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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Writing the Truth

Read this. It’s by O’Brien again, The Things They Carried. The form of the book grows organically from the form of the stories of our life, from the stories of war. Read this and continue to read it until you understand it completely, and if you feel you understand it completely, you understand nothing. If you truly call yourself a writer, do not put pen to paper ever again until you have tried to grasp at that comprehension O’Brien is offering us.

Furthermore, it has been said that there are only two types of story: a man and a woman go on a journey and a stranger comes to town. Well that’s blatently wrong. There is only one type of story, and we are all writing the same one. Here it is:

“You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let’s say, and afterwards you ask, “Is it true?” and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer.
For example, we’ve all heard this one. Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast and save his three buddies.
Is it true?
The answer matters.
You’d feel cheated if it never happened. Without the grounding reality, it’s just a trite bit of puffery, pure Hollywood, untrue in the way all such stories are untrue. Yet even if it did happen - and maybe it did, anything’s possible - even then you know it can’t be true, because a war story does not depend upon that kind of truth. Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie, another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth. For example: Four guys go down a trail. A grenade sails out. One guy jumps on it and takes the blast, but it’s a killer grenade and everybody dies anyway. Before they die, though, one of the dead guys says, “The fuck you do that for?” and the jumper says, “Story of my life, Man,” and the other guy starts to smile but he’s dead.
That’s a true story that never happened.”


John Baker said...

Thanks. You made my day.

Gerard Beirne said...

Thanks John,

All praise to O'Brien however.