Thursday, September 27, 2012

Point of View 5

Trust Me...or Not

Once a Name Author invited me to a lunch where a group of his friends were meeting. One of the other lunchers was a very successful writer of true-life borderline supernatural books: bigfoot, ufos, things like that. I arrived before he - let's call him Andy - showed up, and the others cautioned me, "We're going to have some fun with Andy. Don't tip him off."

So Andy showed up and, as writers will, they talked shop. One of them said, "Hey, I just got my first offer of a six-figure contract for a new novel."

Andy said, "I got six figures for my first book. I'm almost up to million-dollar advances now, but my accountant told me not to go any higher for tax purposes, so I'm taking most of the income as royalties."

Another said, "Man, when we flew in, the weather was rough. Our plane bounced around so much that the luggage compartments sprang open and the suitcases fell out."

Andy said, "Yeah, I was taking flying lessons a year ago and I was on my first solo when a tornado blew up and I had to fly through it. It ripped the landing gear off the plane and I had to make a belly landing....."

Everything anyone mentioned - and it grew outrageous - Andy had done better. I quickly decided that Andy was a compulsive liar, something everyone else in the group already knew. Put his books in a whole different light.

Even a first-person narrator is not always to be trusted. We embroider the truth, we bend the facts, and sometimes we lie. Narrators are the same. Christopher Priest's novel The Prestige has two first-person narrators, and both of them are unreliable. Neither tells the truth, and part of the reward of reading the book is trying to discern exactly where the truth may lie.

Pun intended.

Some narrators are unreliable because, like Andy, they lie to the reader. Others, like Huckleberry Finn, are naive and simply don't know the whole truth behind the stories they are narrating. An untrustworthy narrator can add a whole new dimension to a story. The catch, of course, is that at some point the reader has to know that the narrator speaks with a forked tongue.

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