This Rosenblat fiasco is still a story, but it is becoming less about the genre of memoir than about the character flaw of this one man. Is he contradicting himself by saying it was not true but it was not a lie? It was his imagination but in his mind it was real? Is this a person with dementia or a creative old soul who just got too famous for his own good? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW5TY5YBGIo
It was his imagination but in his mind it was real… What have you convinced yourself you can do but never have done? Is this the same thing?
In an October presentation of the California Lecture Series, author Julia Glass talked about memoir v fiction. Her fiction has been honored with a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, three Nelson Algren Fiction Awards, the Tobias Wolff Award, and the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella. Sadly, I cannot find a way to link to the lecture and re read what I think she said, but will try to restate one bit of her wisdom.
Julia Glass said that much of her early fiction came out of her own life. Acknowledging that this is true, we pick and choose oddities or moments of engagement and build new memories around them. We shape and change these memories from our real life and when looking back on them cannot help but alter them through the glass of what we have experienced since. When does that memory become too fictionalized? Only when we get famous?
Rosenblatt’s story appears to be all “true” historically accurate possibilities based on forensic science and geography and other corroborating accounts with the exception of the inspiration, the love story he wove into his memory. This, perhaps, made his memory palatable? Turned just another story about the atrocities of the holocaust into a new story? Why didn’t he sell this book as fiction? How could he? Having experienced the dreadful circumstances he depicts in its pages, which is easier for him to do- to switch the fiction to non fiction or the non fiction to fiction? Or keep silent and not tell his story?
Would we have bought it if it was sold as fiction?
Publishers love memoir. Americans love memoir. Americans, and this was another point Julia Glass made, love reality tv. They are obsessed with watching other real people suffer. Why is this, when completely fabricated characters, when done well, simulate real people and out of necessity are put through the same trials as real people? The apparent current obsession with watching other people swing from trees is voyeurism at its worst.
But I am digressing from what I thought would be the original point of this post: Is all Memoir fiction if for no other reason than because our memories are flawed? If so, what should we call it all?