In her memoir, Lying
(2000), Lauren Slater fabricates most of her life narrative. Her text frustrates those who resent the combined fact and fiction—or “faction”—that she spins. This readerly response is understandable. Nevertheless, this article maintains that Slater lies in her memoir not to mislead readers but to witness traumas she struggles to access and articulate. Trauma and autobiographical theorists document the necessity of writing through—or “witnessing”—trauma to overcome it. When, however, a narrator is inhibited by what psychiatrists call “psychic constriction” (memory loss due to an inability to reconcile oneself with a painful past), she can become powerless to take the steps necessary to recover, as she cannot convey fully what she has suffered. Such is the case for Slater, who lies to witness ineffable traumas alongside her very inability to witness them. Lying
also opens an important question about the reader’s role in traumatic witnessing: how does one respond to the traumatic testimony of an unreliable narrator? In answer, inasmuch as one may resist Slater’s memoir, one also has the ability to enter into and engage in her experience. In presenting this opportunity, Lying
offers the writer-narrator and reader-respondent alike, a way to witness trauma together.
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