truth in versions


Playing with Fire was Dani Shapiro’s first novel.  It was published in 1989.  It begins, “There are many versions to this story…”  And indeed, nine years later, the author published another version–“the true story,” the cover of Slow Motion reads.

Close to the events–fiction.  With distance–a look at what really happened.  Younger, the story.  Older, the truth.

The time frames are slightly different.  The phone call that begins the memoir comes on page 262 of the novel (of 304 pages).  The real time of the memoir moves forward from that call, with the relationship with Lenny coming in as backstory. The development of the relationship with Ben (neither name the real name) creates the forward movement of the novel, along with the development of the relationship with Carolyn, the you to whom the novel is addressed.  And the memoir deposits us a little further down the line, as her first novel is sold to a major publisher and she is receiving her MFA.  In the last pages, she writes about writing the novel.

“I see that there might be some way I can take the raw material of my life and transfom it into somethig that transcends my own experience.  I can organize the noise in my head into something that has order and structure.  I can make sense of what, until now, has been senseless.”

Memoir and fiction.  Truth.


family history

Dani Shapiro is one of my all-time favorite writers.  She knows how to tell a story–how to slowly release details in order to build tension and lure the reader forward. The first book of hers I read was Family History, published in 2003, but which I did not discover until October of 2005.

How does a writer know what to start with?  When to reveal a detail?  What is just enough to keep a reader interested but not so much that the reader has no place in the process?

It begins:

“I lie in bed these days and watch home movies–a useless exercise, to be sure, but I can’t stop myself.  Ned’s an amateur filmmaker, and ever since we got our first video camera when Kate was born, he has documented our family’s life, not just birthday parties and anniversaries but smaller, more telling moments.

I recommend all her books.

  • Playing With Fire, 1989
  • Fugitive Blue, 1993
  • Picturing the Wreck, 1996
  • Slow Motion, 1998
  • Family History, 2003
  • Black & White, 2007