My Daughter recently read the 2006 book “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini. While reading the book, she thought the fictional High School in the book sounded a lot like a school she considered applying to when it came time to choose a high school. (In Manhattan we apply to public high and middle schools) So, she researched Vizzini, found that he did indeed attend that particular high school, and more distressing, found that Vizzini committed suicide in 2013. The manner in which he killed himself was the same method that the protagonist in the book attempted.
Last week, the author of “How to Murder your Husband” was charged with, you guessed it, murdering her husband. (disclaimer- I have not read this book or done research on the subject)
So what do you think today’s topic is going to be?
After finding out what happened to Vizzini, my daughter asked me “Even if a book is labeled fiction, should we question what the author has written about? Is it our responsibility to delve deeper into the harsher things authors write?”
I responded- “I don’t know.”
As a would be novelist, I know that I am writing a fictional story. Are there similarities to me? Sure. My main character drinks tea. I drink tea. It was easy to write a detail about something I know- it added a little depth and didn’t require me to do research. It has become a harmless quirk which makes the character delightful (at least I hope it does- we all know I am not delightful…) But the topic of my story, the plot? Well, that’s fiction…
Let’s just think about Gillian Flynn. Would you want to be married to her? I know “Gone Girl” freaked me out. I actually said “No Way” multiple times as I read it. Could you be married to her and not wonder what was really going on in her head?
Does a reader have the responsibility to wonder if someone is writing fiction, or a thinly veiled memoir? Do the loved ones of an author need to worry if an author keeps writing about disturbing topics? If your significant other, or your co worker or your child is writing about suicide do you say something?
One of the first commandments of fiction writing is “Write what you know”. Under that assumption it would be safe to assume that all fiction contains some truth, or relates to the author in some way. But how do we tell truth from fiction? At what point to we say “Wow. Maybe this should be looked into.”
Now as Vizzini had been in a mental health facility, I’m pretty confident that his loved ones knew of his struggles. But what about other authors? What about the ones who write about things, but haven’t had any outward signs?
Should the reader of a fictional work question the content? Or should we just go with the assumption that the work is mostly fiction?