by Lauren Slater
Review by Tara Caimi
I’ve read a couple of exceptional books lately, and I just have to share my experience with at least one of them. Lying by Lauren Slater, blew my mind wide open regarding the possibilities in memoir writing. I had no idea what the term “metaphorical memoir” (the primary term used to describe the essence of the book) could possibly mean. As a result, I left the book on my shelf for quite some time. And after reading all the other books in my possession, there was Lying, still lying on my shelf. I’m so glad—what a thought-provoking, mind-spinning tale of a girl who grows up with the life-shaping illness of epilepsy. The metaphorical part turns out to be the illness, and by the end of the book, the reader is left wondering not only whether or not the author actually suffered from the illness after all, but also which illness(es) she really suffered from, based on several that she describes in the book.
It is obvious that the author suffered from something. But was it illness or abuse—an allusion that is never directly addressed but which seems to lurk threateningly in the subtext, hiding in the shadows and hovering in the air that fills the metaphorical world the author creates. Could abuse have caused the illness that the author may or may not have experienced? The reader cannot help but wonder. Or was the illness the metaphor for abuse? As mentioned, abuse is never directly admitted in the book, so these are all unfounded questions that go without answers. The author does use a few unusual tactics, such as addressing the reader directly at various intervals throughout the book, as well as admitting on several occasions to her inability to tell the whole truth, let alone any of it. (Was that her illness?)
Before admitting to the potentially disingenuous nature of the information she has presented, the author takes the reader so far down the path of her illness that it would seem impossible for her to turn back. Slater is like a disoriented spider that has gotten so caught up in the construction of its own beautiful and intricate web that it ends up encasing itself completely. But somehow, Slater expertly finds her way out of the web she has spun, even after attesting to having gone through the medical procedure of a corpus colostomy for the purpose of controlling her epileptic seizures. How does she turn such a momentous and seemingly irrefutable event into a mere dispensable possibility after declaring it as fact? I’m not quite sure.
Normally, this kind of veiling, this dancing around the truth would not be acceptable in memoir, and I’m honestly not sure if it is acceptable here or not. What I am sure of is the fact that this book of metaphorical truths has a resounding ring of universal truth that cannot be denied. And therein lies its magic. In and among the admitted subterfuge that fills the pages of this memoir is a screaming truth that pierces. What that truth is, exactly, turns out not to be the point.