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Lionel Shriver on Fiction and Identity Politics

An excerpt from Lionel Shriver’s recent address to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival:

What stories are “implicitly ours to tell,” and what boundaries around our own lives are we mandated to remain within? I would argue that any story you can make yours is yours to tell, and trying to push the boundaries of the author’s personal experience is part of a fiction writer’s job.

I’m hoping that crime writers, for example, don’t all have personal experience of committing murder. Me, I’ve depicted a high school killing spree, and I hate to break it to you: I’ve never shot fatal arrows through seven kids, a teacher, and a cafeteria worker, either. We make things up, we chance our arms, sometimes we do a little research, but in the end it’s still about what we can get away with – what we can put over on our readers.

Because the ultimate endpoint of keeping out mitts off experience that doesn’t belong to us is that there is no fiction. Someone like me only permits herself to write from the perspective of a straight white female born in North Carolina, closing on sixty, able-bodied but with bad knees, skint for years but finally able to buy the odd new shirt. All that’s left is memoir.

And here’s the bugbear, here’s where we really can’t win. At the same time that we’re to write about only the few toys that landed in our playpen, we’re also upbraided for failing to portray in our fiction a population that is sufficiently various.

Comments

  1. Big Jon Bully says:

    Thanks, Quin. It’s very, very weird that those opinions are controversial. Do these people have any clue about how boring they are. Rhetorical question, of course they don’t.

    Thanks again.

    How ’bout those M’s.

  2. “Someone like me only permits herself to write from the perspective of a straight white female born in North Carolina, closing on sixty, able-bodied but with bad knees, skint for years but finally able to buy the odd new shirt”

    Is it just me, or does that sort of sound like something Percy would have written? The bad knees part, I think, is what does it.

    Also, I am reminded of an anecdote, whether true or not, I cannot tell, about Stephen Crane: After he had written The Red Badge of Courage, many Civil War vets started making guesses as to what member of his unit had written the piece. “That happened to me.” “I was there when that part in the story really took place.” “I knew that character – he’s drawn to life, he is!” That sort of thing. Of course, Stephen Crane was BORN in 1871….

    And finally, Shriver’s piece fits nicely with my little add-on for “Seahorse,” by Nelson Algren. He was being interviewed by the Paris Review, in which he was asked if he ever tried any of the drugs he wrote about. (Sidetone: I used to think “Man with the Golden Arm” was a James Bond one-off by Algren until I saw the movie. Never read the book. It didn’t have Kim Novak in it. (“O Tony! O Rory…!”))

    Also, apropos of naught: http://bookguyvsthestack.blogspot.com/2007/07/moviegoer-or-who-fk-is-rory-and-also.html

    JOB

  3. Big Jon Bully says:

    Man with the Golden Gun missed Novak.

    Smiling Emogee.

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