Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

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"[Slater has] the playful mind of a philosopher and the exquisite, unique voice of a poet." (The Washington Post Book World)

In this powerful and provocative new memoir, award-winning author Lauren Slater forces readers to redraw the boundary between what we know as fact and what we believe through the creation of our own personal fictions. Mixing memoir with mendacity, Slater examines memories of her youth, when after being diagnosed with a strange illness she developed seizures and neurological ...
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Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

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Overview

"[Slater has] the playful mind of a philosopher and the exquisite, unique voice of a poet." (The Washington Post Book World)

In this powerful and provocative new memoir, award-winning author Lauren Slater forces readers to redraw the boundary between what we know as fact and what we believe through the creation of our own personal fictions. Mixing memoir with mendacity, Slater examines memories of her youth, when after being diagnosed with a strange illness she developed seizures and neurological disturbances-and the compulsion to lie. Openly questioning the reliability of memoir itself, Slater presents the mesmerizing story of a young woman who discovers not only what plagues her but also what cures her-the birth of her sensuality, her creativity as an artist, and storytelling as an act of healing.

Author Biography: Lauren Slater's work has been nominated for a National Magazine Award and chosen for several editions of The Best American Essays. She is the winner of the New Letters Literary Award in creative nonfiction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
If fact is shaded with metaphor, does it become fiction? In a memoir that raises that question, the author of Prozac Diary and Welcome to My Country narrates a life marked by a disease she may or may not actually have. "I have epilepsy," she writes in the first chapter. "Or I feel I have epilepsy. Or I wish I had epilepsy, so I could find a way of explaining the dirty, spastic glittering place I had in my mother's heart." But was it epilepsy, or depression, or bipolar disorder, or Munchausen syndrome, or none of the above? And did Slater really undergo a corpus callostomy operation separating her right and left brain? Questions of authenticity aside, at its core this memoir touchingly describes the coming of age of a young girl who relies on illness to gain the attention of her narcissistic mother and ineffectual father, and who must find a way to navigate her parents' often vicious marriage and her own troubled adolescence. Slater, who says she must take anticonvulsant medication daily, had her first seizure the summer she turned 10. The symptoms of epilepsy function as a vehicle for her most potently written passages: dazzling hallucinations, teeth-grinding spasms, exuberant exaggerations. As often happens to those with illness, Slater moves from diagnosis to misdiagnosis to cure to redefinition and eventually to acceptance. In her afterword, the author explains that for personal and philosophical reasons, she had no choice but to transcribe her life in "a slippery, playful, impish, exasperating text, shaped, if it could be, like a question mark." The skill with which she achieves her goal reflects unusual insight. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
KLIATT
The art of writing memoir that evokes greater truths in the minds and hearts of readers, instead of being limited to a catharsis for the author, is both subtle and capable of great power. Slater (author of Prozac Diary, 1998) accomplishes much in this memoir of her struggles with epilepsy and concomitant personality issues in her childhood and youth: she provides readers with insight on this myth-laden physical disorder and its psychological components; she reveals subtle truths about how people choose somatic as well as intellectual methods for "telling" the stories of their own lives; and she calls into serious question how lying, when used as metaphor, can be a method of communicating the truth. Slater developed epilepsy when she was ten, and suffered such severe and frequent seizures that she underwent surgery, at 13, to relieve the intensity of the electrical discharges as they traveled between brain hemispheres. No one, however, is limited to the sum of his/her physical state, and Slater's character also was informed by her parents' mismatched partnership, her own imaginative world, and the interest her physical condition evoked in healthcare professionals. Whether she "used" epilepsy to show herself or whether being epileptic shaped that self is one of the provocative questions she raises within her telling of her youth. Slater's writing is graceful and engaging, making the story of her years between 10 and 20 easy to offer teenage girls. Readers who themselves have experiences with epilepsy will find valuable insight on the condition and its treatment here, but those with no such experience will become equally involved in the author's discussion of how one both does andcan't shape self perception willfully. Among the variety of audiences this book suits, mother-daughter book clubs might consider it a meaty text to share. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Penguin, 222p.,
— Francisca Goldsmith
Rebecca Mead
Slater is a gorgeous writer, and she describes the dissolving hallucinations of the epileptic state with seductive grace.
The New York Times Book Review
Vanessa V. Friedman
[A] strange but mesmerizing book...Slater's arguments are beautifully shaped; her prose, especially the descriptions of her childhood, are blunt and searing. In the end does it matter if you know what's real and what's fantasy? In this case, the answer is: When the narrative is powerfull enough, not at all.
Entertainment Weekly Editor's Pick
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375501128
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/30/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 221
  • Product dimensions: 5.57 (w) x 8.21 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Meet the Author

A 1999 National Magazine Award nominee, Lauren Slater has a masters degree in psychology from Harvard University and a doctorate from Boston University. Her work was chosen for the Best American Essays/Most Notable Essays volumes of 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999. Her previous book, Lying, was chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2000. Slater lives with her family in Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt


INTRODUCTION

I first encountered Lauren Slater as a writer when I read her account of schizophrenia in her book Welcome to My Country. Since that time I have followed her work, always intrigued by its development. Now, in her third effort, this author brings us a daring meditation on creative nonfiction, a story of epilepsy that is at once entertaining and disturbing. What makes this book disturbing is its incrementally rising refusal to state the facts of the illness about which she writes. By the end of the book, the reader is, indeed, left to wonder whether, or to what degree, Ms. Slater has suffered epilepsy, or if she has used the disease as a meaningful metaphor to convey what are otherwise unutterable experiences in her life.

Using metaphor as a literary technique is not a new concept in fiction; however, using, or suggesting, the use of metaphor as a valid vehicle to convey autobiographical truths-thus her insistence that this book is, indeed, a nonfiction memoir-is a new and unsettling idea. Perhaps more unsettling and exciting is the writer's insistence on not revealing to us which aspects of her disease are factual, which symbolic, which real, which fantastical, and by doing so asking us to enter with her a new kind of Heideggerian truth, the truth of the liminal, the not-knowing, the truth of confusion, which, if we can only learn to tolerate, yields us greater wisdom in the long run than packaged and parceled facts.

This book requires courage, along with an open and flexible mind. I have been disturbed, widened and exhilarated by my reading of it, as I hope you will be too.

Hayward Krieger

Professor ofPhilosophy
University of Southern California


CHAPTER 2

THREE BLIND MICE


The summer I turned ten I smelled jasmine everywhere I went. At first I thought the smell was part of the normal world, because we were having a hot spell that July, and every night it rained and the flowers were in full bloom. So I didn't pay much attention, except, after a while, I noticed I smelled jasmine in the bath, and my dreams were full of it, and when, one day, I cut my palm on a piece of glass, my blood itself was scented, and I started to feel scared and also good.

That was one world, and I called it the jasmine world. I didn't know, then, that epilepsy often begins with strange smells, some of which are pleasant, some of which are not. I was lucky to have a good smell. Other people's epilepsy begins with bad smells, such as tuna fish rotting in the sun, dead shark, gin and piss; these are just some of the stories I've heard.

My world, though, was the jasmine world, and I told no one about it. As the summer went on, the jasmine world grew; other odors entered, sometimes a smell of burning, as though the whole house were coming down.

Which, in a way, it was. There were my mother and my father, both of whom I loved-that much is true-but my father was too small, my mother too big, and occasionally, when the jasmine came on, I would also feel a lightheadedness that made my mother seem even bigger, my father even smaller, so he was the size of a freckle, she higher than a house, all her hair flying.

My father was a Hebrew School teacher, and once a year he took the bimah on Yom Kippur. My mother was many things, a round-robin tennis player with an excellent serve, a hostess, a housewife, a schemer, an ideologue, she wanted to free the Russian Jews, educate the Falashas, fly on the Concorde, drink at the Ritz. She did drink, but not at the Ritz. She drank in the den or in her bedroom, always with an olive in her glass.

I wanted to make my mother happy, that should come as no surprise. She had desires, for a harp, for seasonal seats at the opera, neither of which my father could afford. She was a woman of grand gestures and high standards and she rarely spoke the truth. She told me she was a Holocaust survivor, a hot-air balloonist, a personal friend of Golda Meir. From my mother I learned that truth is bendable, that what you wish is every bit as real as what you are.

I have epilepsy. Or I feel I have epilepsy. Or I wish I had epilepsy, so I could find a way of explaining the dirty, spas tic glittering place I had in my mother's heart. Epilepsy is a fascinating disease because some epileptics are liars, exaggerators, makers of myths and high-flying stories. Doctors don't know why this is, something to do, maybe, with the way a scar on the brain dents memory or mutates reality. My epilepsy started with the smell of jasmine, and that smell moved into my mouth. And when I opened my mouth after that, all my words seemed colored, and I don't know where this is my mother or where this is my illness, or whether, like her, I am just confusing fact with fiction, and there is no epilepsy, just a clenched metaphor, a way of telling you what I have to tell you: my tale.

The summer of the smells was also the summer of new sounds. There were the crickets, which I could hear with astonishing clarity each evening, and the rain on the roof, each drop distinct. There was the piano, which my mother did not tell us about, her secret scheme, delivered one day in ropes and pulleys, its forehead branded "Lady Anita."

"Return it," my father said.

"I can't," she said. "I've had it engraved."

"Anita," he said. We were standing in the living room. "Anita, there's no room to move with this Steinway in here."

"Since when do you move anyway?" my mother said. "You play pinochle. You pray. You are not a man who requires room.

I never witnessed one of their fights. My father was, by nature, private and shy. My mother, though flamboyant, did not display emotion in public. Whenever a fight came up I was banished to my room. 1, however, had long ago discovered that if I put my head in the upstairs bathroom toilet bowl, I could hear everything through the pipes.

"We can't afford this," I heard my father say.

"You," my mother said, "had the chance to partner up in Irving Busney's bakery business."

And so it went from there, as it always did, fights containing words like you, and you, fights about bills and house repairs, vacations and cars, fights with false laughs-ha! and ha! and sometimes crashing glass, and other times, like this time, such silence.


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