Home » Reading » John Cheever on Lies and Life, Fiction and Reality

John Cheever on Lies and Life, Fiction and Reality

INTERVIEWER

I was reading the confessions of a novelist on writing novels: “If you want to be true to reality, start lying about it.” What do you think?

JOHN CHEEVER

Rubbish. For one thing the words “truth” and “reality” have no meaning at all unless they are fixed in a comprehensible frame of reference. There are no stubborn truths. As for lying, it seems to me that falsehood is a critical element in fiction. Part of the thrill of being told a story is the chance of being hoodwinked or taken. Nabokov is a master at this. The telling of lies is a sort of sleight of hand that displays our deepest feelings about life.

INTERVIEWER

Can you give an example of a preposterous lie that tells a great deal about life?

CHEEVER

Indeed. The vows of holy matrimony.

INTERVIEWER

What about verisimilitude and reality?

CHEEVER

Verisimilitude is, by my lights, a technique one exploits in order to assure the reader of the truthfulness of what he’s being told. If he truly believes he is standing on a rug, you can pull it out from under him. Of course, verisimilitude is also a lie. What I’ve always wanted of verisimilitude is probability, which is very much the way I live. This table seems real, the fruit basket belonged to my grandmother, but a madwoman could come in the door any moment.

via Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 62, John Cheever

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