In praise of lying (in literature, anyway)
“Death is a bore. But life isn’t very interesting either. I must say I expected death to glimmer with meaning, but it doesn’t. It’s just there. I don’t feel particularly alone or condemned or unfairly treated, but I do think about suicide a lot because it is so boring to be ill, rather like being trapped in an Updike novel. I must say I despise living if it can’t be done on my terms.”
That’s a paragraph from page 152 in Harold Brodkey’s This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death. My first reaction is: Wow, what a powerful paragraph. My second reaction is: He’s lying.
There’s a lot of lying in that thin book, in spite of its frequent emphasis on the truth, lying about his place in the world, lying about how angry he is, perhaps even lying about when he got the AIDS that killed him (Brodkey fell ill in 1993 and claimed not to have been exposed since 1977, a statistically unlikely scenario). But stop a moment and reread the paragraph up top. It’s pretty much everything you’d want from a writer: smart, funny, unexpected, full of — yes — life. But it wouldn’t be as powerful without it being a lie. Without lies, sometimes literature can’t get to the truth, I guess.