Until this last week, almost everyone who has read Goner knows me and also knows my sisters. Friends and family have responded generously and positively to the novel, yet can’t help but read it as non-fiction: “I didn’t know your sister raised goats!” “When did you live in Mississippi?” “You have a rotten singing voice!”
It is true that I am one of four sisters and that we all spent our formative years in a very small town on the Mississippi River. Many of the adventures recounted in Goner are adventures we shared. The story, admittedly, does not reflect a huge stretch of authorial imagination. That said--I am most certainly a novelist, not a memoirist.
Each of my three sisters is a fine writer; and one of the three has been working for almost thirty years on a rich, lovely memoir about growing up on the River Road in South Louisiana. This sister is a wonderful writer, but not a ready decision maker, so she has lingered long over her book. Since both of us draw deeply from the same well, it has forced me think a great deal about the difference between fiction and memoir. Finally I have come to think it narrows down to this: A novelist sets out to tell a story and the memoirist to tell the story. In autobiography, it is only possible to know one’s own heart. A novelist can choose to know many hearts.
I had hoped my sister’s book would be ready when Goner was, as I think reading the books in sequence would be so interesting and would expand the market for both. But my sister is not one to rush the muse and so will be in the process of writing and deciding for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile I do, indeed, have a rotten singing voice, but Emily’s is just beautiful. Fiction can do that.
June 25, 2017