My kids learned a hard truth yesterday after lunch: Darth Vader is Luke's father. They've been dying to see Return of the Jedi
for months. After spending the morning in my daughter's kindergarten class (twenty-six five- and six-year-olds in the same room equals migraine), I finally relented and put the movie on so I could take an Imitrex and nurse my headache. I don't know why I've been so reluctant; my son Elias has only seen Star Wars
and The Empire Strikes Back
, say, thirty times or so.
He took it hard. At three and a half, he is absolutely in love with "bad guys." He spends more time each day ransacking our house, hunting for Darth Vader with his lightsaber, than I do sitting in front of this computer. Elias doesn't want Darth Vader to "turn into a good guy." He wants the bad Vader. Bad Vader is so much more fun. It's a lot harder to play Luke now: who wants the complexity of having to hate your own father?
So now they know. It's not the same story once you know the truth about Luke and Leia's biology. Surprising plot twists make us re-evaluate every aspect of the way we feel about a story. The Vader twist is right up there with finding out that there is no Santa Claus, that Mr. Rochester has an insane wife locked in his attic, that Buffy wasn't really dead after season five. Or how about this one: James Frey fabricated much of his memoir. The moral? People are never as they seem.
Talk about spectacular plot twists. I tried not to weigh in on the Frey controversy. I really did. But who can resist? First, I find it slightly amusing that this man writes a book about what a destructive, outrageous, horrible person he has been through much of his life, and now everyone's surprised that he's a liar to boot? My favorite Frey quote as he tries to dig himself out of his hole: "The book is about drug addiction and alcoholism. The emotional truth is there." Is this is a phrase I should understand? What exactly is "emotional truth"? And when did it become more important than ? well, than whatever his book is not. Actual truth? Literal truth? Journalistic truth? Seems to me the "emotional truth" here is that James Frey saw a way he could sell a book and went with it.
There are two things that bother me most about the James Frey issue. The first is the role Oprah plays. From an AP article in yesterday's news: "Publishers, writers and readers have offered their opinions, but none mattered so much as Winfrey's... She might have fatally ruined Frey's reputation by condemning him." Does anyone else find it strange that Oprah has become the voice of expertise when it comes to literature? Oprah loves a book and the world loves it. Oprah backs a writer and the world will, too.
Second: I'm disturbed by Frey's insinuation during the Larry King interview that people don't necessarily expect the truth in memoirs, that as long as the "embellishment" (which is, lets face it, a nice word for "lie") serves the story, then there's no problem. As a fiction writer, I often weave events that actually happen with events that are entirely the figment of my imagination, depending on how they serve the story. In fact, my book is one hundred percent "emotionally true." Does this mean that I can market it as a memoir? Heaven knows I'd make more money. Maybe Oprah would make it next month's book club selection.