Monday, May 25, 2020

Blue Marlin by Lee Smith -- Autobiographical Fiction

Many years ago, a good friend put a copy of Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies in my hands and I was hooked. I've read and loved all her books--novels, short story collections, and a memoir. 

So of course I got a copy of Blue Marlin, her latest (the nineteenth,) a novella set in the late Fifties and based on an actual event from her childhood-- a trip from small town Virginia to Key West with her troubled parents who are trying to patch up their marriage and themselves. The family finds themselves at the Blue Marlin  with the cast (Tony Curtis! Cary Grant!) of Operation Petticoat which is being filmed in Key West.

It's a wonderful story with characters that will make you laugh and break your heart--almost in the same breath. Jenny, the thirteen-year-old would-be spy/novelist, who tells the story is a pure delight--and no one writes young women better than Smith.  Really, just read it. Or check out this excellent review by Wiley Cash HERE . Then read it.

Story-telling is traditional in the South--also traditional in many families is the maxim that you don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. And that's what Smith has done.

 She calls Blue Marlin "autobiographical fiction." and says in the afterword: 

I have always felt I can tell the truth better in fiction than in nonfiction. Real life is often chaotic, mysterious, unfathomable. But in fiction you can change the order of events, emphasize or alter certain aspects of the characters--you can even create new people or take real people away in an instant. That means you can instill some sort of order to create meaning, so that the story will make sense--where real life so often does not. Fiction is also a heightened reality--you "up the ante" in order to grab the reader's attention and hold it, increasing or emphasizing the conflict, adjusting the pace of the story accordingly, often making it conform to the old tried and truly satisfying plot sequence of beginning, middle, end.

So often in the classes I teach, I find students who are writing a novel that is more like a memoir and they are so wedded to what-actually-happened that the story suffers. I'm going to refer them to Smith's words above, reminding them that one can often "tell the truth better in fiction and in nonfiction." 

NOTE: In looking for a photo for Operation Petticoat, I stumbled onto the information that the movie was based on an actual event--but many liberties were taken. And I begin to wonder about my own life and my memories of it . . .

1 comment:

Barbara Rogers said...

I'll read (and re-read) anything by Lee Smith or you! A good author just gets that reputation in my library, and I'm so glad to hear Lee's got another one out there. Can't wait!