Of course we fill in holes and gaps and refresh our memories and our memories play tricks on us and so on, but in a solid memoir or biography there are too many pieces to the picture puzzle that have to fit—and fit well—before the picture puzzle brings to life a credible picture. Yet not only is a credible depiction within reach, but, without it, without some particular or at least universal or metaphorical connection to real facts, the memoir is probably worthless.
I've mentioned it before but whether for newspaper, magazine, book or film depiction it's worth mentioning again that for the capable nonfiction reporter or writer the facts, probably more often than not, are plenty clear enough and far less muddy than they're made out to be.
One of the more common scenarios is the story of how— if there’s an accident and there are ten witnesses—you’ll get ten different stories. Yeah, sure! Some pundits emphasize that each witness is entitled to his or her own opinion and perspective—kind of the way President Bush supposedly is entitled to still believe that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and that Iraq orchestrated the attack on 9/11 (even though most of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia) and we just couldn’t find any WMDs in post-invasion Iraq and…. Some, not least among the deconstructionists and postmodernists, even insist that there isn’t—can’t be— any one true "objective" story and that to believe so is surely simplistic and absolutist, a remnant of an earlier age.
But to consider that proverbial accident, usually any competent reporter can ascertain with relative ease who got killed in the accident, who got arrested for drunk driving, where the accident occurred, approximately what time it occurred, whether the driver was held on charges or released, and many other real facts.
Invariably some questions remain; including perhaps even highly important ones. And indeed there’s some truth to the position of the noted relativist H. Poincaré that the only thing that's objective is what is identical for all—even though, of course, no two observers can occupy exactly the same (physical) position and thus everyone has a different take on things.
And admittedly there’s all-too-much truth to the quote by Voltaire that, at least in many ways,"... history is a bag of tricks played against the dead." Yet there's clearly plenty of history—some of it even put into memoirs—that is not in doubt. Never was in doubt. And may never be in serious doubt.
In World War II, did the U.S. surrender on board the battleship USS Missouri, anchored with other United States' and British ships in Tokyo Bay? Or did Japan surrender? Did we drop two atomic bombs on Japan or did Japan drop two atomic bombs on the U.S.? Or was it four? Is it all a matter of perspective? Or could it be a mushy brain?
By Ron Kenner — The Credibility of the Memoir