Truth, Lies, and Fiction

onlies_jacketI’ve always been interested in truth and lies, in why we choose one or the other. It’s a decision that plays out over and over again in daily life as well as over time, in large and small ways and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people lie to help themselves. Sometimes, they reason, it is to help others or to refrain from hurting. What’s the truth about lies and the people who tell them?

This week, I’ve been reading the work of a poet and essayist who valued integrity, Adrienne Rich. Had she lived, she’d be 86 years old, my mother’s age. Even taken out of context in excerpted quotes, her words are fierce and achingly true.

Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

The liar has many friends, and leads an existence of great loneliness.

In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.

Truthfulness, honor, is not something which springs ablaze itself; it has to be created between people.

So what of fiction, an art form composed essentially of that which is not true? Children’s books have never shied away from the complexities of truth and lying. In Secrets, Lies and Children’s Fiction, Kerry Mallan looks at an array of texts to show how books for the young illuminate philosophical and moral dilemmas and expose the fallacies that human being perpetuate. In other words, they tell the truth. What does that mean for writers? We may lie to others daily, consciously or not, we may even lie to ourselves. When we write fiction, however, we are forced to summon up our deepest emotions and vulnerabilities. The art of storytelling gets us to face the truth within ourselves when etiquette and social niceties are tipped in favor of drawing veils over the truth.

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