Last night I finally read Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, by Ben Peek. Which is to say that I read it from start to finish.
It's quite wonderful... treading that fine line between wank and art, which can go so wrong but also work so well.
Of course, maybe it just worked for me, and others will find it unbearable wankery.
You can read many reviews about the structure and the conceit... so I don't want to spend too much time on that. The structure of Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth is very much like an OuLiPo work, the structure coming first, and the content working within that structure. It's composed of alphabetical chapters, each with 10 dictionary-like entries: a word (in bold), and what that word means to the narrator. Some of these are essay-like entries, which have a few common themes: sexuality, racism, nationality, image, identity, censorship, authorship, and authenticity all come up in various forms. There are several entries on authors who fake an identity in order to make their fiction seem more legitimate, to give it the weight of experience. Then there are entries from the personal history of B., the narrator/author. Finally there are snippets of dialogue between B. and his partner, G., and personal diary entries (most of which are dated 12th October, which is Ben Peek's birthday).
Over all, the experience was that of reading an autobiography that felt like a very intimate personal confession, while at the same time being constantly reminded that one cannot trust authors, that the 'truth' of the narrative may not, as it turns out, recount actual events in Ben Peek's life.
The reason that it worked for me was that by the time I got to the entries for Z. I didn't care whether or not it was true. I cared more about getting some narrative closure that I did about whether or not Ben had gone through the events and emotions that happen to B.
...that sounds a little cold, perhaps. What I mean is that it doesn't matter whether the sympathy and empathy I felt is based on an elaborate lie. That the text elicited such a response from me is enough, especially when I was constantly being reminded not to fall for that sort of thing.
At its best, it reminds me of Perec's Life, A User's Manual, in that a series of seemingly unconnected segments come together to form a whole, and the content and the technique work together to produce something that is fair more satisfying and complete than the mere sum of it's parts.
You know what goes here:
Buy it from Amazon, buy it from Wheatland Press.
There's an excerpt of the book at Wheatland Press for you to sample, if you haven't, yet. Remember, if anyone asks, it's a cult classic, I'm dead genius, and my face is on a t-shirt. If anyone questions you about any of this, say the TV told you it all.