Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is Fact Stranger than Fiction?

When I was in college, my favorite literary genre was Modernism, and my favorite time period was early 20th Century fiction: William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Theodor Dreiser, Kate Chopin, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Their stories were real, and dark, brooding, and biting. It was life at its best, and worst, gritty and raw ... and real.

The Joads could have been real people, and the life Steinbeck described was, indeed, the life that history, now, tells us is accurate. There were agricultural refugees and their life was hard and bitter, and there was significant suffering.

The decay of the Southern aristocracy was palpable in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. It was a real phenomenon as the surviving member of the families of the pre-Civil War Southern land owners found themselves struggling to maintain their former identities in a changed world.

They were real stories about not-real people, but we knew, in reading them, that it could be the life of our next door neighbor that was being described. It's still my favorite kind of book, and in fact, many of the non-fiction/memoir-style books that I enjoy are very similar to the modernist fiction.

When I started reading Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it didn't take long to figure it out.

From page 16: The government's deficit had been snowballing for a quarter of a century. We had been in an oil crisis for at least two generations. There were holes in the ozone, our forests were vanishing, our farmlands were demanding more and more fertilizers and pesticides to yield increasingly less - and more poisonous - food. There was an appalling unemployment rate, an overloaded welfare system ....

I was beginning to think I was reading the newspaper from the last four years. With the events in the book so closely mirroring our present reality, I had to check the publication date ... 1996. It was published in 1996.

Which made me wonder, where have we all been that this book could have been published so LONG ago, and not made waves? I'd never heard of it, until it ended up at my house - one in a bag of second-hand books someone had gifted me.

Why haven't we been listening? How could Jean Hegland have plucked the headlines out of our current newspapers sixteen years before they were published?

The real question we should be asking is: will our "fact" be stranger (worse) than this "fiction"?

All I know is, if it is, hang onto your hat, because you'll definitely want that hat, when it becomes really difficult to find a replacement.

And if you want to hear music in a low energy world - learn to play an instrument, or make sure you have a solar charger for your iPod or CD player ;).


  1. Now I want to read that book, but bookswap doesn't have it.

  2. And I want to read it too! I will have to source a copy somehow.
    I love some of the other authors you have listed but I am yet to discover some of the others. More books for my "must read list"!
    Love your blog and perspective. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. ack, doesn't have a copy. Gonna have to visit the library tomorrow.

  4. So is the book worth getting? Right now I'm reading a book with the same things - written in the 70's. Lots of reasons they are giving (outside of the racist crap) are about our liberties and rights being stolen one at a time over time in order to keep the population from rebelling. And how gun rights are destroyed a little at a time until the big gun grab. And although there is a little bit of an outcry it wasn't much...even from the ones that claimed no one would every take their guns from them. Too much of the destroying of our rights and America is spot on. Very scary.

  5. Autumnsf - what book are you reading right now?

  6. Portable Graffiti and Patricialynn - I've had pretty good luck with "wishing" on PBS ;).

  7. I'm going to look for this book on interlibrary loan. Thanks for the recommendation!

  8. Definitely check your library! I picked mine up on Monday, and am about 1/3 into the book. Wow, Wendy, you are right - it seems like it could be pulled from the real world!

  9. Wendy, at least a third of the books on my PBS wish list are from you - including a wish for another copy of your book so I can gift it on my blog.