Sunday, May 03, 2015

Lies and Lies

The compulsive liar, the con artist, is a story that is always absolutely creepily intriguing.  I have a couple of second-hand doozies in real life, and it's fascinating to try to poke them apart and figure them out.  I think the creep factor is largely because it reminds you how much we depend on other people's self-reporting for the things that we believe about them, both internal and external.

The Impostor's Daughter is a memoir by Laurie Sandall.  It's her own story, but clearly the emotional center of that story is her larger-than-life father, the stories he tells about himself, and whatever truth lies behind them.  It's a graphic novel, and it seems to be her first, but she's an accomplished writer and she knows how to tell someone's life story.

It's interesting, because knowing she's a magazine feature writer (which happens in the middle of the book), certain elements of her style kind of came together for me.  There are these different threads of the story, and they come together, but--I'm not sure quite how to say this--it's like the importance, the relevance of the story is assumed? 

Okay, let me try to explain that.  We start with her childhood, where her father with his amazing stories and enormous personality is the center of the family.  Laurie, as his favorite, is close to this--she gets a lot of her father's love and the family's spotlight.  As she grows up, she comes to realize gradually that his stories aren't just amazing, but outlandish, and even unlikely.  As a young writer, she decides to interview him and write about him, a project which starts as a profile of an amazing man but kind of morphs into an investigation of his lies and the people he's hurt with them. 

Along the course of this investigation (which doesn't end but grows more intense after she publishes her article), we also follow Laurie's personal life and struggles--her successful career as a magazine writer (and how growing up with her father taught her to be a good interviewer), her growing addiction to Ambien, her on-again-off-again relationship with a great guy who's not right for her. 

These are all really great stories, especially her research into her father's stories and his real history.  There's the unsatisfying element that often comes with a memoir, in that you can't wrap up the ends as neatly as you can in fiction, but enough other threads come together that it's emotionally a satisfying ending.  And her personal story is really effective--how easily a life can be either mostly fine or a complete mess, with just a change in lighting and angle. 

The place where things aren't tight is the beginning, and I think this has to do with the fact that the tension, the sense of what's at stake, isn't set up at the beginning the way it needed to be.  You start with a little kid listening to her father's tall tales, and before you know it she's a young adult telling these stories to other people at cocktail parties.  Yeah, her father's full of tall tales, but there's no sense for the longest time that this is a bad thing.  Of course, later we find out that these aren't just eccentricities or yarn-spinning, but lies that have hurt people but the tension is kind of placed into the story, rather than being earned.

I think I associate this with magazine writing because it does read like a magazine piece, in that the Thing that the journalist is investigating and writing about is assumed to have import--that the Thing is worth writing about is a given, because you're reading it.  The New Yorker doesn't have to explain to you why this new ballet company is worth reading about--you're reading the article because you want to read whatever The New Yorker has to share with you. 

That's kind of true of a book like this (con artists! compulsive liars! titillation!), but because it's also very much about her personal life and how being her father's daughter affected her, I think the implications of her father being the unlikely character he was (is?) need a little more explicit spelling out. 

This is really just me thinking about how the book worked, how it was put together.  It's not so much a complaint as an analysis--while I think it would have been a better book for this kind of structural change, her personal life and her investigation were interesting stories in and of themselves, and absolutely worth reading. 

Lying is fascinating, really.  The vast majority of what we know about the world is second (or more) hand; when you start to look closely at the reliability of information sources, it can really mess with your mind.  When you're a kid and your parents are the source--well, that's going to mess you up. 

1 comment:

Lianna Williamson said...

I'm glad you found this interesting! I was also fascinated by how growing up with a grandiose compulsive-lying father trained her for a career interviewing celebrities.