The Lifespan of a Fact – John D’Agata & Jim Fingal

An oddly curious, churlsome and cautionary tale.

Lifespan of a Fact is probably unlike any book you've ever read, and although its eminently finish-able in one afternoon the underlying notion will leave you thinking long after.

Authors D'Agata and Fingal recount their seven-year odyssey of writing and fact-finding in this tome as D'Agata tries to publish a story recounting a teen suicide. Writer D'Agata seeks to keep the story intact for literary purpose while fact-finder Fingal continually challenges statements, assumptions and implications. The sad and morbid storyline gets lost in the exchange of correspondence as the two go back and forth over time trying to discern fact from fiction in the search for truth.

The layout of the book can be optically confusing: red and black text mixed together with the story – “essay” insists D'Agata – centered on the page while Fingal's questions, comments and suggested edits surround same. Visually this is distracting, and the challenge of reading the story while simultaneously reviewing the fact-checker's remarks can wear you out.

This seemingly brief write will in fact tax your concentration and logic as you move between the two alternating yet connected threads.

Fact is the chronicle of a particular dispute, or difference in view, around what can be said to be true. Fingal obviously has concerns about the literary license D'Agata employs while the latter frequently chides Fingal asking who the writer really is. In other words, who controls the final story.

A brave and different work which raises the fundamental question, what is truth.

In an age of blogs, web pages, sound bites and vids, this is a crucial – and frequently overlooked – question. We pronounce things as fact with ease today partially because the avenues to do so are plentiful.

Yet in the end the authors of this brave write are really asking the question: does saying something is true make it so?

A very worthwhile addition to The List.



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