Tag Archives: tongue in cheek

The Grand Illusion

I very much love reading fiction, but there’s just one thing that bothers me when I do.   My mind starts spinning around fictional scenes and I begin wondering how much of what I see is not fictional but true; that is, based on actual events in the author’s life?   So, dear Reader, I think I may have developed a solution to this question of real versus fake via the development of a new ratings system.

Publishers, effective immediately, each novel is to carry a cover sticker that states, “This book is based __% on actual events.”   Yes, every fiction book is to carry an informational sticker that gives the prospective reader a number that represents the average amount of content derived from true happenings.   Or should it be the median?

The beginning of each chapter must also contain a similar statement, “Chapter 4 is based 62% on actual events in the author’s life.”   In addition, at the rear of the novel, a summary must detail which ” fictional” scenes were based on which real events in the life of the writer – let’s call her Suzie Smith.   As an example, “When the protagonist Liz Bordon crashes her Mini Cooper into the Goodwill drop-off box on her way home from a college party in 2011, this scene was based on the time that Ms. Smith crashed her Toyota Tercel into a U.S. postal service box on her way home from a fraternity-sorority mixer in Berkeley in 1987.”   See, in this way, we will be able to determine exactly how original and creative each author is, and we’ll also see how often they’re just writing down things that happened to them decades earlier.

This relates to the matter of why most successful novelists are past their twenties and early thirties…  Because one needs to live at least 35 or so years before one has enough big and interesting experiences in life to turn them into alleged fictional events.   If you think about this, it’s totally logical.   How would one be expected to make up things about situations one knows nothing about?   It would be like asking a middle school drop-out to write about life in graduate school at Harvard.   You’re not very likely to get a novel out of that.   But ask a Yale graduate school drop-out to write about graduate school life at Harvard and you might well have something.   (Note: A new federal law prohibits individuals from making up scenes about life at a rival’s campus.   If you went to Stanford, you cannot legally write fiction about being a Cal student.   Writers, this is a matter to talk to your legal counsel about.   Better safe than sorry.)

This is not something that I’ve studied scientifically, but my guess is that the range of fictional content in a novel is likely to be in the range of no more than 20 to 35 percent.   If this is true, then there’s bound to be a demand for additional consumer protection.   Federal regulations will surely come into play requiring a minimum of 51 percent fictional content in order for a story to be classified as fiction.   Anything less, and the book must be labeled as a pseudo-fictional work (Caution: This book is substantively based on things that happened in the writer’s life when he/she wore a younger person’s clothes.   You’re not getting much fiction for your money if you buy this one.)

See how helpful this will be?   And, yes, I can see what it’s going to mean in the long run…  Many of today’s novelists will be converted into new-born memoir writers, telling us about their past lives without covering them in the guise of fictional events.   The truth shall set them free!

If you think I have some good ideas here, then write your congressperson or U.S. senator today and urge them to adopt these essential reader protections.   Or better yet join my public interest group, the Association to Properly Brand So-Called Fictional Works.   Once my crusade has proven to be successful, I may write a novel about it.   Oh, make that a memoir.

Joseph Arellano

Pictured: The Other Life: A Novel by Ellen Meister which was not based on actual events (read the synopsis and you’ll understand why).   BTW, this is not intended to be a serious essay – it’s a joke, folks.  Thank you.

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Risky Business

Risk: A Novel by Colin Harrison

Risk is a crime novel, it might be said, that is not what it purports to be.   It is the story of one George Young, a lawyer at an insurance firm, who is asked to solve a mystery.   The mystery has to do with how and why the son of the firm’s late founder was killed in an apparent accident in New York City.   Young feels that he owes his good fortune in life to the late Mr. Corbett who rescued him from a lackluster existence as a prosecutor.   Therefore, he agrees to try to solve the mystery without a fee.

But Young is actually less a lawyer than an insurance fraud investigator, so investigating a suspicious death would appear to be right up his alley.   Then there’s the fact that this is actually a 174-page novella, or a two-thirds scale novel.   It often reads like a movie manuscript, quick with easy-to-visualize scenes and light on character development.

Risk would be a perfect book to read while commuting since the story is not too complex or demanding.   Harrison’s style as an author calls forth James Scott Bell (Try Fear), who writes of crime and dark figures with tongue a bit in cheek.   George Young, like Bell’s lead figure Ty Buchanan, plays investigator with a smirk and sometimes a joke.   He’s a bit too relaxed to be real and would probably be played by a young Bruce Willis-type in a film version.  

Come to think of it, the plot of Risk has some parallels to Try Fear, but we’ll put that aside…   In the end, Risk was less satisfying for two reasons.   First, the editing/proofing could have been better.   It was unsettling to come across mixed tense sentences, as in this example:  “All I wanted to do was go home and have dinner with Carol, maybe sit out on our balcony and drink some cheap wine while we ate.   Usually I ask if she’s heard from our daughter, Rachel, who was in her first year of college then.”   I think these sentences would have been correctly written as, “All I wanted to do back then was go home and have dinner with Carol…  I usually asked my wife if she’d heard from our daughter Rachel, who was in her first year of college.”   (Another sentence refers to, “…leaving life itself altogether.”   That’s about two words too many.)

More troubling was the implausible ending – a movie script cliché – which tied things up neatly but turned the tale into a shaggy dog story.   I’d stay away from this one unless you’re the type of reader who enjoys chasing his or her own tail.

A review copy was supplied by Picador and Library Thing.

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