Only subscribers may read this in its entirety. What follows is a free preview, truncated midway through.The Lifespan of a Fact, by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. Norton, 123 pp. Paperback, $17.95 Given that The Lifespan of a Fact explores the degree of artistic license a writer of nonfiction may be permitted, let me stress right up front that this is a book review. That means it registers one person’s reaction—mine—to the aforementioned work by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal. Therefore, implicit in what follows is the standard journalist-reviewer’s pact of good faith: I will read every page of the book, be fair yet honest in my opinions, support my views with quotation and argument, and try to write entertainingly. To this usually unstated contract with the reader, I would add my own personal codicil: I haven’t taken a quick peek at any of the previously published reviews or online commentaries. I have no idea what other people think of the book.
Why do I bother spelling this out? Because The Lifespan of a Fact questions the degree of importance of that tacit “contract with the reader.” If a work is presented as nonfiction, must it be true? Or can it be kind of true, or just simply true to the subject as a whole even if not nit-pickingly correct?