This week in the New York Times Bookends, two writers Francine Prose and Leslie Jamison take on the question: Is it O.K. to mine real relationships for literary material?
I find the short introduction an interesting story:
When Robert Lowell used his ex-wife’s letters for his poetry, Elizabeth Bishop told him, “Art just isn’t worth that much.”
Similarly, Prose tells a little story about the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose memoir-novel “My Struggle” has been criticized for revealing too much about his close relatives. He says the question of whether a writer ought to use his family as material is akin to asking the question: Would you save the cat or the Rembrandt from the burning house?
He says we must save the cat, choose life over art.
This is an surprising answer from a writer who portrays his own family in such intimate detail, which also implies how tricky the question is for writers. It just might be impossbile to answer.
For me, the real life is much more complicated than fiction. When my friends get back to me when they finish reading my stories, the last question I expect is “which part is real? ” I mean… where do I start? If I could write all my real life down, how relieved could I be?