The Truth Is out There
- By Caroline Bock
- October 16, 2018
But when I can’t find it, I turn to fiction
Why didn’t I write a memoir? I wrote 47 stories — from flash to full-length works — in my debut short-story collection, Carry Her Home, many filled with such autobiographical detail that, with a mere sleight of hand, could’ve been memoir. So why not?
Memory fails me.
Not in the clinical sense. I remember entire conversations with remarkable clarity. I often startle people with what details I recall about their lives. Recently, a friend couldn’t believe that I remembered what summer camp she attended 40 years ago.
So don’t tell me anything about your life that you don’t want me to bring back up in conversation one day — or weave into a story.
It’s my own life that has gaps.
Or, as one of the characters explains to her younger self in the last story of Carry Her Home, “Are You Still There?”:
“You want to tell the younger version of you, on the edge of the lid of the toilet seat, elbows on bare knees, arms blotched with purpled welts, that you will go far, that you will never have to return, that your memory will have blank spaces, long pauses to heal. When you are old, like you are now, some memories will arise when least expected…”
One official definition of memoir, courtesy of Oxford Living Dictionaries, reads: “A historical account or biography written from personal knowledge.”
Memoir is based on the assumption that what you remember is true. I cannot honestly claim that for my stories in Carry Her Home because so many of them venture into the point of views of Murray Blech and Louise Garofalo, my parents.
I wanted to imagine how this nice Jewish boy from the Bronx and this Italian-American from Queens met, how they loved one another regardless of the tragedy surrounding their relationship, how they grieved over one another.
They have passed from this earth, so I could say that my only recourse was fiction. But there’s more: I need to tell the whole truth. If you look at my published works, however, one will jump out: a memoir.
A number of years ago, I co-authored, with my sister, her memoir about her journey surrounding food and weight and men. That book is her story. I brought the pen and paper, she told the tale. She is the narrator, the protagonist, the star. She remembered things I had pushed from my consciousness. In her book, I am but a bit player cast alongside her, the eldest sibling and perpetual big sister.
In part, my desire to tell many tales, some truer than not, some only imagined, saved me from memoir. For my storytelling, I need fiction.
The prose poem “Lies I Tell,” by Sara Borjas, speaks wonderfully to the stories we tell ourselves. It ends, “I make things up that I want for myself: that is the truth.”
This summation speaks to me. I want to know who my father was, and even more so, who my mother was, and who I am. Maybe one day I will be called to memoir, but I doubt it. I hope my stories in Carry Her Home resonate for the reader — for they’re the close-to-the-bone tales I had to write.
And that is the truth.
[Editor’s note: Caroline Bock read from Carry Her Home on Sun., Oct. 21st, at 1 p.m. at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC. Click here for details. She will also be teaching a two-part short-story class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, on Nov. 3rd and 10th. Learn more here.]
Caroline Bock’s debut collection of short stories, Carry Her Home, won the 2018 Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House. She is also a volunteer for the 2019 Washington Writers Conference.