This week, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction looks at what makes some nonfiction books ‘fictiony’.
Many memoirs slip into the fictiony-nonfiction category, usually on the basis of some astounding challenge or trauma or feat – think Frey, Westover, Strayed, Burroughs and Pieper. These kinds of ‘shock’ memoirs border on the unbelievable, which is what gives them their fictiony quality. For memoirs that read like fiction minus the ‘Whaaaaat?!’ moments, try My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff and Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle.
I find that other genres of nonfiction that read like fiction is usually on account of the exceptionally good writing. In that category, three books stand out –
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein – if you haven’t read this book, I urge you to. It’s an amazing story but significantly, Krasnostein writes with empathy and insight.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – a genre-defining classic.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo – this book won a bunch of prizes and it’s not hard to see why – the depth, the sense of place and the story that emerges are extraordinary.