Although I am not yet finished with The Liars' Club, I went back to the first chapter last night and reread Mary Karr's explanation of how the original Liars' Club got its name.
What seemed to be an unfortunate nickname from "somebody's pissed-off wife" turned out to be the perfect description for her father's group of friends.
Of all the men in the Liars' Club, Daddy told the best stories. When he started one, the guys invariably fell quiet, studying their laps or their cards or the inner rims of their beer mugs like men in prayer. No matter how many tangents he took or how far the tale flew from its starting point before he reeled it back, he had this gift: he knew how to be believed. He mastered it the way he mastered bluffing in poker . . .
I think that Karr is a real sport for warning us, about fifteen pages into her memoir, that she, too, might merely have the gift of knowing how to be believed . . . that her stories might not tell the truth in any technical sense . . . that the bullshit might get as "high and deep" in her own stories as her father's friends, riveted despite themselves, suspected it got in his.
In an earlier thread, Betty and Emily wondered how much of Karr's memories are "a bit fictional," with Emily teasing Betty about making autobiographical stuff up all the time, too. And I thought about my own autobiographical writing and realised that, heck, I "make up stuff" all the time, too. (No, I don't lie. I make up stuff. That is, I don't tell untruths; I make up stuff about the truth.) And from my experience and from what I know of similar writing by others, it seems to be a natural part of telling the stories from one's own past.
All this reminds me of Madeleine L'Engle's comment that there is a difference between fact and truth. It's a romantic distinction to make when one is reading any of her novels, but it's much more problematic when one is reading her non-fiction. Take her memoir Two-Part Invention, with a title nearly as frank as The Liars' Club: her children have described her account of their family life as "pure fiction" and "good bullshit"--and they didn't mean it in a good way. I was so impressed that I decided never to read any of L'Engle's non-fiction ever again. I didn't want her children, who presumably knew her better than any starry-eyed reader ever could, thinking of me as yet another gullible guppy.
Yet they probably, like Karr's mother and sister, don't really care. It gets high and deep in any memoir, I think. And who better than our family to call us out on what we make up about the truth? But Karr's point seems to be that it's not the technical truth that matters in memoirs.